Frequently Asked Questions about Family Law:
1) How do I hire a family law attorney to handle my case?
Any action within the area of family has the potential to be one of the most traumatic events in a person's life. This may even be the first time you or your loved one has ever had to deal with the court or legal system in your state. The attorney you choose to guide and assist you through this process is an important decision that sometimes must be made when you are at your most vulnerable state. Here are some tips to keep in mind that can help make this decision process a bit easier for you:
2) Get Referrals from Objective Sources
These days everyone knows at least one or two people, either within your social circle or your own family who have experienced a divorce or custody case. Ask these people who they hired for a family law attorney, what they liked, and what they didn't like. This is probably the best way to get a short list of attorneys to interview to take your case.
If your case involves complex legal issues, consider hiring an attorney who is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). The 1600 AAML Fellows across the United States are generally recognized by judges and attorneys as preeminent family law practitioners with a high level of knowledge, skill and integrity. Academy Fellows, including our Senior Partner, Ben Stevens, enjoy a reputation for professionalism, competence and integrity.
3) Consider Scheduling Consultations with More Than One Attorney
It is true that most experienced family law attorneys don't offer free consultations, though some offer set rates for the initial consultation. Explain upfront to the attorney that you are in the interviewing process and you are interested in finding out how your case would be handled within that firm.
4) Come Prepared to Your Consultation
It may not be possible to gather every document or piece of information pertaining to your case, but try to organize your thoughts, concerns, issues, and your expectations for your case into easy to read notes. Since you will probably be paying for the attorney's time during the consultation, you want to walk away knowing you asked all the questions necessary to help you make your final decision. Also, without at least some outline of your situation, it will be nearly impossible for the attorney to give you a realistic opinion of your case and your expectations.
Beware of the attorney who guarantees a “slam dunk” result or that you will win on every issue you present. Every case is different and no attorney will be able to fully evaluate and analyze every scenario during an initial consultation. A good attorney will promise only that he or she will fully evaluate your case and always advocate for your position zealously.
5) What are some questions I should ask during my initial consultation?
During any initial consultation with an attorney, you should come prepared with the facts and issues surrounding the case you would like the attorney to handle. From these facts, the attorney should be able to give you a reasonable initial evaluation of how your case may develop. However, this is also a time for you to ask questions about the internal process your case will take within the firm you are hiring. Here are some sample questions you may want to consider when looking to hire a family law attorney:
- What is your hourly rate and what is the hourly rate for your staff who may be working on my case?
- What retainer will your require?
- Will you provide a written fee agreement regarding any fees or expenses for my case?
- What expenses or additional fees will be billed to me?
- What makes your firm unique and different from other law firms?
- Are there any ways in which you believe your firm offers a better value to clients?
- How “tech savvy” are your attorneys and how do they keep pace with changing technology?
- What are your client communications polices?
- Will I be copied on all documents pertaining to my case?
- How quickly will my phone calls/emails be returned?
- What is your preferred strategy or “philosophy” for handling a divorce case?
- How long will my case take?
- Other than yourself, what other people in your firm would work on my case?
- What professional organizations do you belong to and what courses do you teach to other attorneys?
- Does your firm carry malpractice insurance?
6) Do you offer free consultations?
No, our firm does not offer free consultations. When your consultation is scheduled, you will be asked to gather together several documents, such as pleadings (if a lawsuit has already been filed) and any other information related to the facts of your case. During your consultation with our attorney, you will have the opportunity to review and discuss these documents, the facts of your case, and any questions you have concerning your situation. You will leave knowing the law applicable to your situation, the costs that are or may be involved with your case and with a plan of action. If you have further questions about our consultation process, please call our office at (864) 598-9172.
7) How much is a consultation fee?
We typically schedule initial consultations for thirty or sixty minutes, and our consultation fees currently begin at $200 for the first 30 minutes. Longer consultations are also available for more complex or complicated matters, and the amount of the consultation fee for these varies based on the time needed and the facts involved. Consultation fees may be paid by cash, check or by credit card at the end of the consultation. If you have further questions about our consultation process, please call our office at (864) 598-9172.
