Pending divorce, custody, support, adoptions . . . the legal system can confuse and frustrate.
When something as important as your family comes before the legal system, for whatever reason, you need someone there to listen, to guide you through the process, and to understand.
A FAMILY LAW SPECIALIST’S OVERVIEW – In Plain English
ANATOMY OF A CASE
FROM INITIAL CONSULT TO APPEARANCE AT COURT OR OTHER FINAL RESOLUTION
NOTE: EVERY CASE IS DISTINCT AND AT LEAST SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FROM ANY OTHER CASE. THIS EXPLANATION IS MEANT TO SUPPLEMENT THE VERBAL INFORMATION YOU RECEIVE FROM THIS OFFICE AT THE INITIAL CONSULTATION, AND THEREAFTER, EVERY TIME YOU MEET WITH US. YOUR INITIAL CONSULTATION FEE DOES NOT “RETAIN” THE ATTORNEY. SHE IS “RETAINED” ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE PAID THE AMOUNT AGREED TO, PER YOUR FEE AGREEMENT, TO BEGIN WORK ON YOUR CASE.
You have had your initial consultation with the Attorney, or her Assistant if you have chosen to meet with him first, and if you met with the Attorney, then you have paid the consultation fee, and paid (either that day or some later day) your retainer fee or a portion of it that is required before we begin work on your case. We have all the documents and other pertinent information that is needed to draft the paperwork and later file your action, as discussed in the consultation.
We have prepared your documents, and have called you to inform that they are ready for review and your signature on all necessary or required documents.
Document Filed with the Court
We have either sent the documents to the Court for filing and service by the Sheriff or service by a Private Server (as discussed during consultation), assuming you have paid the filing fee and the service of process fee.
Documents to Opposing Party
If we are expecting the other party to sign a document called an Acknowledgement of Service, then we will not send the papers to the Sheriff or Private Server to have the other party served. We will NOT file the documents until we have that document from the other party. We will have sent the other party a letter and the Acknowledgement form, requesting that he/she sign the form, have notarized, and return to our office. We include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for this purpose.
Waiver of Jurisdiction
In some cases, we also ask that the other party “Waive Jurisdiction” to the county where you, our client, resides. The other party may or may not agree to do so, and if they do not return either the Acknowledgement or the Waiver form within the required time, usually 10 days from receipt, we inform you.
Documents Served on Opposing Party
At that point, you must decide if the other party shall be served by the Sheriff or Private Service, or if you want to make further attempts personally. We will expect a response from you within 10 days of this office informing you of the problem.
Wrong Address/Wrong Place Filed
Note that if we file a case in the wrong county, based upon either your assurances that the other party will sign the necessary forms to have the case heard in your county of residence, or your agreement to attempt this in your county, there is further cost to you to transfer the case from your county to the correct county.
Temporary Hearings and Scheduling
We will set a temporary hearing with the Court once all required documents are signed and filed. This will not be done, however, until you have paid the required portion of your retainer to my office. NOTE: The Court schedules hearings for all cases, according to the Judge’s schedule, what type of case it is, what the issues are, etc. We do not tell the Court, nor opposing counsel, what the hearing date will be. While those dates are somewhat negotiable, there are other people and their schedules involved in the process of finding a suitable hearing date. My office is not solely responsible for hearing or mediation dates being set or continued to a later date.
Updating Documents and Information for Court
We must ensure that all financial documents, if required, are updated before any Court hearing. Therefore, if anything changes in your employment, expenses, income, etc., you must inform this office immediately.
Custody Issues and Standing Orders
Once you have retained this office to file any document that concerns property division or children, you may NOT remove the children from the jurisdiction of the Court (which means “Georgia” Courts), and you may not dispose of, remove, sell, or otherwise encumber any property. You may not cause or allow property or utilities or insurances to be repossessed, turned off or canceled. The Courts have issued a “Standing Order” that is filed with each case in most Courts where I practice. That Order specifically prohibits the above actions, and the Judges take those provisions seriously.
