Category Archives: Visitation

Voted One of New Orleans’ Best

I am thrilled to announce that I will appear in the November edition of New Orleans Magazine, listed among the top family attorneys in New Orleans.  This list was compiled with suggestions from members of the legal community, and so I am particularly happy to know I am becoming a respected practitioner in my chosen field.

Still, as much as those accolades mean, I can’t grow my practice without my clients.  If you have a family law need to discuss with me, please call at (504) 581-4334, or reach out  to me 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!

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!

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.

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!

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.