Bankruptcy and Divorce

Thank you Maxine, my friend and colleague for many years, for allowing me to post on your blog.  My name is Valerie Long and I have been practicing law in Columbus since 1994.  I have always wanted to be a lawyer; I even took Latin in high school—who does that?  When I was in law school, I took a class in consumer bankruptcy and I loved it.  Since I passed the bar exam, I have filed thousands of cases for my clients and I still love practicing bankruptcy law. 

I find enormous satisfaction in helping people find relief from the terrible burden of oppressive debt.  Sometimes my clients will tell me that they feel embarrassed about filing bankruptcy or they fear they have let their families down.  I understand these concerns, but I know that sometimes life is just unmanageable and you need help to figure out how to get things back on track.  That is why I practice this particular brand of law: when people have to choose between buying groceries for their families or paying a money lender, I know that I can help them.  I can stop the bill collectors from calling day and night so that my clients can find the peace they need to restore their lives.

Most of my clients will file either a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

CHAPTER 7:  This is what’s known as straight bankruptcy.  You can keep and pay the bills you want, such as a home or cars, and there are some bills you are required to keep, such as child support and certain taxes.  After that, the goal is to discharge or wipe out all credit card debts, loans, medical bills and other unsecured debts.

CHAPTER 13:  This is known as debt restructure.  Chapter 13 allows us to catch up past due house payments and, sometimes, we can reduce your car payment.  Depending on your financial circumstances, we can discharge or wipe out all of your unsecured debts as well, similar to a Chapter 7.

The stress of being burdened with debt affects your work life, your family life, and your spiritual life.  If you feel overwhelmed because of the bills piling up and the constant calls from bill collectors, please give my office a call at (706) 940-0597.  There’s no fee for the initial consultation and we would love to show you the options available.

Valerie G. Long, Attorney at Law
3006 University Avenue
Columbus, Georgia 31907
LawOfficeVGLong@yahoo.com
Phone (706) 940-0597
Cell/Text (706) 366-6322

Share This:

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

My mother believes that fresh air and exercise can solve about 90% of life’s problems.  I’m not sure about solving 90% of my problems, but I know that a good hike generally improves my outlook on most things.  In Georgia, we are lucky that we have so many parks and trails to hike.  A short drive to the south and we can be navigating the sandy bottom of Providence Canyon, and a short drive to the north and we can be climbing over the rocky paths of Pine Mountain. 

Lately, my hiking hobby has been temporarily side-railed while my hiking partner (a/k/a my husband) nurses his strained ankle.  He is a life-long exerciser, so he gets frustrated when circumstances outside his control force him off his feet for a time.  But, of course, we both know that the only way for him to improve his situation and regain control of his exercise agenda is to follow doctor’s orders and give his body the time it needs to heal.

Like my Mom, I believe that exercise and a good attitude can help us deal with the stress we suffer when we feel that we are being robbed of control of our lives.  Dealing with litigation in your life is a lot like dealing with a physical injury: you go to your professional person for diagnosis and information; you ask questions and make a plan for dealing with your injury; you try to follow instructions (as long as they make sense to you), and then you generally have to wait for the healing to happen.  And the waiting is always the hardest part.

In the litigation process, the waiting can be discouraging, but what may seem like pointless delays are, in fact, usually the inevitable result of moving a case through all the different stages of the process.  For instance, once your divorce complaint has been filed and served on the opposing party, the opposing party has thirty days to respond to the complaint.  After that 30 day period has expired, the litigation will enter a six-month “discovery” period, in which both parties have the opportunity to obtain the information they need to make their case if they go to trial.  After the discovery period has expired, a case typically will appear on the Judge’s next trial docket.  The Superior Court judges in the Chattahoochee Circuit publish an annual schedule which shows when each judge is hearing trials.  Each judge generally has two to four weeks per year scheduled for trials in domestic cases and each judge typically has dozens of domestic cases on his or her docket. Often, when a case first appears on a judge’s trial docket, the case will be so far down the list that it cannot be heard during that week and that case gets continued to the next trial docket, later in the year (or, perhaps, later in the next year).

I understand that these long periods of waiting can make people feel like they are victims of the process.  That is why I want to do more than just walk you through the legal process.  I want to help you define your objectives and consider all the options available to you.  I will always be honest with you about the likelihood of your being able to obtain your objectives.  I know that there are some occasions where you have to fight for what you need, even when the battle is uphill the entire way, and I am fully prepared to fight vigorously for you.  But I think it is important for you to know, at the very beginning, what the process will entail and what your odds of prevailing are, because that is what a professional does: she looks out for the best interests of her clients, even when that means telling them things that may be difficult for them to hear.

So this is my commitment to my clients:  I will listen, I will give advice, and I will fight hard for you.  And I will also tell you when it’s time for you to take a deep breath, go for a walk, and look for a moment of peace to enjoy. 

