Q&A Topic: Common Questions When Initiating a Divorce Case
What is the first thing you tell your client when they are initiating a divorce?
Start getting their financial documents in order. Make sure they have copies of all bank and credit card statements, as well as retirement/investment account statements – including those of their spouse (if possible to obtain). If child support and/or alimony/maintenance is going to be an issue, get proof of his/her spouse’s income (via paystubs, W-2’s, etc.). The more documentation one is able to gather and organize for their attorney from the start, the better.
What can someone expect the basic divorce process to be like from start to finish?
It depends on whether the case is uncontested or becomes contested. An uncontested divorce gets filed in court, the other party is served with the summons, and then generally the other spouse retains his/her own attorney. The attorneys will then generally strive to negotiate a settlement – which occurs the majority of the time. If successful, then a full settlement agreement is drafted – which is typically a 20- to 50-page document capturing all the terms of settlement between the parties. Once the agreement is reviewed, approved and executed, then one of the attorneys will draft the “judgment package,” which includes the Judgment of Divorce – the court order terminating the marriage.
A contested divorce, on the other hand, generally involves 3-5 pre-trial conferences and 3-5 trial dates over the course of 12-18 months. The 3 basic pre-trial conferences are: preliminary conference, compliance conference, and pre-trial conference. Trials are where parties “tell their side of things” to the judge – and usually present witnesses and other forms of evidence (e.g., documents, pictures, videos, etc.) to help bolster/corroborates his/her claims.
How much will a divorce cost?
Cost varies with the complexity of the case, as well as the qualifications of the attorney. A simple uncontested which involves no children and no property may cost only several hundred dollars up to a few thousand. More complex uncontested cases may run several thousand and up. Contested divorces (especially those with issues of contested custody or complex financial issues) may run tenss of thousands – some high-income/high net worth cases may cost several hundred thousand or more.
Additionally, the better the attorney is, the more s/he will charge for their services. Thus, the more year’ an attorney has been practicing, the more s/he will generally charge. The more objective qualifications s/he has (an “AV” rating, a “SuperLawyers” designation, a 10.0 Avvo rating, etc.), the more s/he can justify charging. Location is also a factor – if s/he has an office in Manhattan or Westchester, s/he will generally charge more than attorneys who have offices in the outer boroughs or lower Hudson Valley.
What are the most common questions people ask about divorce?
The general rules are easy – what child support or spousal maintenance (a.k.a alimony) is presumptively awarded, that assets are divided 50-50, etc. The harder parts are the gray areas – what are the exceptions to those general rules?
In other words, if the child support statute calculates that one owes 25 percent of one’s adjusted gross income for two children, what are the exceptions? If the divorce statute states one will presumptively pay a certain amount of maintenance, what are the factors under which one would pay less – or nothing at all? And if divorce law provides that property and assets are presumptively divisible 50-50, what happens if one seeks less, or more?
A divorce attorney’s job is made very easy if the parties agree to simply apply the formulas and guidelines set by statute. Most cases involving some level of negotiation, however, involve one party or both requesting some deviation from the general rules. Thus, while the statute may set up general rules, there are exceptions – exceptions to exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions to exceptions.
If a couple has children, how will the divorce affect child custody and parenting time?
They will need to resolve the issue of who has physical custody of the children, whether they will do joint custody, and what visitation (a/k/a “parenting time”) the non-custodial parent will receive.
There are 3 basic types of custody: sole custody, joint custody, and shared custody. Sole custody means the child(ren) live the vast majority of the time with one parent, and the custodial parent gets to make all the “major decisions” affecting the children (medical, educational, etc.). Joint custody involves some level of sharing of decision-making – while shared custody involves an exact 50-50 split of access time.
There are a variety of ways joint custody can be defined in a divorce agreement – and even more ways access time can be allocated between the parties. Usually there’s some sharing of weekends, holidays, breaks, and summer recess.
But just as there are general rules and exceptions to general rules on asset division, there are also exceptions and exceptions to exceptions on custody and visitation. One common example is where the non-custodial parent’s access time is restricted to day visits only (no overnights) or where his/her time with the children is supervised.
About The Law Offices of David Bliven
David Bliven graduated with honors from Syracuse University in 1993 with a B.A. in Sociology. He went on to serve as a judicial intern and statistician with the NYS Commission on City Court Judicial Reallocation with the Office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge.
Mr. Bliven then attended law school at New York Law School, where he graduated in 1997 with honors and ranked within the top 15% of his class. Upon graduation, he worked in private practice for a year, doing mostly matrimonial work, before serving as a prosecutor for nearly 3 years with the NYC Administration for Children’s Services. There he prosecuted child support, child abuse/neglect and foster care cases on behalf of the City of New York. After leaving the prosecutor position, Mr. Bliven opened his present practice in 2000. His practice is exclusively Divorce & Family Court cases.
Mr Bliven has an “AV” rating from Martindale-Hubbell (the highest possible rating in both Legal Ability & Ethical Standards), a perfect 10.0 rating from Avvo (“Superb” rating) and is listed in the “Super Lawyers” directory by Thompson Reuters (a distinction given to less than 5% of all attorneys in each field of practice). He is also a Certified Financial Litigator by the American Academy of Certified Financial Litigators – which is particularly helpful in high net worth divorces & support cases. Mr Bliven has also authored the books “Navigating Your New York Divorce Case” and “Navigating Your New York Family Court Case” – as well as the forthcoming “Navigating Your New York High Net Worth Divorce.”
Furthermore, he has been published at such periodicals as Nolo.com, New York Law Journal and Westchester Lawyer, as well as Westchester Magazine. Finally, he was honored as one of 2019’s “New York’s Leaders in the Law” by New York Magazine. He was also honored as a “Super Lawyer” for the New York Metro & Westchester area by Westchester Magazine, October, 2019.
His Family Law blog may be found at: https://www.blivenlaw.net/blog/
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