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Family Law Q & A

I'm concerned that I may be on the verge of divorce.  What should I do?

Choosing a Family Law Attorney:

Some suggestions for those seeking a Family Law attorney:

1. When selecting an attorney notice whether they claim to handle many areas of law. If considering a lawyer recommended by a friend, ask what type of legal matter they handled. As explained below, Family Law requires skills that a "jack of all trades" lacks.

2. Get a retainer agreement from the attorney or firm and read it very carefully.  The retainer is a binding contract between you and the attorney.

3. What about mediation?  As my profile page indicates, I served as a mediator for the Superior Court of New Jersey when I served as a Law Clerk in the Family Part, and have served as a professional Family Law mediator since opening my practice. When parties are unsure exactly what they want and what’s fair, but are determined to proceed in an amicable and honest fashion, mediation is absolutely preferable to the adversarial system.  It costs less, it takes less time, and it usually results in a resolution that is far more satisfying to both partiesFor about the cost of a single contested motion, we work together to find "win-win" solutions and to draft and execute a settlement agreement.  Each party is then advised to have the agreement checked by independent counsel.

4. During the initial consultation, keep the following questions in mind:

Basic Questions

What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?
Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?
Why did you become a Family Law attorney?
Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?
Do you have standard charges for various tasks?
Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?
Assertiveness and Tenacity

My Answers to the Same Questions

What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?
Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?
What are the changes in Family Law, and how do they effect my case?
Why did you become a Family Law attorney?
Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?
Do you have standard charges for various tasks?
Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?
Assertiveness and Tenacity
Legal Fees
Trust your "gut feeling"

What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

Family Law is no area for general practitioners or "jacks of all trades."  An attorney who may be excellent in other areas of the law may not have the particular skills and dedication that being an effective Family Law advocate requires. A good rule of thumb is to find an attorney who devotes at least 50 percent of their practice to Family Law. My opinion only, but I don't think it is possible to stay abreast of the changes in the law and to effectively handle more than two areas. The most significant criteria for selecting a Family Law attorney are knowledge of and experience in family law.

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My Answer

Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

Clerking for a family law judge is a unique experience which is almost impossible to duplicate by practicing law alone. As a law clerk, a recent law school graduate works for and with a Superior Court judge for a one year term, reviewing literally thousands of cases while observing and participating in the decision-making process. Perhaps most importantly, a law clerk has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of lawyers appearing before the court and by seeing what not to do. 

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My Answer

Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

An attorney who cannot provide a convincing answer as to why they specialize in Family Law (profit aside) is someone you may not wish to retain.

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My Answer

Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

If you and your spouse own large corporations with complex buy-sell agreements, you may be better off with a larger firm.   But if your case is closer to the middle to upper-middle class average, I believe you should steer clear of the large firms. A smaller firm or sole practioner who specializes in Family Law will usually be more responsive and will always be less expensive than the mega-firms.

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My Answer

Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Read the firm's retainer agreement carefully. If your potential attorney or firm has "standard charges" -- for example, a minimum for court appearances, leave immediately and look elsewhere. Under no circumstances should a firm expect to be paid more than their hourly rate for "special services" such as court appearances or depositions.

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My Answer

Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

Most attorneys work on a forward-billing basis. However, if your case becomes involved, it may not be possible to continue pre-paying for legal services. Most attorneys will seek to secure their fees against marital assets that will eventually be sold, and will agree to a monthly payment arrangement in the interim. My policy is not to charge interest unless there is a default. Avoid a firm that seeks to automatically charge interest on an unpaid balance. Again, read the retainer agreement very carefully.

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My Answer

Assertiveness and Tenacity

Make sure you choose an attorney who is willing and able to adapt to your changing needs. Though you may want a lawyer who is sensitive and compassionate toward you and always ready to reach a fair settlement agreement, keep in mind that these qualities alone are insufficient. There may be times when your attorney must be assertive and tenacious, especially when dealing with your spouse, your spouse's attorney, and the Court. A lawyer who exudes strength and confidence during your initial interview is more likely to be able to be aggressive if the need arises.

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My Answer

My Answers to the Same Questions

Coincidentally, I seem to score very high on the criteria I suggest for choosing a Family Law attorney.

What percentage of your practice is devoted to Family Law?

About 90% is family law, related civil rights matters, and family law appeals.  

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Did you serve as a law clerk in the Family Part?

I did indeed. I served under the Hon. Donald W. de Cordova, Chancery Division, Family Part during the 1996 term.

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What are the changes in Family Law, and how do they effect my case?

Talk to me. The law is changing (for example, there is no more "visitation" - the correct legal term is now "Parenting Time"). New mediation requirements are on the horizon, as well as further movement toward shared parenting becoming a presumption.

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Why did you become a Family Law attorney?

I went through the system myself while in the midst of studying for the Graduate Record Examination with hope of earning a PhD in history. At a low point in my experience in 1992, I literally threw away the G.R.E. book and picked up the Law School Aptitude Test book.  I later ended up as a custodial parent and shared parenting for a time. After almost two decades of complete immersion in Family Law, having represented every conceivable perspective, I've a lot of perspective on all the various aspects of being involved in the system. I know how hard it can be - emotionally and financially - to be a litigant in Family Court. I went into law school with a strong Family Law focus, determined to become an effective and reasonably-priced advocate.

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Do you frequently handle complicated or large asset cases?

While the majority of my my clients are middle to upper-middle-class, I have handled complex and large asset matters with equitable distribution involving several million dollars.

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Do you have standard charges for various tasks?

Absolutely not. Although I offer flat-fee rates for some tasks (such as an uncontested divorce), I strongly believe that any firm that charges "flat fees" for tasks such as a court appearance is to be avoided.

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Do you charge interest on an unpaid balance?

I try to work with clients on payment issues. While I usually insist on forward-billing, if a client cannot afford this, I generally will make payment arrangements that fit into the client's budget. So long as the client keeps to the arrangement (e.g. doesn't disregard the bill) I do not charge interest.

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Assertiveness and Tenacity

Theodore Roosevelt said it best - "talk softly, but carry a big stick." Settling on fair and amicable grounds is always preferable, and I seek to do this when it is in a client's best interests to do so; but if this becomes impossible, I enjoy the process of demonstrating the justice of our cause and prevailing in court.

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Legal Fees

My concentration is on effective representation, not on maintaining an expensive image. I provide professional, aggressive representation at reasonable rates.

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Trust your "gut feeling"

Office consultations are provided in complete confidence and without charge. If you don't feel I'm the right attorney for your case, I will be happy to discuss the reputation of other attorneys in the area, and even provide you with the names of other attorneys I'd recommend.

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Revel Fowler v.
Cassandra Ricks
FD-11-1106-07

Under these circumstances, does the Welfare Cap / Child Exclusion / Assignment of Child Support violate the “taking clause” of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1, paragraph 20 of the New Jersey Constitution?

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Irreconcilable
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