Divorce can be costly—both financially and emotionally. Attorneys typically bill by the hour for their legal advice and representation. When they work on your case, receive an email from you, meet with you in person, or speak to you on the phone, they bill you for their time. While your attorney should be mindful of your budget and do everything in their power to keep your total bill low, you must account for the attorney’s time, experience, and skillset. Please note: there are circumstances outside of your control that affect your legal bills. For instance, if your spouse fights you tooth and nail over every small detail, your attorney will have to bill you for their time responding to each small issue your spouse brings up. As you move through your separation and divorce case alongside your chosen attorney, consider heeding the tips below to keep your bills down.
1. Be reasonable.
Have realistic expectations regarding the outcome of your divorce, especially regarding your financial settlement and child custody arrangement. In North and South Carolina, you are generally entitled to 50% of the total marital estate and it is unrealistic (and costly) to go into negotiations requesting a great majority of the overall marital estate. You may waste money asking your attorney to fight for more than your fair share only to end up dividing all assets and debts equally, according to state law. Listen to your attorney when he or she tells you what portion of the marital estate you are entitled to receive. While you and your spouse may agree to whatever distribution of the marital estate you want to, even an unequal one, your attorney will always advise you what state law entitles each spouse to receive.
Additionally, understand that as long as there are no extenuating circumstances, a child’s time will be shared in some capacity between the parents. Even if you are upset with your spouse for their role in the demise of your marriage, they are still your child’s parent and are entitled to parenting time. Try to keep what is truly best for your child in the forefront of your mind during custody negotiations.
2. Do your homework.
If your attorney asks for you to complete some “homework” like providing a list of financial statements and account information, provide the list electronically in its entirety. Do not send your attorney each document piecemeal. Use a naming convention for your statements like identifying the year, month, and day of each statement then the name of the account. If you want bonus points (and to save even more money), provide a coversheet to your attorney with a list of statements provided, the date of each statement, and the statement balance. Providing your documents in an organized fashion saves your attorney a ton of time and saves you money! Much of divorce is separating and distributing assets and debts, and any time savings you can provide your attorney will save you legal fees.
3. Be open to compromise and choose your battles.
The more you fight your spouse, the more your divorce will cost. Litigation raises the cost of your divorce. You can choose an alternative divorce process like proceeding with traditional negotiations between attorneys, mediation, or collaborative divorce, you will save money on your legal fees. At our firm, we assist our clients in engaging in alternative dispute resolution processes outside of the courtroom. We believe that avoiding the courtroom is better for families and produces better results, but it also saves you money in the long-run. Know and set your goals for your divorce with your attorney at the outset of your case to help you focus on the final outcome and not on each small disagreement and detail.
4. Be wise about which attorney you hire.
Attorneys have various hourly rates and billing practices. Read your attorney-client engagement agreement carefully so you understand your attorney’s hourly rate and billing practices. Hire an attorney you can afford, who is open to highlighting where you can compromise with your spouse to save money while still achieving your most important goals.
5. Streamline your communications.
Be thorough and prompt in communications with your attorney. Fully answer each and every question from your attorney in one response email—don’t send several emails answering one question in each email. Your feedback is important to your attorney, and sometimes time sensitive. If your attorney does not hear from you, they will have to follow up with you. Each and every time they follow up with you, they will bill you for that attempt to contact you. To streamline your communications, know when to call your attorney vs. when to email. If you anticipate having several follow up questions, a call might be best. Reserve a time on your attorney’s calendar by reaching out to their paralegal or legal assistant. Don’t call your attorney’s office every time you have a small question. Instead, make a list of your questions and set up a time to call or meet with your attorney to talk through all of your questions in one fell swoop.
6. Don’t treat your attorney like a therapist.
Divorce has three major facets: legal, financial, and emotional. Only use your attorney to analyze the legal and financial aspects of divorce, not the emotional aspect. Venting frequently to your attorney about what a horrible person your spouse is may be emotionally cathartic, but it is better to discuss those things with your therapist. If you don’t have an individual therapist, ask your attorney for referrals. Attorneys regularly work with therapists who specialize in walking people through the emotional side of divorce and can recommend excellent local practitioners.
If you utilize these tips, barring unforeseen circumstances, you will save money in attorney fees. Reach out today to schedule a consultation if you need help moving forward with your separation and divorce.
