The Power of Good Will

In this age of instant, electronic communication, it’s really nice to get a paper and envelope note.  It’s really gratifying to hold a thank you card in your hand, and reflect upon the time and care it took to write it.  I get these notes from clients from time to time, and I hold on to them to remind me that my work is valued.

A few years ago, I received a letter from a woman, thanking me for my “professionalism and your kindness.”  She said “it eased my nerves more than you know when you greeted me so warmly at the hearing.”  This woman was not my client, but rather the unrepresented spouse of my client.    I have held on to this note as a symbol that my work impacts not only my clients but everyone else I encounter in the course of a case, especially when there is no lawyer on the other side.

Today, I received what I consider to be an even higher compliment from an unrepresented party – a referral.  The former husband of a client referred me to his friend, saying that he was really impressed with the way I handled their divorce matter.  Even though I was not his attorney, he respected my knowledge and skill enough to refer me to another person he cared about.

I try to approach everyone in a case with the same level of respect, with an understanding that both parties are hurting, are stressed, are frustrated, confused and probably scared.  Of course, my client gets the full benefit of my counsel and advice, but I feel it’s important to show both parties that I understand and respect their positions.  Sometimes this has unexpected consequences.  It’s called good will, and it has great value to me as a person, as a lawyer, as a counselor, and as a representative of the legal profession.

I would love to talk with you or those special to you about their family law concerns.  Contact me today at:  liz@menerayfamilylaw.com or (504)  330-5522.

 

 

 

2014 – Looking Back and Giving Back

2014 was a year for giving back to the community, to helping budding lawyers and paralegals alike, to continuing to serve those in need of legal services, and to celebrating the vibrant city we call home.  Here are some highlights of Meneray Family Law’s year:

PRESENTING AT LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL

As I have done for the past few years, I was part of a distinguished panel of Loyola alumni invited to present advice and instruction to students studying the Civil Law of Persons with Professor Monica H. Wallace.  This past semester we taught students how to interview clients, how to draft a divorce petition and how to present an argument in a child custody case.

NATIONAL PRO BONO DAY, LOUISIANA “LAWYERS IN LIBRARIES” EVENT

I volunteered this past October at the Plaquemines Parish Public Library to offer free “mini consultations” to residents of the parish seeking family law help.  Similar events were held in every parish in the State of Louisiana, facilitated by the Louisiana State Bar Association Access to Justice Committee.

MENTORING TULANE UNIVERSITY PARALEGAL STUDENTS

Continuing my belief that good lawyers make great paralegals, by giving them patient attention and instruction, I worked with student interns this past year, guiding them as they learned the complicated process of contributing to the work of a family law practice.

ORLEANS PARISH CIVIL DISTRICT COURT DOMESTIC MEDIATION PROGRAM

Last year I became a certified family law mediator, and this year I began working with the Domestic Mediation Program at the Orleans Parish Civil District Court.  It’s a new program, but I am confident that by using qualified mediators to help people resolve disputes without litigation, many people who could not otherwise afford to see their cases to conclusion will get results to assist them in parenting their children, obtaining child support and other relief.

CONTINUED COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

I am now in my second decade as a volunteer for WWOZ 90.7 FM, as host of the program “Sitttin’ In,” which presents modern jazz in an all vinyl format.  This year I joined the Board of Directors of the NOLA Project, an energetic local theater company celebrating its tenth year of presenting “theater for the bold.”  I am looking forward to continuing to work within the New Orleans community to celebrate its culture and diversity.

Whether as attorney, mediator, volunteer, teacher, disc jockey or theater lover, I love the New Orleans community and am committed to serving it.  When we do what we love, that commitment shows in our work.  I look forward to working with you and your families in 2015.

If you or someone you care about needs family law advice, call Liz at (504) 330-5522 today, or send her an email request at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

New Domestic Law Help Center in Jefferson Parish

According to the Louisiana State Bar Association, the 24th Judicial District Court in Gretna is opening a domestic law help desk on Thursday, October 2.  It will be staffed by volunteer attorneys and lawyers from the Louisiana Civil Justice Center.  The help desk is located on the second floor of the 24th JDC courthouse building, at 200 Derbigny Street in Gretna.

Our parish courts often encounter unrepresented litigants in family law cases. Many people need help, but can’t afford attorneys to help them.  Hats off to the 24th JDC, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center and the Louisiana State Bar Association for providing a place for people in need of help to get advice and assistance.

There has been a help desk in Orleans Parish for some time now, and it’s encouraging to see our State Bar reaching out to help people in need of family law advice in other parishes as well.  Let’s hope the trend continues!

