Category Archives: Divorce

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

A little boy hugged me today.  I say “little,” but he was a teenager, old enough to appreciate the large scale change in his life that would come with the piece of paper the judge would sign giving his mom custody of him.  He had come to the end of a hard road, and he was grateful.  I can’t express just what that hug meant to me, but suffice it to say it was pretty special.  I need to store that away in my memory for times when I am challenged about why I do this work.  I do it because it means something very real to my clients and to their families.  It’s the little things that make the work worthwhile.

Holding it Together

Our Civil Code is very big on family.  And even though it was first written over 200 years ago, a basic principle of our family law is that children benefit from the care of both parents.  The law requires that parents make an effort to foster good relations between themselves and their children.  Parents are required to take care of their kids, and, incidentally, children have a duty to take care of their parents.

Somehow, though, when the subject of visitation comes up, there always seems to be an excuse as to why the other parent should not see their children:

“I’ve never gotten a dime in child support!”  

“He/she doesn’t deserve to see his/her kids!”

“We always argue when we see each other, and it’s better if he/she just stays away.”

I find that a lot of parents are mistaken on issues of custody law.  A parent with physical or domiciliary custody over his or her children does not have the right to put up barriers that keep children from knowing both parents.  It doesn’t matter if one parent has been negligent in paying support or if you still have your differences since breaking up.  The law wants you to work things out for the benefit of your children, and the law will help to facilitate the mending of broken family ties.

The child support question and “earning” the right to see a child

Does a parent have to pay child support?  Absolutely.  Does a parent’s failure to pay child support affect his or her right to visitation?  Not at all.  These are two entirely different matters in the eyes of the law.  Although frustrating to have a parent withhold support, the law provides a process by which child support can be collected by the State, so as far as it’s concerned that issue is being taken care of.  In the meantime, the law still requires parents to facilitate a relationship between children and both of their parents.  In other words, failure to pay support is not an excuse to remove visitation privileges.

Parental conflict as a barrier to parenting

Obviously if a parent is talking to me instead of the person he or she had a child with, there’s a conflict problem.  I certainly try to minimize conflict between parents when I can, and emphasize the importance of clear communication when dealing with the children they have in common.  The reason I do that is the law requires parents to not only communicate, but takes into account the extent to which a parent is willing to reach across the divide and keep the relationship between the child and the other parent alive.

Now, please understand that I am not talking about domestic violence here.  If you are in a situation where you or your children are in danger of harm because of violent behavior between you and the other parent, allow the court to resolve the issues involved.  You may need a protective order to help keep the peace, and supervised visits may be ordered to protect the children if the court feels it is necessary.  The court may also want to order counseling for you and the children to help the family cope with and prevent family violence.

You need a caring, trusting advisor in child custody and visitation cases

No matter what the underlying problem is, the two of you have a child together, and until that child is grown you will both have to make concessions in the best interest of that child.  That’s hard advice to swallow, but with a caring, trusted advisor on your side you can make the tough decisions the law requires you to make.

Meneray Family Law does nothing but work with family members to resolve these and other important family law matters.  Call Liz Meneray for a consultation today at (504) 330-5522 or e-mail her at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

And enjoy your kids, they grow up so fast!

“Is There Such a Thing as an ‘Uncontested Divorce’?”

People ask me this all the time, making a playful joke about using the word “uncontested” in a context that is generally rife with “contest.”   Although divorces are rarely without their tension, Louisiana law does afford spouses an opportunity to obtain an “uncontested divorce” in certain limited circumstances.  Uncontested means that the parties basically have agreed to disagree and move on with their lives.  They don’t have many issues at stake; they just want to go to court, and get their marriage dissolved as quickly and inexpensively as possible.   

How quick is quick?  Generally, once the paperwork is filed a divorce can be granted within ten to fifteen days.  One way to speed things up is to have your spouse sign a Waiver of Service and Citation.  This document tells the court that your spouse is aware of the divorce (because they will have been provided with a certified copy of the Petition) and does not wish to draw things out by making a sheriff serve them with paperwork.  If they don’t want to fight the divorce, there’s nothing more they need to do.  So long as no opposition is filed, the court will grant a final judgment of divorce rather quickly.  There are some statutory time periods that have to pass between the filing of the petition and the granting of the divorce, but they are short, and a judgment is rendered as soon as it’s clear your spouse will not be contesting the matter.

How inexpensive is inexpensive?  My fee for this type of divorce is a flat rate of $399.00, plus applicable court costs.  These cases don’t usually require much paperwork, and so little of my time is needed to get the divorce accomplished.  Therefore, I don’t think it’s fair to charge you more than that.  The clerks of court, however, have a different way of calculating what they charge, and each parish has its own fee structure.   You are welcome to consult with me about the charges in the parish where you live.