Other Party’s Documents Filed and Served On You
At any time thereafter, this office may receive an Answer and/or Counterclaim from the other party regarding the case that has been filed. At that time, we inform you that the case has, for all intents and purposes, become “Contested.” Per our Fee Agreement with you, we must inform you of this because the costs associated with your case will increase. An action becomes contested at this time and will continue in the Courts ONLY IF YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO PURSUE IT FURTHER. We inform you in order to ensure that you are aware of what is expected of you now that the case has been objected to. Once we receive your authorization to continue, we will contact you to set up an appointment with the Attorney to discuss your case and what you should expect from this point forward. You should expect to pay the agreed upon percentage toward your Contested Retainer Fee at this appointment. No further work will be performed on your case until this is paid. You may discuss payment arrangements with the Office Manager. No arrangements will be made through the Attorney. Payments must be made per your Agreement with this office. Please see the Fee Agreement for further detail.
County Requirements, i.e., Mediation
Your case may require Mediation, depending upon the County in which the case is filed, and sometimes, depending upon the Judge presiding. If it is required, we will schedule Mediation. If we reach a full and final agreement at Mediation, you will be responsible for the Attorney’s hourly fee for each hour of Mediation. You will be responsible for one-half of the Mediator’s costs, whether there is a settlement, or not. You will still be required to pay the remainder of the contested retainer fee, but you will not be required to pay anything further toward the Attorney’s Court time for a final hearing. If full and final resolution is reached at Mediation, there will be no Final Hearing before the Court.
Frequency of Status Checks and Update Requests
Finally, if you would like an update on your case numerous times each week, even if there is no change or otherwise nothing to report, we will be happy to do so, however, this may affect your fees.
Final Hearings/ Fees Due
If there is not a full and final resolution/agreement reached at Mediation, then you will be responsible for paying the remainder of your contested retainer fee as well as the Attorney’s “In-Court” hourly fee, per your Fee Agreement. You will not, however, be required to pay the Attorney’s hourly fee for her time at Mediation. If you are quoted a “Flat Fee” for your case, the Fee Agreement that you sign when you retain the firm states specifically that there are no “itemized billings” done. There are hourly fees for preparation time for a final hearing, and Court time for a final hearing, and those may be itemized, but all work leading up to the preparation and final hearing will not be available as an itemized bill. You are required to initial each paragraph of the Fee Agreement.
Contact with Court or Attorney – Hearings and Other Notices
You will be contacted before any Court hearing by telephone, letter, and/or e-mail, in order to ensure that you are aware of the court date and time, and to schedule a preparation appointment with you and your witness(es). It is therefore IMPERATIVE that we always have updated contact information for you. If we do not have the contact information necessary to inform you of court dates or other important information, you may miss a court date and the court may then rule against you. In that event, this office will not be held accountable, as your responsibility to keep your Attorney informed of your whereabouts is of the highest priority. The Attorney will, therefore, have no alternative but to withdraw as Counsel in your case.
Hearings and Judge’s Ruling/Decisions
Once a case is heard, either at a temporary hearing or a final hearing, the Judge will request that one of the Attorneys draft the Order. This may take more time that the average client finds reasonable, however, please understand that the Judge requires it be drafted, forwarded to the other Attorney or party to review, and then sent to the Judge for signature thereafter. There are times that the other Attorney does not review the Order as quickly as we would like them to, and there are times that the Judge does not sign the Order as quickly as we would like them to, also. We endeavor to expedite these Orders as effectively as possible; however, we are not able to dictate to the other Attorney or to the Judge. Please be aware of this fact.
Attorney/Client Fee Agreement Terms – in General
Once this office has drafted all necessary paperwork in your case, and has made all reasonable efforts to have them signed, etc., there will be no refund of any fees should you decide to dismiss your case, or should you decide to seek other Counsel. However, after an initial Consultation, and after any work has begun on your case, assuming you have paid your entire retainer, there will be a 50% refund of your retainer should you decide not to continue your action, for any reason. If you have paid only one-half of your retainer, which is most typical, you will receive no refund of that one-half, since it is only 50% refundable based upon payment of the entire retainer. If you have questions regarding this provision, please ask the Attorney to explain further.
At any time you wish to be informed of the status of your case, please feel free to call the office and leave a message, if you are unable to speak with someone when you call. We endeavor to return calls within 24 hours, however, there are times that we cannot return all calls as quickly as our clients might like. In that event, please feel free to contact the office or the Attorney by e-mail at: [email protected] We check e-mail daily and will respond daily, if we receive your e-mail in a timely manner. We ask that clients refrain from calling or e-mailing daily as we cannot possibly have information for you in a short space of time, and we always inform our clients as soon as we have any information to give them.