Honoring the Birth Mother’s Role in the Adoption Process

It’s nice to start off the new year with an adoption case.  Bringing families together is a very rewarding part of my practice.

Adoptions are emotional for everyone involved, including me.  It’s probably because I am deeply involved with all the people who come together to make this happen.  I see how difficult it is for the birth mother to make the decision to adopt, how longing and hopeful the adoptive parents are to have a child, and how good counselors and lawyers working together with concerned judges can grow a successful adoption case.

If you’re pregnant and considering adoption, I can help you meet families looking for a child.  Except for taking care of yourself to make certain your growing child is healthy, finding the right family for your child is the most important job you have right now.  This is your child, and you are making decisions for his or her best interest.

Prospective parents put together profiles, which include pictures and words that help them tell you about themselves before you actually meet them.  Through the profile, you get a view into their lives and hear about their hopes and dreams, which of course involve having your child as a part of their lives.  You have control over who you want to meet, and it’s your choice who will adopt your child.

In addition to introducing you to hopeful adoptive parents, I will arrange for you to have counseling to prepare you for the adoption process.  I work with some very caring professionals who have many years of experience working with mothers like you.  They understand what you’re going through and can help you figure out what you and  your child need.  

Whether you choose adoption or not, it’s important that you take care of yourself and your baby.  I have great respect for your decision and would be glad to work with you.  Call Liz Meneray at Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. at (504) 330-5522, (504) 322-3222 or e-mail me at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com

 

Open for Business Monday, January 20!

I’ve been getting a lot of calls today from folks looking to take advantage of their Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to take care of their legal business.  As a small business owner, it’s important to me to be available when my clients need me. Therefore, I will be open on Monday for consultations.  Give me a call at (504) 330-5522 or (504) 322-3222, or send me an e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com to set up a time to discuss your legal needs.  Call today!  My calendar is filling up!

2013 – The Year in Review

It had its ups and downs, but 2013 wasn’t a bad year, all in all.  Personally and professionally I’d say 2013 offered many challenges and opportunities to grow. 

  • City Business “Women of the Year”

I was included among the 50 women honored by New Orleans City Business in their annual Women of the Year issue for my contributions to the New Orleans community through Meneray Family Law, L.L.C., through work with organizations like Hagar’s House, a shelter for women and children transitioning from domestic violence, and for the radio show I do every Sunday as a volunteer for the community radio station, WWOZ, 90.7 FM.

  • Mediation Certification

In December, I completed a 40 hour course of training to become a certified family law mediator.  The training was intensive, but very rewarding.  I am looking forward to working with families seeking to work out problems without court intervention.  Look for future posts regarding Meneray Family Mediation, L.L.C., and a new website which will offer information about mediation services.

  • Interstate Custody Practice

Interestingly, I worked a great deal in 2013 with custody matters involving courts in different states.  I gained new knowledge of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which is the law that applies when parents in different states have conflicts about where the child should live.  It’s a fascinating area of practice, and I hope to work with many more clients in this area of the law.

  • 2014 – Upward and Onward!

I have high hopes for the new year, and look forward to working with new families.  Please remember Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. to your friends and family with questions about divorce, child custody and support, spousal support or property distribution/community property concerns.  Please also remember the soon to be formed Meneray Family Mediation, L.L.C. to your friends and family looking to find a solution to problems outside of court with the help of a certified family law mediator.

I continue to be reached on my website:  www.menerayfamilylaw.com, by e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com and by phone at (504) 330-5522 or (504) 322-3222.  I look forward to speaking with you soon.  Have a wonderful 2014!

Wow, Thanks, City Business!

WomenoftheYear-13-ipad-300x200It was amazing  to be nominated for inclusion in New Orleans City Business’ list of outstanding women for 2013.  It was wonderful to see my name on a list with other accomplished women, all being honored for their contributions to the New Orleans community.  It is humbling to be recognized as a businesswoman, mother, lawyer, disc jockey, teacher, volunteer, even as someone who costumes as a 1950’s diner waitress in parades.  It’s hard to know what to say when you just live your life and do what you do, trying to be a good person and help others.  So I guess I’ll just say thank you.

Thinking of Adopting? Your Employer May be Willing to Help!

I met a wonderful couple today who have been taking care of their four year old grandchild her entire life. They want to adopt her and are going to receive financial help from the grandfather’s employer.

Indeed, a quick search on the internet shows that some of Louisiana’s largest employers, Chevron, Shell, BP, all provide benefits to their employees that allow them to recoup money spent in obtaining an adoption.

