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.

Straight Talk on Child Support

I don’t tend to sugar coat the news I give my clients; they rely on me for information needed to make critical life choices.  However, many things in family law are very uncertain, very difficult to predict, because there’s always the behavior and attitude of the other party and their attorney to consider.  But in child support cases there isn’t much that’s left up to the imagination.  Your child’s parent may be erratic, and you may have been struggling for some time to make certain decisions, but there’s not much that can be done to change what each of you pay in support.  Here’s why:

Child Support is Calculated by Formula

Our state child support law is based on a uniform formula used across the country to determine what it costs to raise a child.  Once you plug in some basic information about the parents, you get a figure which represents the amount of child support owed by each parent. 

Child Support is Determined by the Parents’ Earnings

Each party is ordered to bring to court documents showing their income, which is then plugged in to that standard formula to determine the child support amount.  The amount each parent pays is proportionate to his or her income.

There Isn’t Much “Wiggle Room” in the Numbers

The baseline child support amount, what it takes to feed, house and clothe a child, is set once that standard calculation is completed.  However, there is the possibility that child support can also include health insurance, school tuition, books and uniforms, as well as extracurricular activities and associated fees.   

These extras are what cause a lot of the fighting, but the courts weigh carefully what each parent can afford to pay against the status quo.  If a child attends private school and always has, and both parents paid for it when they were together, then it is likely that the child will remain in private school and the tuition and related expenses will be shared by the parents in proportion to their income.  If one parent wants to enroll the child in karate, cheerleading and tennis, and these activities are new and involve fees the parents cannot reasonably afford, the court may not award these as part of the child support obligation.

Where health insurance is concerned, the law requires that a parent who has access to insurance through their employer enroll their child in the program.  The calculation for basic child support will take into account any out of pocket expense for insurance.

Other Factors, Other Decisions

There are other things that affect the outcome of child support hearings, like who gets to claim a child on their income tax return, how shared custody arrangements can affect support obligations, and what happens when the State gets involved or has been involved in collecting support due or overdue (called an arrearage).  If you’d like to know more, I’m here to talk.  Call Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. today for a child support consultation at (504) 330-5522, or e-mail Liz at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

 

 

 

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.