Back to Business as Usual

I am on the tail-end of a short holiday break. I’ll be back in my office tomorrow and returning to regular business hours.

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. We have another holiday weekend just ahead! Looks like the Courts are closed on December 31st. I will schedule appointments on Friday 12/31/11. However other than pre-scheduled appointments, my office will be closed to walk-ins and the telephones will be answered by voice mail after noon.

Remember for those who have difficulty getting a call out from work, I take appointments by online scheduling on this website.

Why An Attorney Should Prepare Your Uncontested Divorce

Unsurprisingly, I have a vested interest in the topic of this post.  I’m an attorney.  I earn my living in family law.  I offer flat rate plans for uncontested divorces.  There are a number of experienced family law attorneys in Spokane to choose from.  Some of those attorneys also offer flat rate plans for uncontested divorce.

Don’t get me wrong – I value and appreciate paralegals.  I was one myself (for 20+ years). I worked under the direct supervision of an attorney.  Many times I observed said attorney being quite dense.  In spite of these observations, I always believed the intensity of earning a law degree and passing a bar exam Meant Something.  And it does, indeed Mean Something.  I am an attorney and I am incredibly dense at times.  I like to think my J.D. adds flair to my density.

Previously, as a paralegal with a firm grasp on civil court rules and the domestic relations statute, I could not give legal advice.  No matter how brilliant the paralegal, the paralegal is not competent to give legal advice.  Law school takes apart the student’s brain and puts it back together again.  The bar exam tries to demolish the newly reassembled and fragile brain. Those who survive this macabre process are licensed to give legal advice in the licensing state.  (As an aside, most paralegals have much more common sense than lawyers.)

There are many advertisements out there for “licensed paralegals” and “certified paralegals” who will prepare divorce documents very inexpensively.  There are also online document preparation services out there which charge a small fee to prepare divorce documents.  Lincoln County allows divorcing parties to prepare their documents and handle everything by mail.

However, the paralegals and form preparation websites, cannot give legal advice.  The following is just a small list of common questions that a paralegal or website cannot answer (because the answer is legal advice):

  • We lived together for a couple of years before we got married, does it matter?
  • We own property in Idaho.  Can Washington distribute that property?
  • What if I get a job in another state – can my parenting plan be modified?
  • My spouse is in the military.  Am I entitled to a portion of his/her military retirement?
  • I pay child support to my first spouse.  How does that affect my child support in this marriage?
  • My spouse is going to keep the house and make the house payment.  What happens if he/she does not make the payments?
  • I have a pending insurance claim for an auto accident last year.  Is this my separate property?
  • How will we pay for our kid’s college expenses after the divorce?
  • How do we divide our 401(k) plans?
  • Should I ask for spousal maintenance?
  • If I agree to this settlement, what am I giving up that I am legally entitled to?
  • If I agree to this settlement, am I getting more than I am legally entitled to?
  • My company may be laying off employees in the next six months.  What effect will that have on my child support payment?
The above list is just a smattering of questions that come up routinely.

Also, aside from not being able to have your questions answered by a paralegal or website, each case is unique.  Having mandatory divorce forms in Washington leads many to erroneously believe that all cases can be handled in cookie-cutter fashion.  This is far from the truth!  The mandatory forms are geared to handle the jurisdictional and statutory requirements.  However, each case has issues that the mandatory forms simply cannot address. Many, many times I have been hired to “fix” problems in a decree that the parties had no way of predicting at the time they prepared their documents. For instance,  some agencies and entities require certain “magic words” in the decree to divide up retirement accounts. Suppose five years down the road a former spouse tries to access the funds per the decree and finds out that the decree is not sufficient.   What then?  Will the Court allow the decree to be clarified to meet the standards of the retirement administrator?  What if your former spouse is collecting maintenance, but starts cohabiting with someone else (but doesn’t get married).  Is there a way to handle that possibility in the decree?