Share This:

Help Your Lawyer, Help Your Self

Happy New Year!

In this office, we have been practicing family law for a long time.  I have been in practice for over 25 years.  I know, from my own personal experience with my divorce and from my experience with the hundreds of divorcing clients I have represented over the years, that family members who are involved in litigation are going through some of the toughest times in their lives.

As is often the case, I had this thought in mind recently when I was reading Hope Jahren’s new book, Lab Girl.  The book is an interesting story of a scientist’s life, but, more significantly, it is a deeply moving account of her view of the world she has spent her life studying.  As I read the book, it occurred to me that anyone who is experiencing one of life’s stressful events might find some perspective–and maybe some relief—in reading this book.

I also found what could be interpreted as a little practical advice in the last paragraph of the second chapter, when Ms. Jahren writes, “Time has also changed me . . . Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.  It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more.”

We lawyers often advise our clients to keep a written account of the events in their lives as they prepare for and endure the litigation process.   Many of my own clients already have a practice of journal-writing before they ever even think of hiring a family lawyer.  For most of us, writing things down really is the only defense we have against forgetting what is important.  But there is one vital point that every potential litigant needs to keep in mind—it is possible that you could be required to turn over your diaries, journals, ledgers and calendars to the opposing attorney if you become involved in a contested legal action.  For that reason, if you are keeping a written account of events, keep it between yourself and your lawyer.  Communications between a lawyer and her client are confidential and are not usually turned over to the opposing attorney.  But if you show your confidential communications to a third person, you will probably destroy the confidential nature of the communication and you may find yourself in a position where you have to produce your private written accounts to the opposing party.

As always, all of us at Maxine Wallace, P.C., are committed to helping our clients navigate difficult, stressful, complicated family law issues, while maintaining some level of peace of mind.  We will all keep these goals in mind as we move forward into the new year.

Share This:

How to Save Money on your Divorce – Part 3

Signpost with the words Help, Support, Advice, Guidance and Assistance on the direction arrows, against a bright blue cloudy sky.

We want to help you formulate a plan for your divorce action that is as painless as possible.  Sometimes, that is just not feasible.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you are trying to determine whether you should try to work on an uncontested divorce:

  1. Timing is key. If you need support and you are not sure whether your spouse will agree to pay you an appropriate amount of support, you may not have time to pursue an uncontested divorce action.  Sometimes, the length of time you spend working on an uncontested divorce can cost you in support payments you might have been awarded if you had filed a contested divorce petition and pursued your case in court.  You should assume, as a general rule, that a court will not award support retroactively, so every month you wait to file may be costing you support payments that you won’t recover later.
  2. If you are worried that your spouse is hiding assets or trying to dispose of them, you probably should not waste time trying to negotiate an uncontested divorce.
  3. Along those same lines, if your spouse is unwilling to share information about marital assets and income, you may need the benefit of the discovery process. By use of Georgia’s “discovery” process, we can require the production of documents and other information, so that we can learn the extent of assets, debts, and income of the parties.
  4. If you are afraid of your spouse or if your spouse has ever been violent, you may need a court order to protect you, your property, or your children. We can discuss the various processes that are available to protect you.

A few months ago, I was in court when a gentleman appeared without a lawyer and attempted to make his case regarding custody and child support.  The judge who heard him was one of my favorite judges and the comment he made to the gentleman stuck with me.  The judge said that sometimes going to court without a lawyer was really a “false economy.”  The gentleman was trying to save money by not hiring a lawyer, but he was really losing money because he was not getting the result he needed.

Obviously, the best way to determine the route you should take in your divorce is to consult an attorney.  I genuinely want to help you get a good result and I am committed to the concept of giving you value for the money you pay.  I will also tell you when you need to abandon the idea of the painless divorce and dig in for the fight.

default-lawyer-2992-1571-c

Share This:

How to Save Money on Your Divorce – Part 2

choice-1

Over the last 25 years, I have personally advised thousands of people in the Chattahoochee Valley about the best way to proceed with their divorces.

My first priority in the initial consultation is to figure out what you need and what you want.

