What happens if we file a Lawsuit?
The first step in a lawsuit is the preparation and filing of a summons and complaint. The summons is the court document on which a deputy sheriff notes that a defendant has been given a copy of the complaint. The complaint is the court document in which the plaintiff tells the defendant why the plaintiff is bringing the lawsuit.
After the summons and complaint are filed, the other spouse must receive proper notice. To avoid needless embarrassment to your spouse, we can permit him or her to accept service. If your spouse will not agree to accept service, we will simply send the sheriff. Do not let your spouse worry you by saying that he or she will not sign an acceptance. If we are unable to locate your spouse, we can obtain sufficient service by publication in a newspaper.
What are Court Costs?
Court costs vary. Please ask us the current costs. If we employ depositions and property appraisals, the costs can be substantially higher. You must pay for these items as we go since we will not be able to advance money on the case. You will have the opportunity to approve all such procedures before the commitment is made and have a right to receive a preliminary cost estimate from the service providers. We will make every effort to have the court assess the costs to your spouse if the case allows. However, this is discretionary and not guaranteed.
How are Attorney Fees determined?
Our services will be provided to you at the standard hourly rates set by the law firm.
Billable time will be charged in increments of tenth hours. “Billable hours” will be based primarily on the actual time spent specifically on your case but will be affected by other factors adopted by the North Carolina State Bar as a part of the Code of Professional Responsibility, such as the results obtained, the nature of the employment and the amount involved.
The exception to this billing procedure is the contingent fee contract on the equitable distribution cause of action. In some cases it may be mutually beneficial for our fee contract to be based on a percentage of the value of the property that you receive in equitable distribution.
It is impossible to determine the precise fee until that case is completed. A typical domestic case requires many separate services, including conferences, discovery of assets, liabilities, income and expenses, settlement negotiations with your spouse’s attorney, preparation and review of a proposed property settlement and support agreements, preparation and filing of pleadings or review of pleadings filed by your spouse, preparation or review of court orders and attendance at various court hearings.
Can my spouse be made to pay my Attorney fees?
If a trial is necessary, one spouse may be ordered to pay some portion of the other spouse’s attorney fees. You are responsible for paying our fees but we will give you full credit for any payments made by your spouse pursuant to a court order, and we will pursue any possible claim for attorney fees against your spouse. The court can award attorney fees for custody, child support and alimony claims but not for the absolute divorce and equitable distribution.
What if we Reconcile?
Even after we begin our court action you may change your mind and decide to try to work things out. If you decide to drop this action, you will be responsible for all fees as set out in your fee contract.
How do I Resume my Maiden Name?
The female spouse may wish to resume her maiden name as part of the divorce decree. If you want that service, let us know before we prepare the absolute divorce complaint.
Can I Date? What about my spouse?
You are married until the divorce is granted. Post-separation pre-divorce dating can be used by your spouse against you and may cause you to lose some of your legal rights particularly those relating to alimony. Please tell me about all such actions on your part so that I can be prepared to respond to these circumstances. On the other hand, if your spouse might be engaging in any such conduct, you should advise us immediately so that we can discuss obtaining proof through a private detective, etc. Under no circumstances should you discuss any such steps we might take with your spouse or do anything else which might alert your spouse to this.
What is Confidentiality?
I must have all the facts to represent you properly. Anything you tell anyone in this office is strictly confidential and will not be disclosed without your permission.
What should I do about Security of Documents, Cash Accounts and Credit Accounts?
As soon as possible you may wish to copy documents or secure them at a location where your spouse cannot find them. You may also wish to withdraw some or all funds in joint cash accounts and place these funds in a separate account in your name alone. You should also consider notifying all credit card authorities and equity line lenders that you will be responsible for no further charges made by your spouse. If you do not take these actions, your spouse may. While these property rights will be resolved ultimately at any equitable distribution hearings, that resolution may not occur for eighteen months. Until that time, the party with possession of marital assets will probably retain possession of those assets.
How does the firm update me on current information?
I will make every effort to keep you informed. You will receive copies of correspondence and documents prepared or received by us. If you learn of some letter or documents that I have not sent you, please tell me so that I may correct that oversight immediately. Please feel free to contact the office regularly and speak with the staff to insure that you are updated.
But my friend says…..GENERAL SUGGESTIONS
Your well-meaning friends may offer you advice about your case. Frequently, such advice is not accurate and you should be cautious in following it. The facts surrounding your marriage, divorce, children and property are unique and they are different from any other case. Custody and alimony proceedings are very emotional and parties sometimes use them to seek revenge. Sometimes one parent will use the children in an attempt to punish the other parent. Prepare your children properly without poisoning their minds about your spouse. Obtain professional advice as necessary. If you need assistance in locating a qualified psychologist for either yourself or the children let us know. Continue to cooperate with your spouse where the children’s best interests are involved. Do not discuss with anyone the confidential matters involved in your case. Friends often pass information to the other party. It can defeat our efforts to help you.
I strongly suggest that you follow my advice. I have specific reasons for all of the advice that I give you and if I fail to explain those reasons adequately please ask me.
Do I need a New Will? What about Life Insurance, Bank Account and Retirement Beneficiaries?
North Carolina’s Probate Code invalidates certain portions of wills which were made prior to a divorce. Following the signing of a separation agreement or divorce, you probably will need a new will. If you wish to pursue this issue, please discuss it with me at an appropriate time. Further you will need to change the beneficiaries on all bank accounts, retirement accounts and life insurance. We will discuss this at various times throughout your representation. If you have a question at any time about this please ask.
What is the firm Telephone Policy?
We endeavor to focus our attention on one client’s matter at a time. Therefore, we do not generally take telephone calls during conferences with clients, preparation of documents and pleadings for clients, and other times when it would be unfair to a client to have his or her work interrupted. There are times when calls are handled as they come in between blocks of time devoted to a specific matter being dealt with in the office on behalf of our clients. Obviously we cannot take calls when we are in court or otherwise out of the office or talking on the telephone with someone else.
In order to handle telephone calls in an efficient manner, we suggest that clients leave messages with a staff member along with telephone numbers where they can be reached during the evening as well as during the day.
If a matter requires immediate attention, please feel free to inform the staff member or paralegal of the precise nature of the emergency so that we can best assist you. We will attempt to respond to you call as soon as possible.
It is our objective to try to return all telephone calls within 24 hours of receipt. However, at times this is not possible because the attorney handling a particular matter is in trial or is out of the office or is otherwise engaged such that she cannot return all calls on a given day. In that event we try to prioritize return of telephone calls given the nature of the problem to be dealt with and the time available.
Remember that there will be times when we are making an effort to return your call and will be unsuccessful because your line will be busy or you will not be at the number you left for us. We will continue to reach you to the extent reasonably possible. Please feel free to call us back if our efforts to return your call have been unsuccessful.
Be aware that every phone call that you make is billed as if we had a conference, so use your time wisely.
Is there a Waiting Period?
After service of the summons and complaint it may take several weeks or months to obtain a hearing on child custody, child support and post-separation support. In the divorce action, if no answer is filed, the matter is ready for hearing approximately 40 days after service of the summons and complaint on the spouse. Remember that you cannot file for absolute divorce until one year after the date of separation.