A law practice is a business. No matter how good an attorney you are, your practice will not take off without that recognition.
This article was written for new solo attorneys, those who are thinking of hanging out a shingle, and those who were dismayed when they saw their tax return for the first time after beginning to practice on their own.
In the divorce process, whether mediated or litigated, one of the most important documents is the statement of net worth. It is a document that outlines the financial health of each party.
Many clients say that “they just want a simple will.” When deciding how to word bequests in a will, we lawyers have to bring up some uncomfortable topics with our clients. Aside from the fact that our client needs to contemplate their own death, they also need to think about and decide what to do with their legacy if other contingencies come into play, such as if their child passes away before them?
I am very honored to have had the opportunity to sit down with the New York State Bar Association and share how I practice law and organize my business. NYSBA has wonderful resources on their site, including the How I Practice section, which offers tips, tricks, and lessons to other attorneys.
A QDRO is a qualified domestic relations order. This is an order regarding retirement accounts. In a divorce, retirement accounts are frequently the subject of equitable distribution. Each party would be entitled to their marital share of the other’s retirement accounts. An evaluation is performed using what is known as the Majauskas formula. This formula is from a landmark case. Majauskas versus Majauskas. The formula determines which portion of the retirement account is marital and which is not. It also determines (depending on the length of the marriage) to how much each spouse is entitled.
People often ask: how do you reconcile the role of the mediator and the role of the attorney when you are doing mediation? When doing a mediation, the mediators’ role is to help the people decide for themselves what course of action they want to take. As a mediator who is also an attorney, I of course have a very good idea as to what would pass muster in the agreement so that it would be likely signed by the Judge.
There are several different types of instances within a divorce where one might want to ask the court for attorney’s fees. In a matrimonial action, we might make a motion “pendente lite,” which means “pending the litigation,” for the moneyed spouse to pay the attorney’s fees for the spouse with less money.
In New York, your spouse has something called a right of election. What this means is that no matter what you want to leave them in your will, they have a right to $50,000 plus one third of your estate. So for instance if you die with a will leaving your spouse out because perhaps you did not update your will or you purposely left your spouse out for whatever reason, they will still get a share of your estate. If you die without a will, your spouse is entitled to even more – $50,000 and half your estate.
Nesting has become a popular concept for families of divorce lately, with articles in the New York Times and other well known publications. Nesting, if you are not familiar with the term, is when divorcing parents arrange for the children to remain in the family home while they each obtain a separate place to live. In theory this enables the children to remain in their home where they grew up, as well as cuts down on the shuffling back and forth between the parents’ homes, which is typical of divorced families who have joint or shared custody.
Many potential clients come to us when they are in the planning stage of a divorce. No one has served any papers, sometimes they are not even sure they want to file for divorce, they are just thinking about it. When we have a consultation for a divorce, we ask that the potential client come prepared with a lot of documents.
Bob Marley, the singer famous for the song Three Little Birds, whose chorus was:
“Don’t worry about a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright”
passed away on May 11th,1981, without a will, with a fortune, and with at least eleven children from several different mothers, one of whom was his wife. The court battle was long and complicated.
What is an “attorney for the child” and what does it mean for my case?
Often when parents who are divorcing are already in court and do not agree on custody, the court will assign an “attorney for the child.” This is an attorney who will interview both parents and the child or children. The attorney for the child will ask the child what their position is and if the child is seven years of age or older, they will advocate that child’s position to the court.
When people call our office asking about divorce or family court issues, we tell them the various documents we need to look at in order to best advise them. One of the documents we want to look at is their marriage certificate. Often, we have people who consider themselves married, have lived together for years, had children together, bought property together and they are surprised that they are not, in fact, married. New York has no “common law marriage.” There is an exception to that rule. New York will give full faith and credit to a marriage from another state or country where it was recognized. For example if you lived together in a state which did recognize common law marriage prior to moving to New York, you will be considered married here as well. People who get married in a religious ceremony in another country, Israel, for example, will be considered married here even though they did not have a secular marriage.
Mediation is gaining in popularity, so much so that there are a proliferation of people advertising that they do mediation. Some of them are attorneys, some of them are not. Many of them have had absolutely no training in mediation, yet will sit down with a couple and “mediate.” New York has no licensure for mediators, so it is difficult for the consumer to determine whether a person claiming to be a mediator is actually trained in the process or just trying to help facilitate a compromise. One can even get a mediation certificate online.
You’ve been working on your business hard and with great success. So hard in fact that you end up working most nights. Your spouse and kids tell you that they miss you and would like to spend more time with you. The next natural step would be to get some help, right?
Most couples get together based on attraction, discuss one or two main expectations or goals, fall in love and decide to get married. They then focus on wedding plans, thinking that if they can negotiate a large event between two families and come out unscathed by the wedding date that they will succeed in their marriage. So why do so many divorces occur?
My late mother used to say no one owes you an inheritance, but what did she mean? Wouldn’t most people expect to inherit from their parent? The answer is that a will reflects the testator’s wishes, not their heirs’ expectations.
Clients frequently need support during the divorce process. They are not satisfied with the way things are and want a change, but that change itself is scary. Sometimes I suggest that they obtain the help of a life coach. There are two reasons for this: First of all, life coaches charge significantly less per hour than an attorney (similar to that of a therapist), and second, they are specifically trained to help in that way.
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Many clients ask why divorce agreements are so long and whether the exact wording really matters that much. The length is due to the fact that there are so many different issues that need to be covered. Issues such as Maintenance, Child Support, Custody & Parenting Time, and Equitable Distribution are just some of the areas that need to be covered in an agreement. I have seen some agreements that left out major issues, such as who is paying for college, which leaves both parties, not to mention the children, in a precarious position.
For those who would like to resolve their dispute (whether it be a divorce or other family matters) by agreeing to terms rather than having a judge decide what is best, mediation can be a speedier, less costly and less stressful experience than a traditional litigated matter. Traditionally the parties meet with a mediator and the mediator helps them come up with a plan. The mediator will put the plan in writing called a “Memorandum of Understanding.” Should the mediator also be an attorney, they may elect to draft a legal document instead usually called an “Agreement” or “Stipulation of Settlement.”
Choosing a Business Entity – Which One is Right for Your Business?
Now that you have decided to launch a business, you need to decide which business entity is right for you. I’ll explain the differences between sole proprietorship, partnerships, corporations and limited partnerships. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a discussion with your CPA or tax adviser as to how each entity may affect you and taking that into consideration when making a decision.
Starting a new business is exciting! One of the most exciting pieces is deciding on location. I can not stress enough that you need a lease or a license. It might seem like a wonderful opportunity to rent a small space inside another business without a lease—after all, you have no obligation, so if the business doesn’t do well, you can just walk away. You, however, are not protected, and just like you have no obligation to your new landlord, they have no obligation to you. You could be asked to leave if they decide they need the space or someone else is willing to pay more. This can leave you in a precarious position.