The amount of the benefits I found on line range from $3000 to $5000, which is enough money to pay all of the cost of an interfamily adoption (adopting a grandchild or a step-child), including attorney’s fees and court costs.

If you’re considering adopting a grandchild or a step-child, contact Liz for a consultation at (504) 322-3222 or e-mail her at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

 

Mending Fences

Courts around Louisiana are putting low cost mediation to work for the benefit of people who can’t afford the expense of going to court.  Orleans Parish is one of the most recent parishes to implement such a program, and I for one am very excited!

Before I went to law school I worked for The Pro Bono Project, meeting every day with people who could not afford the cost of a lawyer but who had cases that would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to litigate.  I would try hard to find lawyers to volunteer to help them, and although there were lawyers willing to do the work for free, not everyone got the help they needed.

In Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, there are hearing officers who hear family law disputes and help the parties work out agreements in many cases.  But in Orleans Parish, where so many of our citizens are unable to afford representation, the courts are overwhelmed with people trying hard to represent themselves, but frustrated because they are not trained to deal with the legal system.

Now mediators are lined up to work with both parents in custody and visitation disputes in the Orleans Parish domestic courts.  Judges determine whether a matter is ripe for mediation, and appoint a trained mediator to talk to both sides and attempt to work out an agreement they can both live with for the benefit of their children.

The mediation is offered on a sliding scale, meaning the parties provide proof of their income and the hourly rate the mediator receives is then based on the parents’ combined income.

If the mediation is successful, the parents walk away with a Consent Judgment, which is a binding court document that sets out the agreement and is enforceable by the parties in the court.  If the mediation fails, the parties still have the option of going before the judge for a hearing, where they can present evidence and witnesses, and make their cases for the judge to decide.

Mediation can be very effective at helping each side understand the other.  Everyone gets a chance to speak.  Everyone’s voice is heard.  The mediator does not take sides, but tries to get each parent to consider the middle ground.

I am so motivated by the prospect of being able to help solve disputes without costly hearings that I will be attending training to become a mediator next month.  The training is extensive; I will attend 40 hours of classes in four days’ time, and emerge ready to mend fences, or at least bring mothers and fathers to the fence line to talk to each other about the most important thing the two of them will ever have in common:  their children.  With a little mutual understanding, we can go home to our children knowing we have done our best for them, for that is the ultimate goal.

What is a QDRO and Why Would I Need One?

If your spouse had a retirement account during your marriage, you may be entitled to a portion of it if the two of you have a community property regime.  There are two steps to cashing out your marital portion of a retirement account.  First, there’s a community property partition, followed by a QDRO (pronounced quad-row) procedure.

How do you know if you have a Community Property Regime?

In Louisiana, all married persons start out in what’s called the community of acquets and gains, or community property for short.  Community property is all of the assets and debts you and your spouse acquire during the course of your marriage.  If you and your spouse want to hold certain property or debt separately, then you have to specifically contract to do that, through a pre-marital agreement or a declaration of paraphernality/separation of property agreement.  If you and your spouse have never signed any document that would make certain property or all property acquired during the marriage separate property, then you have a community property regime.

What Happens to Community Property Once Spouses Divorce?

Divorce ends the community property regime.  However, each spouse retains an ownership interest in the community property.  The way that ownership interest is determined and divided is a legal proceeding called a community property partition.  In this process all of the assets and debts of the couple are listed out, and values assigned.  The parties, either by agreement or with the help of the court, are given ownership and responsibility for all of the assets and debts, in as fair a manner as possible.

What Happens After the Partition of Community Property?

The court will issue a judgment of partition, stating each spouse’s rights and obligations to all of the assets and liabilities of the community.  The community regime is over for the items of property and debt that have been divided.

Where Does the QDRO Process Come In?

Once a spouse has been determined to have an interest in a retirement account of the other spouse, the QDRO procedure is begun to eventually direct the holder of the retirement plan to send payments from the account to the appropriate spouse.  This is done through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO.  Each company has its own set of procedures for processing requests for distributions from employee retirement accounts, and that procedure results in the court granting an order, which is approved, or qualified, by the company.  Once the QDRO is approved, the company will accept the order and begin their internal process to distribute the funds.

Can Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. Handle my Community Property Partition and QDRO Proceedings?

Absolutely.  An unsettled community is a very uncomfortable thing for my clients.  They feel that they have this unfinished business, those loose ends of their marriage that they want to deal with.  And in the case of a QDRO, many clients worry about getting their portion of a retirement account and want to make certain that process is completed as soon as possible.  Call Liz today at (504) 330-5522 or send her an e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw, to make an appointment.