Sometimes a client walks into my office intending to hire me to prepare an uncontested divorce.  Often, if the case is truly uncontested (i.e. the spouses are in agreement on each and every issue), everything goes smoothly and 90 days later final paperwork is entered.  Sometimes, the paperwork is presented to the other spouse and lo and behold, the other spouse really did not understand the agreement. The other spouse contests some of the terms.  What happens then?  Well, my client has the option to keep me on the case and we convert the flat fee agreement into an hourly rate agreement.  Is it more expensive?Yes.  Paying me by the hour is more expensive than a flat fee agreement.

The above scenarios are offered as food for thought:  Is it really worth saving money by throwing your documents together online or hiring a non-lawyer?

This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.  This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray.  This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.

Scheduling An Appointment Online

I often forget to let existing clients know about online booking.  Some of my clients booked their initial consultation with me using my online scheduling service.    This is also a great tool for existing clients.  I’ve recently added the function to the firm’s Facebook page. Scheduling can also be accomplished via this website navigating to the Schedule Online page.

Here is a walk-thru of the process using both Facebook and the Website.

On Facebook, click on the “Schedule Now” on the left menu.

FBScheduleNow

The scheduling page will open up with a pull down menu to select “Initial Consultation” or “Existing Client”.

FB-Select-Service

Once a service is selected, links to available time slots show up on the calendar.  Click on the selected time and you will be asked to fill out your name, phone number, and email contact information (once you use this system, you will be entered as a “contact” and less information is required each time).

FBDropDown

The process is similar for scheduling through this website.  Again, the user must choose between “Initial Consultation” or “Existing Client”

WebsiteSelectService

Once the service is selected, the schedule will show available time slots.

Website-Dropdown

No matter which service is used for online scheduling, the user’s identifying information will not display on the calendar.  My pre-existing appointments and court appearances are blocked off for scheduling, but all details are kept hidden.

I hope clients find online scheduling useful.  I know that I personally appreciate the ability to make my own appointments online – particularly since I can do so when at anytime of the day without having to interrupt my work hours.

 

This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.  This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray.  This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.

Divorcing Parties Ordered to Exchange Facebook Passwords

This is timely.  I just received an article from the ABA in my e-mail inbox referencing this Forbes article.   According to the sources, a Judge in Connecticut ordered divorcing parties to exchange their Facebook and dating website passwords.  Not only did the judge compel production of the information, but also issued an injunction preventing either party from deleting content.

This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.  This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray.  This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.

Social Media and Divorce

Orders pertaining to child custody (parenting plans, temporary orders) typically contain the following clause or something similar:

Neither parent shall make disparaging remarks about the other parent or any other remarks that might cause diminishment of the child’s respect for the other parent either to the child or in the presence of the child, nor shall they allow the child to make disparaging remarks about the other parent.
In this age of social media most parents have Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+ accounts.  A handy way for parents to monitor their children’s use of these accounts is to add their children as online friends.

In a moment of frustration, it is not out of the realm of possibility for someone to post “my crazy ex was late again” or something along those lines.  Or perhaps a parent can’t resist the urge to post “I’m going to fight for my children.  The truth will come out!”  Posts such as these to social media sites are usually followed by gratifying messages of support from other online friends.

But here’s the kicker…those posts can be viewed as being disparaging to the other parent.  Also, if the child is in the friend’s list, the disparaging remark just happened in the presence of the child.

Parents oversharing online is becoming a common stumbling block for family law litigants.  Most divorcing spouses promptly “unfriend” their soon-to-be ex and then bask in the mistaken belief that their online content is private.  Just type “there is no such thing as internet privacy” into Google and marvel at the number of hits.

This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.  This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray.  This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.

Family Law Temporary Motion Hearing in Spokane – What to Expect

Family law motion hearings are very stressful and emotional for the parties involved.  Often the motion hearing is the first time either party has ever been inside the courtroom as a litigant.  Also, it is quite common for these hearings to occur within the first 14-21 days of the case being started.

