Tag Archives: family law

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.

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

 

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.

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.

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.

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.