It’s May and there are 107 different children’s activities, graduations, spirit days, field days, and end-of-grade testing before you and your kids finally reach the glorious freedom of summer! Except now that the kids are out of school, you and your co-parent’s parenting time schedules will adjust to the “summer schedule” and you’ll need to make some modifications to continue successfully co-parenting over the summer.
Summer Parenting Time Arrangements
Physical custody of children is typically divided into two separate categories in a custody agreement or order: (1) “Regular Parenting Time” and (2) “Holiday Parenting Time.” Summer vacation falls into the Holiday Parenting Time category which typically supersedes the Regular Parenting Time schedule. You and your co-parent will look to the custody agreement’s summer parenting time terms to determine what the parenting time schedule will be for the 9-12 weeks of summer until your kids go back to school in the fall.
Summer parenting time schedules vary depending upon your specific family situation. Some summer parenting time schedules we frequently see are as follows:
Choice of Summer Vacation Weeks, if applicable
For summer vacation and summer camp planning, most custody agreements have a designated date by which each parent must notify the other of the summer vacation weeks he or she has chosen (typically February 1 or March 1). Check your custody agreement to make sure you have informed your co-parent of your chosen vacation weeks by the designated date. Co-parents typically agree that they will not choose weeks for vacation during which the children have prearranged camps or other special activities that the parents have already agreed upon and arranged. If there is a disagreement between co-parents regarding choice of weeks for summer vacation, usually custody agreements will indicate that one parent’s choice will prevail in odd-numbered years and the other parent’s choice will prevail in even-numbered years.
Communication about Summer Vacation
Nearly every custody agreement requires that parents communicate travel itineraries (like flight information), emergency location information, and phone numbers prior to traveling out of town with the children. Make sure to keep your co-parent up to date with that information. If the shoe was on the other foot (and it will be!), you would want to know where the kids were staying and their general itinerary, as well. Treat your co-parent with kindness and courtesy by providing the kids’ travel information without being asked.
The most important part of scheduling summer parenting time, vacations, and summer camps with your co-parent is to keep the lines of communication open. There will inevitably be unexpected minor adjustments in transporting the children, summer camp drop-off and pick-up times, and the parenting time schedule due to the difference in structure of summertime childcare and potential travel delays that could occur. Remember to keep your focus on what’s best for the kids and how you and your co-parent can work together to cover your kids’ needs over the summer. Make sure to schedule in fun time, too!
If all of this sounds confusing and you aren’t sure how to interpret the custody agreement you already have, or you need a custody agreement put in place that defines summer parenting time, please reach out to our office to schedule a consultation.
South Carolina Alimony 101
Alimony is financial support provided to a “dependent” spouse (lower or non-income earner) from a “supporting spouse” (primary or sole income earner) after the date of separation or date of divorce. In South Carolina, alimony can be ordered by the court or can be agreed upon between spouses in a separation agreement. It is not guaranteed that you will be granted alimony (or forced to pay alimony) in every South Carolina divorce. You may have a claim to alimony or spousal support if you were a stay-at-home spouse or lower income earner than your spouse, your spouse has the ability to pay alimony to you, and you cannot maintain the same standard of living or cover your household bills on your sole income. There are several types of alimony in South Carolina, which can be tailored to your specific situation.
Types of Alimony
Duration of Alimony
There is no mathematical formula in South Carolina to determine the duration of alimony. Alimony can be permanent, last a lifetime, a one-time payment, or paid for a relatively short period of time, depending upon your unique situation.
Amount of Alimony
There is no mathematical formula or formal guidelines in South Carolina to determine the amount of alimony. The amount is determined by considering the factors listed below and each person’s individual circumstances.
Manner of Payment of Alimony
South Carolina courts can require alimony payments to be made directly to the supported spouse or may require the payments be made through Family Court or through wage withholding.
Factors that Affect Alimony
While there are no guidelines for the amount or duration of alimony in South Carolina, the court must consider the following factors in determining the amount and duration of an alimony award.
Cheating Affects Alimony
In South Carolina, adultery is defined as engaging in a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse before you sign a final settlement agreement or before the date of your divorce. If you commit adultery as a dependent spouse, you are barred from receiving alimony in South Carolina.
If you are separating in South Carolina and are not sure if you would be entitled to alimony, or required to pay alimony, please contact us to set up your consultation. Lindsey is licensed in South Carolina to assist clients with all of their family law needs, including alimony.