In Spokane the Court Commissioners preside over the temporary orders motion hearing.  All of the parties who have a case set for hearing on that particular day report to the Court at 8:30 a.m. at docket call.  I usually do not require my clients to accompany me to docket call, however, this is a personal preference that varies by attorney.  Parties who are not represented by attorneys are required to show up at docket call.

At docket all, a Court Commissioner calls each case and the parties report as to whether or not the case is ready for hearing that day.  Once the Commissioner has gone through the docket, the Court goes into recess.  Typically docket call takes about 15 minutes.

During the recess, the Commissioners meet with court staff to quickly go through the court files for the cases called ready that day.  There are usually two Commissioners assigned to hear the motions.  There are two time slots for hearings – 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Each Commissioner will set four hearings per time slot. Once the order of the cases are decided by the Commissioners and staff, a list is posted on the outside of the Courtroom with the assigned hearings and times.  On a light docket day, the list is usually up no later than 9:15 a.m.  On a heavy docket day, the list may not be posted until about 9:30 a.m.

During the actual hearing each party (through their attorney if they have one) is allotted ten (10) minutes to argue for or against the motion.  Normally, there is no “live” testimony.  The testimony of each party and their witnesses is submitted in advance in a written declaration.  By the time of the hearing, the Commissioner will have read the declarations and financial statements.  After hearing the arguments of both parties, the Commissioner will make a ruling.  After the ruling, the parties are expected to go out to the hallway and convert the Commissioner’s ruling into a written order.

Of course, there are some rare exceptions to the above process.  If a party is not represented by an attorney, the Court may choose to swear that party in and ask questions of that party.  Occasionally, a request is made in advance for live testimony which the Court may or may not allow.  (Such a request is rare.)  Also, the Commissioner can always forego making an immediate ruling if the Court needs additional information.

The Spokane County Superior Court website posted procedural guidelines pertaining to docket call which are available here.

This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice.  This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information.  This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed.  The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you.  This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray.  This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.

Spokane Local Family Law Rule – Parenting Seminar

In Spokane County Superior Court, parents involved in litigation pertaining to their children (dissolution of marriage and paternity/parentage actions) are required to attend a parenting seminar.

The seminar costs about $20 and is offered by more than one agency with hours to accommodate working parents.  The length of the seminar is approximately three hours.

After attending the seminar, the agency will forward certification to the court file.  Before signing final orders, the Commissioners and Judges routinely check the court file to make sure both parties attended the seminar.

Please feel free to download the flier distributed by the Spokane County Family Law Coordinator which lists the provider agencies with contact information.

Sharing the Children Seminar

Spokane County Family Law Court Video

The Family Law Department of the Spokane Superior Court quietly added a great resource to its website.   A video was posted which explains the most commonly encountered steps in a dissolution of marriage.  The video is hosted on the Superior Court website here.  The video also plays non-stop in the first floor of the County Courthouse and is required viewing for anyone taking advantage of the Family Court Facilitator services.

I’ve viewed some of the chapters of the video and it’s a great resource for both my clients and for individuals filing their own dissolution action without attorneys.    Although the case depicted is fictional, the video is filmed in the actual courtrooms featuring the local judges and commissioners.

Online Scheduling

I am trying out an online scheduling application so that new and existing clients can book appointments online.  There are links placed all over the website and special spot on the navigation bar to choose from.   For those reading this post, appointments can be booked online here or here.

If I get a positive response to the scheduling system, it will remain a permanent option.

Because my schedule changes on a daily basis to accommodate deadlines and court hearings, online scheduling is available 14 days in advance.

All of the information is secure and no one can “see” the details on the calendar.  In order to maintain security, individual accounts must be created by the client and I will confirm the appointments after they are scheduled online.

As always, you can contact my office by phone at (509) 252-9156 for scheduling.  However, I wanted to include an extra service for folks who want the flexibility of planning their schedules or maybe find it easier to schedule online.