If you want to learn whether your divorce can be filed under this uncontested procedure for the low rate of $399 plus court costs, call Meneray Family Law today at (504) 330-5522. 

‘I Think I’ll Dust My Broom’

I’ve been cleaning out my closets lately.  You know how it is; things get worn out, things become too tight (or if you’re really lucky, too loose), things go out of style, and sometimes you don’t know why you bought a thing in the first place.  So, you gather up those things and hope someone else can make use of them, but for you they’re just no good anymore.

There’s an old saying that comes to mind, “Dust my broom.”  If you need a change and want to start fresh, then you “dust your broom” and get on with it.  It can take awhile before you begin the cleaning, but you know once you get started you will feel so much better about having cleared away the clutter.  Once those boxes are off to Goodwill, or the last customer has left the yard sale, you can rest easy.

It’s that way with most things.  Your to-do list has probably been nagging at you for some time.

  • Do you need a will?  Do you need to update the will you have?
  • Do you want to donate property or set up a trust or foundation?
  • Do you have a living will that lets your family know what medical decisions you would want made in the event you could not speak for yourself?
  • Do you have a power of attorney so that someone can manage your affairs if you’re unable to make decisions for yourself?
  • Do you have a guardian chosen for your children if something should happen to you and your spouse?
  • Have you recently had a baby, gotten married or lost a spouse?  You may want to change the beneficiaries on your investments and insurance policies.
  • Are you getting married soon?  Do you want to separate certain property from the community with a prenuptial agreement?
  • Have you been contemplating a divorce?
  • Did you get a divorce in the last few years but never divided up your community property?  If you want to refinance that property you will need to clear title to it before you can refinance in your name alone.
  • Are you paying child support but want to know how a job change affects you?
  • Do you have a child with someone who has never paid support, or has stopped paying support?
  • Has it been a while since you’ve visited with your kids?  Would you like to be able to see them more regularly?

Give me a call at (504) 330-5522 if you’re ready to ‘dust your broom.’  I can help you get your legal house in order.

What is a Retainer and Why Do I Need One?

When you hire a lawyer for a family law matter, inevitably the conversation will turn to the issue of attorney’s fees, court costs and the establishment of a retainer.  Although lawyers and their clients discuss retainers every day, many clients leave the discussions confused about what they have agreed to.  When the bill comes later that month, a client may become frustrated trying to understand how their money was spent.  I understand it can be difficult to understand how retainers work and frustrating to learn what legal services cost.  Some of these problems are within a lawyer’s control and some of them are not.  At Meneray Family Law, L.L.C., I want my clients to be a part of the process from beginning to end, and to feel comfortable with all of the decisions being made, including how their hard-earned money is spent.

A retainer agreement is a contract.  It sets out rights and responsibilities, so that you know what you have to do and what you can expect from your attorney, but also what your lawyer must do and what your lawyer can expect from you.

Your Attorney’s Rights and Responsibilities

A lawyer is obligated to perform certain legal services.  Those services should be spelled out in the retainer agreement with enough detail to allow you, the client, to understand what he or she is doing for you.  The attorney is bound to the responsibilities outlined in the agreement.  If there is work to be done that is not in the agreement, the agreement should be updated to include that work, or a new agreement should be drawn up to include those new responsibilities.

In exchange for the work outlined in the retainer agreement, the attorney has a right to expect to be paid a certain amount of money.  The retainer agreement should state how much per hour your lawyer charges for his time, as well as for the time of any other attorney, secretary or paralegal the lawyer may use to help with your case.

Your Rights and Responsibilities as a Client

The client has a right to expect the legal services outlined in the contract to be performed to the extent that the attorney is able to do so.  At Meneray Family Law, L.L.C., I work with my clients to make a plan for each case.  I am in frequent contact with my clients to make certain they know how things are going to carry out that plan, and when the plan has to change to meet changing conditions, we discuss that too.  You have the right to know, at all times, what is going on in your case.

It is a client’s responsibility to pay his or her attorney for the work she or he does for you, according to the terms of the retainer agreement.  The bill a client receives should spell out how much time a lawyer spent on his case and what exactly the lawyer did to earn the money.  If the bill is unclear, the client has a right to ask for clarification.  The bill should also show how much of a client’s money was used to pay court costs and other expenses above and beyond the lawyer’s hourly fee.  Again, if you are uncertain as to how your money is being spent, you have the right to ask for an explanation.

So, What is This Retainer Business?