North Carolina Alimony 101
When people think of “alimony,” they usually think of an antiquated stereotype wherein a husband pays his wife and/or the stay-at-home mother of his children monthly alimony payments indefinitely after divorce. In the modern iteration, alimony can financially assist any gender spouse who was not the primary income-earner during marriage if that spouse is unable to meet his or her reasonable financial needs without the other spouse’s income or if that spouse is unable to maintain the same standard of living to which he or she became accustomed during the marriage. Alimony requires a needs-based assessment in North Carolina– you are only entitled to alimony if you need it (the dependent spouse), and your spouse has the ability to pay (the supporting spouse).
Alimony is not mandatory or automatic in North Carolina. Even if you are entitled to alimony, you might not want to take money from your spouse but would rather make your own way financially. If you are the primary income-earner, you might truly desire to pay alimony to help your lower income-earning spouse get on his or her feet financially post-divorce. You might need alimony payments to act as a bridge until you are able to get a job, earn an income again after being a stay-at-home parent, or for maintaining the same standard of living you were accustomed to during marriage. Alimony duration, amount, manner of payment, or whether it is paid at all, depends on each person’s individual situation.
Types of Spousal Support
There are two types of spousal support in North Carolina.
Duration of Alimony
In North Carolina, there is no formula to determine the duration of alimony. The Alimony statute states that the court “shall exercise its discretion in determining the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony,” (N.C.G.S. § 50-16.3A). For long-term marriages in North Carolina, we commonly see clients agreeing to (or judges ordering) monthly alimony payments for approximately half of the duration of the marriage in years. This is not a hard and fast rule or requirement, but is something that commonly occurs. For example, if you were married for twenty years, monthly alimony payments might be continuing for ten years after the date of divorce. For marriages that are not as long-term, the alimony duration would likely be shorter.
Amount of Alimony
In North Carolina, there is no formula to determine the amount of alimony either, as it is at the discretion of the court (if you are in front of a judge) or incumbent upon the spouses to agree to the amount based upon the reasonable needs of the dependent spouse and the supporting spouse’s ability to pay. When considering the alimony amount, it is important to analyze each spouse’s income and budget. The monthly alimony payment amount should never exceed the funds the primary income-earning spouse has left over after he or she pays their own reasonable and necessary bills at the end of each month.
Manner of Payment of Alimony
Alimony payments can be paid by lump sum payment, periodic payments (usually monthly installments), income withholding, by transfer of title or possession of personal property, or by security interest in or possession of real property (N.C.G.S. § 50-16.7).
Factors that Affect Alimony
The North Carolina alimony statute defines sixteen factors to be considered when determining the amount, duration, and manner of payment of alimony. The factors are listed as follows.
Cheating (or Marital Misconduct) Affects Alimony
If you are the dependent spouse seeking alimony, but the supporting spouse has evidence you had an affair, you are barred from receiving alimony. On the other hand, if you are the supporting spouse, you committed adultery, and your spouse has evidence of the affair, you will likely be required to pay alimony.
Alimony is a complex and nuanced issue. If you need direction regarding whether you are entitled to alimony or you think you might be required to pay alimony, please reach out to our office to schedule a consultation.
The day your child turns eighteen they become an “adult” by legal standards, even if they are still in high school and living in your home. When your child turns eighteen, your parental legal decision-making capabilities fundamentally change. Without your child’s approval and consent, you can no longer call his or her doctor and talk about medications and treatment plans or call the bank and ask about funds that you deposited into his or her checking account. While you are preparing your child to leave the nest and go to college with dorm lists, book lists, and class syllabi, you should also be prepared with the legal documents necessary for you to continue to assist your adult child in making sound decisions medically, financially, and educationally. The four most important documents needed are listed below.
Don’t miss the first four parts in this series of checklists helping you address the logistics, accounts, finances, online presence, and healthcare changes that may need to be completed upon separation and divorce. Today is our final installment of the divorce checklist, addressing the logistics surrounding the most important and precious part of your marriage: your children. This list is sparse because children are not logistics, and their needs throughout the divorce process cannot be quantified in a tidy checklist. The to-do items that you can address relating to your children are below.
If you have missed parts one through three of this five-part series, be sure to scroll down to get caught up on our complete checklist of items to address upon separation and divorce. Today’s blog post helps you consider and think through all of the changes you might need to make relating to your medical records and healthcare.