8) Do you offer payment plans for the retainer?
Our job as attorneys is to advocate for those faced with litigation. We understand how frustrating (if not scary) it can be when facing with a family law case. During your initial consultation, we will discuss your current financial situation, and we will work with you in identifying the factors that can affect the final cost of your case as well as the factors we use to set our retainer fees. We typically do not accept payment plans for retainers, but we will make every effort to work with you as best we can, considering the factors of your particular case. We understand the value of an attorney's representation in Family Court, and our attorneys are highly sought after and highly respected by judges and other attorneys alike. If we mutually agree with you that we are the right firm for your case, we make every effort to work together with you to try to address any financial obstacles.
9) Do you over flat fee for services?
This is a common question these days, as flat fees have become popular in some parts of the country. Most of the family law cases we handle in South Carolina are complex, and because of the many variables involved, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict up front how much time will be required on any particular case. Therefore, we typically do not accept cases on a flat or fixed fee basis. Almost all of our cases are handled on an hourly basis, with a retainer paid at the time we are hired. Our firm has earned its excellent reputation through over two decades of hard work, and our hourly rates are commensurate with our experience.
10) What grounds for divorce are recognized by South Carolina?
There are two types of divorce in South Carolina: fault and no fault. A party must prove with sufficient evidence one of four fault grounds or the one no-fault ground in order to obtain a divorce. The four fault grounds in South Carolina are: Adultery; Physical Cruelty (or Abuse); Desertion; and Habitual Drunkenness or Drug Use. The no-fault ground in South Carolina is Living Separate and Apart for One Year Without Cohabitation.
11) My spouse and I are separating amicably. Can we use the same attorney?
No. The SC Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit both parties using the same attorney for representation in any Family Court matter. However, there are times when only one party will retain an attorney and the other party will proceed “pro se” or without the representation of an attorney. When parties are separately amicably and truly agree on everything, it is possible for one attorney to draft the pleadings and the agreement for both parties to sign, but the attorney will only be able to provide legal advice to the party who has retained him/her. The unrepresented party will always retain the right to have any agreements reviewed by another attorney to assure that his interests are being addressed before signing them.
12) What financial information will I need during my separation or divorce process?
The process of separation and/or divorce in South Carolina requires that many financial issues be addressed, including the division of all marital property and debts, as well as other issues such as alimony or other spousal support. Before you decide to leave your relationship, below is a list of financial information you should gather and keep in a safe place:
- Checking and Savings Account Information (Bank Names; Account Numbers; Current Balances)
- Money Market Accounts, Mutual Funds, Stocks, Bonds (Name of Broker)
- Certificates of Deposit
- Real Estate & Time Shares
- Retirement Plans, Pensions, 401(k), IRAs, and any other deferred compensation plans
- Accrued Vacation Time for each party (include hourly rate for calculation of monetary value, if possible)
- Medical Savings Accounts
- Cars, Recreational Vehicles, Boats
- List of valuable personal property (art, jewelry, collectibles, season tickets, club memberships, etc.)
- Any life insurance policies covering each party
- Refunds expected (tax or government)
- Mortgage balances on all property owned
- Credit Cards (Bank Names; Account Numbers; Balances Owed)
- Loans on vehicles, boats, or other vehicles
- Personal lines of credit or loans
- Promissory Notes
- Student Loans
- Business loans that are personally guaranteed
- Family loans
The list is far from all-inclusive, but serves as a starting point and should be adjusted to your own individual situation. You should try to make copies of any paperwork associated with the above assets and debts. This will help your attorney evaluate the fair division of property at the time of separation. In today's economy, it will also help your attorney protect you from liabilities created by your spouse after the date of your separation.
Should you decide to hire one of our experienced family law attorneys to represent you, we will provide you with worksheets to help guide you through the process of collecting and organizing your financial information to help us provide you with the best possible representation.
13) When is my divorce final?
Your divorce or legal separation is final on the date that the Divorce Decree is signed by the Judge and filed with the Clerk of Court. However, it is prudent to not remarry for at least 30 days after your Decree has been signed and filed, so that you may be sure that there will not be an appeal or other post-trial issues to be addressed.