The retainer is, to put it simply, a deposit.  A lawyer makes a guess as to what your case will cost, taking into account the particular facts of your situation, the number of attorney hours the case may take, and the court costs and other expenses that may be expected in your type of matter.  It is not easy to estimate what a case will cost, and it should be understood from the beginning that this is just an educated guess as to how much money you may need to see your case through to the end.  The money paid is put into a bank account established especially for attorney retainers, called a trust account.  The lawyer doesn’t draw interest on this account when the money sits in the bank.  The interest goes to a special fund that helps people who can’t afford lawyers to get free legal help.  As the lawyer earns money by working on your case, he or she withdraws the fee from the trust account.  He also withdraws money from that account to pay the clerk of court for filing fees, or the post office for stamps, or for any other expenses related to your case.

Replenishing the Retainer

Once the retainer is spent, it has to be “replenished” in order to continue paying the fees and costs associated with your ongoing legal matter.   You will need to put more money into the trust account in order to keep your case going.  How much the replenishment is will depend on how much more work needs to be done and how many other expenses the attorney believes you will incur during the life of your case.

What Happens to Retainer Money that Isn’t Spent?

When your case is over, any money not spent should be refunded to you.  After all, the retainer account is just a holding place for your money until such time as it is needed to pay attorneys fees or other expenses.

Final Thoughts

Not all legal matters require a retainer.  Some matters are simple enough to be done for a flat fee, a one-time charge for all legal work and expenses involved.

You should be able to get an idea of what charges you can expect, and whether or not a retainer will be required, in your initial consultation with an attorney.

I work hard to make certain my clients are comfortable throughout my representation of them.  If you have questions about a family law matter, and want to meet with me to find out what it will cost to resolve, call Meneray Family Law today at (504) 330-5522, or send me an e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

 

Community Property, Intellectual Property webinar now available for free streaming

Protecting your intellectual property doesn’t end at Copyright registration. Your copyright is for life, plus 70 years, but what happens when your situation changes?

Recently, I presented a webinar for the Arts Council of New Orleans, entitled
Community Property/Intellectual Property.

This webinar is now available for free streaming.

The webinar lasts about 18 minutes and covers:

  • What community property means in Louisiana.
  • Divorce and intellectual property.
  • Estate Planning and intellectual property.
  • How to plan ahead to protect yourself.

To view the webinar,
please click here.

Liz Meneray to Host Webinar on Community Property for Arts Council of New Orleans

Please join me via live webchat for the webinar, “Community Property, Intellectual Property,” on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 12:00 noon.  I am presenting the webinar for the Arts Council of New Orleans.  I will be presenting an overview of Louisiana community property law, giving information concerning intellectual property and how it fits within the community property classification at the time of divorce or death, and providing tips for effective preparation for either of these unfortunate events.  You can sign up for the webinar through the Arts Council’s website at www.artscouncilofneworleans.org.

The ABC’s of Child Custody

Custody disputes are complicated matters.  They involve legal issues, certainly, but also intense emotional ties, uncertainty and stress.   Trying to calm the waters of a bitter custody battle is no small task, but there are some constants in the process that can be boiled down to these ABC’s:

A:  ALLOWING BOTH PARENTS TO PARTICIPATE – Joint custody is the preferred state of affairs in Louisiana law.  Our society likes to see parents cooperate and participate in the raising of their children.  Unfortunately, the reason custody cases exist is when parents disagree about how to parent their children, and even the law can’t make them see eye to eye.  However, it’s important to understand that a disagreement between the parents is not a good reason for one of them to withhold a child from the other.  Both parents have equal rights to their children, and the law prefers to see both of them parent the child.  That’s not to say there aren’t ways for a parent to lose the right to be a parent.  But,  to the extent possible our laws favor allowing both parents to participate in the raising of their children.  Our courts will work to make that happen to benefit the child.  That brings us to…

B:  BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD – Our Civil Code challenges courts in family law matters to be a watchdog for the best interests of our children.  It is the court’s role to make certain that decisions made are truly best for the children involved.  To do that, courts use “The Best Interest of the Child Factors” in the Civil Code.  Not all of these factors apply in every case, and there may be factors not on the list that also apply, but generally this is what the court wants to know about a child’s situation:

  • Love, affection and emotional ties between the child and the parties
  • Spiritual and emotional guidance provided to the child by the parties
  • Food, clothing, medical care and other material needs available to the child
  • Continuity of a stable, adequate environment
  • Permanence of the family unit
  • Moral fitness of the parties
  • Mental and physical health of the parties
  • Home, school and community history of the child
  • The child’s preference, if he’s old enough to have one
  • Each party’s willingness to help and encourage the child to have a close and continuing relationship with the other party
  • Distance of the parties’ residences
  • The care and rearing previously exercised by each party

C:  CONSENT JUDGMENT OR COURT-ORDERED CUSTODY –  When parents are able to agree, it is not necessary that a judge decide where a child lives or how often he visits with a parent.  The parties can create their own guidelines for custody and visitation in the form of a Consent Judgment.  The Consent Judgment basically sets out the law as it relates to the parties – the parents get to make the rules they believe are fair for their situation.  If things change at a later date, the parties may still be able to go to court and ask the judge to make a decision.