1. Consider health insurance planning:
3. Remove your former spouse from HIPAA authorizations at your doctor’s office.
4. Update your healthcare power of attorney and any medical directives for healthcare.
If you need to update your healthcare power of attorney and medical directives, please reach out to our firm for a consultation so we can help you update these important documents.
In previous posts, we provided checklists providing steps for removing your name and responsibility from joint finances, documents, and insurance. In today’s post, we will cover what steps to take to address your online presence post-separation or post-divorce. In today’s world, so much is automated and saved on our devices. While you were married, your spouse likely knew or had access to many of your online passwords and personal accounts. After separation, you need to take steps to remove your spouse’s access to your devices and online accounts. The checklist below outlines various steps you can take to ensure your online presence remains private.
1. Change passwords:
3. Delete saved joint credit card or bank account information from virtual payment platforms (GooglePay, ApplePay, Venmo, etc.)
4. Deleted saved joint credit card or bank account information from online shopping platforms like Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc.
5. Create your own individual accounts for online memberships or cloud-based services like Amazon, Apple ID, iCloud account, Netflix, Hulu, etc.
6. Change your privacy settings on your social media accounts to share as much or as little with your spouse as you wish.
There may be additional accounts or websites you need to update after your separation, but this list provides a starting point. If you have any questions about your particular situation and how to address your online presence during separation or after divorce, please schedule a consultation with our firm.
Divorce Checklist, Part II: Handling Important Documents, Insurance, and Mailing Address Changes
In part one, we went over the tasks required to address the financial side of a divorce like removing your name from and closing joint accounts, making sure you received all assets to which you were entitled in the separation, and starting a new financial plan for yourself. In today’s blog post, which is part two in a five-part series, we provide a checklist that focuses on name, address, and important document changes. It is especially important to consider updating your estate planning documents to provide for your children and remove your spouse from inheritance provisions that may currently exist in your estate planning documents. Now, here are the most important items to consider regarding documentation and insurance.
Please reach out to our firm and schedule a consultation if you aren’t sure how to proceed. We will help you understand what actions you should take in your unique situation.
When you separate from your spouse and start moving down the path of divorce, there are many logistical matters to address. It is hard to keep track of all of the tasks required to separate yourself financially and legally from your spouse. Today’s post is the first in a five-part series providing straightforward checklists focused on extricating you from intertwined marital interests, accounts, and finalizing any financial obligations remaining from your property settlement.
The checklist is not in any particular order, and you can tackle the tasks in the order you see fit. This list does not address the deeper emotional work that may be required. As you address the mundane logistics of the dissolution of your marriage, a gamut of emotions may arise. Be sure to take care of yourself and take your time. The checklist does not need to be completed immediately. Building your marriage took a significant amount of time and the dissolution of it will take time as well.
Without further ado, here are the main financial tasks you should tackle upon divorce.
1. Meet with a CPA or tax preparer to:
3. Create a monthly budget for yourself.
4. Run a credit report on yourself.
5. Close joint credit cards.
6. Close joint bank accounts.
7. Open individual bank account(s).
8. Use a different PIN number for your debit card(s) linked with your individual bank account(s) than the common PIN numbers you used during marriage.
9. Re-direct any direct deposit income into your individual bank account(s).
10. Stop auto-draft payments for shared bills or transfer auto-drafts for which you are responsible to your new bank account(s).
11. Transfer utility accounts, if necessary.
12. Update beneficiary designations for the following: life insurance, annuities, retirement plans, individual retirement accounts, investment accounts, and transfer-on-death bank accounts.
13. If you need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) to divide your retirement account, follow through with your attorney’s submission to the Plan Administrator, pre-approval by the Plan Administrator, approval of the proposed QDRO, submission to the court for signature by a judge, then final submission to the Plan Administrator for division of the retirement funds. Be sure you have an account set up to roll over and/or receive the funds, if necessary.
14. Keep records of payment or receipt of alimony/spousal support and other support payments made to or received from your former spouse.
Not every item on this checklist will apply to you but consider each task and complete it, if needed. If you are not sure if you need to complete some of these tasks, reach out to our firm to schedule a consultation so that we can assist you as you move down the divorce path.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC
416 W. John St.
Matthews, NC 28105
Monday-Thursday 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Friday 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
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