If the parties are unable to agree and a Consent Judgment is not the best solution for them, the parties can go before a judge, or a hearing officer in some parishes, and the court can decide using the Best Interest of the Child Factors outlined above, along with any other evidence the parties are able to present.  If things change at a later date, however, it is much harder to get a court-ordered custody arrangement changed than if the parties had a judgment entered into by consent of the parties.

D:  DECIDE TO CONTACT LIZ – I’ll throw in one more step – give me a call at (504) 330-5522 if you have a custody question.  I will be happy to sit down with you and help you make a plan that fits  your situation.  It is always my hope that parents can find some middle ground for the benefit of their children, but when necessary the courts are here to make certain that the rights of parents, and their responsibilities toward their children, are maintained and respected.

Independence Day

I filed a Petition for Divorce for one of my clients on January 4 of this year, and almost immediately she began to anticipate her big “independence day.”  “Will I be divorced by the fourth of July?” she wanted to know.  “Almost,” was my partial reply.

In Louisiana, a couple married without minor children may be divorced after living separate and apart for 180 days after service of the Petition for Divorce.  In this client’s case, her spouse was served with her petition on January 13, so we will be finalizing her divorce a few days later than July 4, but to her it will be “independence day” in her mind.

But what does independence entail?  It’s more complicated sometimes than just being “freed” of the person you’re married to.  As much as you may just want it “over and done with,” the divorce decree itself is only the beginning of a divorce.  What about the property you acquired together; what about the bills, the bank accounts, the retirement savings invested over the years of the marriage?  All of that has to be sorted out, and while you’re waiting for that final judgment of divorce, there are a lot of details that require your attention.  Unfortunately, once you begin the divorce process, your emotional state will make it difficult for you to give the hard and fast details the attention they deserve. 

That’s why when you contemplate divorce, it’s important to plan ahead.  Many of my clients learn all too quickly how difficult it is to live on one income instead of two.  Having some money set aside in advance, maybe taking out a credit card or two, can help you to have the funds you need to get through that tough transition period once you and your spouse decide to part ways.

You should consult with an attorney before making the decision to leave the family home or asking your spouse to leave.  There are a lot of details involved in divorce that you probably have not considered, and you want to think carefully about those details before the chaos of the final breakup.  You need someone who can look at your situation and separate the facts from your complicated emotions and help you make decisions that are in your best interest.  That’s what we’re trained to do – to be objective, to advocate for your position, and to look out for you while you’re going through this rocky emotional terrain.

At Meneray Family Law, we will sit down and frankly, but confidentially, talk out your case – what’s important to you, what you’re worried about, what questions you have – and we’ll be able to make a plan to move forward. No decisions need to be made during that hour or so we spend together talking.  It’s a time for us to learn about each other, what you need and what we can do to assist you.  You can begin to contemplate that independence you desire, and how best to achieve it.

If you’re thinking about divorce and want to begin making a plan, call us at (504) 330-5522 for a confidential consultation.

What is Family Law?

Our Louisiana Civil Code was written to be a sort of blueprint for daily life, with instructions on all sorts of topics.  One series of topics is contained in the book entitled, “Persons,” and speaks to the relationships of people in our society.  Husbands and wives, parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, all interact within the confines of the Code.

Our family practice, then, is really a “Persons” practice, because we operate within the four corners of the Book of Persons.  We help our clients to understand the laws laid out in the Code and apply them to their legal problems. Of course, a lot of concerns fall under the umbrella of “people and relationships,” and this makes for a varied and interesting practice.  Here are some common concerns our clients ask us to address:

  • Pre-marital agreements for men and women wanting to make arrangements for separation of property;
  • Divorce either before or after a period of living separate and apart;
  • Property settlement (called partition) during or after a divorce, including Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO’s) for distribution of pensions and other retirement plans; 
  • Child custody by a parent;
  • Tutorship of a child by a grandparent or other relative;
  • Emancipation of an older child;
  • Child support obligations and arrearages;
  • Adoption of a child within the family (intra-family adoption);
  • Adoption of a child outside the family (private or agency adoption);
  • Wills and Powers of Attorney for planning end of life issues;
  • Successions for families dealing with the property of a loved one lost.

Louisiana’s legal history is rich and deeply rooted in the traditions of family.  Meneray Family Law is dedicated to serving the needs of all “persons” and their families, and we invite you to contact us at (504) 330-5522 today.