Do you want a simple uncontested divorce?  Will your circumstances force you into fully contested divorce litigation?  Do you need help deciding how to proceed?

choices

When you hire us for your uncontested divorce, this is what we do:

  1. I meet with you and take the pertinent information we need that will allow us to make a decision about how to proceed with your case.
  2. I explain to you some basic laws in Georgia regarding marital property, support, and child custody.
  3. We discuss whether there is a reasonable possibility that we will be able to draw up an agreement for an uncontested divorce that your spouse will sign.
  4. If, together, we decide to proceed with an uncontested divorce, we will draft all the documents you need for your uncontested divorce.
  5. Ordinarily, in our uncontested divorce proceeding, it is our client’s responsibility to get the spouse’s signature on the divorce documents. This is the key to holding our costs down.  We don’t typically negotiate with your spouse or appear in court when we are hired for an uncontested divorce action.
  6. In an uncontested divorce proceeding, we prepare the documents you need, you obtain your spouse’s signature and then you return the documents to our office.
  7. We file the documents with the Clerk of the Superior Court and we pay the filing fee*.
  8. We are required by law to wait at least 31 days after filing your divorce petition before we may move forward with finalizing your divorce.
  9. At the conclusion of the mandatory waiting period, we will prepare an affidavit for you to sign, in which you request the Court to execute a Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce.
  10. We will then take the entire package of documents to the Judge for signature.
  11. After the Judge signs the documents, we file the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce with the Clerk’s office and your divorce is complete.

For more information about whether an uncontested divorce action is appropriate for you, please call our office and make an appointment for an initial consultation.  I will soon be posting more information about our policies and procedures.

shutterstock_146766719

 

________________________
*When you are comparing costs of different attorneys’ uncontested divorce actions, it is important to know exactly what you are paying for.  Some very low-cost uncontested divorce packages do not include items such as the court’s mandatory filing fee.

Share This:

How to Save Money on Your Divorce – Part 1

Divorce 1

 

Does your divorce have to be expensive and traumatic?  Maybe not.

If your goal is to find the best solution for your family law problem for the most reasonable cost, we can help you.

Most of our clients are working people.  We know they don’t have many thousands of dollars to spend on lawyer fees, but they still deserve good quality professional legal advice.

Many of our clients are also family people.  Even in the midst of a divorce, they want to do everything they can to protect and provide for their children.

In our office, we have thought hard about ways that we can help our clients get the best result for themselves and their children for a cost that is reasonable.

Most divorce lawyers charge their clients an hourly fee for their services.  This is a fair practice and it is what I do in some circumstances.

But I am not in the business of making money from other people’s misery.   I don’t want to drag your divorce or custody problem out any longer than is absolutely necessary, just so that I can bill an hourly fee.

Instead, it is my custom to encourage people to resolve their divorce problems by agreement, whenever they can.  In pursuit of that goal, I offer my clients the opportunity to try to work out their differences the quick and easy way, before we settle down to any heavy-duty litigation.

Here is how it works:

  1. We charge a single fee for an uncontested divorce. It is a very reasonable fee.  You can call our office and we will tell you what we usually charge for an uncontested divorce.
  2. You may schedule an appointment for an initial consultation with me. We charge a consultation fee that ranges from $50.00 to $100.00.
  3. At your consultation, I will take your information and explain to you your options.
  4. If we decide that an uncontested divorce is the best approach for you and if you decide to hire me for an uncontested divorce, the initial consultation fee is applied to the fee for the uncontested divorce.

THIS is where we go above and beyond the ordinary service, in order to help you make your divorce as painless as possible:  if you decide to hire us for an uncontested divorce, but your spouse refuses to sign the documents for an uncontested divorce, we will give you credit for the entire amount you have paid us against the retainer for a contested divorce.

The effect of this policy is that you lose nothing if you decide to take a chance on trying to work out an agreement for an uncontested divorce before jumping all the way in to a fully contested divorce action, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

If you want to learn more about this option, you may call us for an initial consultation, or you may re-visit this site.  I will be posting more information about our firm’s processes and policies.

whs-consultation

Share This:

Five Things You Should Know about a Military Divorce

1. Georgia may not be the best state in which you could pursue your divorce. Depending on the status of your residency, you may have the option of obtaining a divorce in a different state. If so, you should learn what your different options are. Here is one small example: different states have different laws regarding child support. In Georgia, a parent cannot be required to pay child support or college expenses after a child has turned 18 and graduated from high school. (Although parents may enter an agreement to extend child support. If parents make such an agreement and incorporate that agreement into a Final Judgment and Decree Of Divorce, the requirement will be enforceable.) Other states often have different laws, which provide for child support or college expenses even after a child has turned 18. You may want to investigate your potential choices.

2. In Georgia, military retired pay is considered property, and it is subject to division in a divorce action. An award of retired pay to a former spouse is usually permanent, even if the former spouse remarries. By contrast, an award of alimony is often modifiable, meaning the court may decide to change the alimony award, either up or down, if the parties’ financial circumstances change substantially. Alimony usually terminates if the former spouse remarries, or the court may terminate alimony if the former spouse takes a live-in lover. If you are negotiating a divorce agreement, you need to be able to sort out all your legal options, taking into account your own unique circumstances.

3. You don’t have to be married for ten years in order for your spouse to make a claim for military retired pay. Again, different states have different laws regarding division of military retired pay. In Georgia, military retired pay accrued during the course of marriage is considered marital property, subject to equitable division in a divorce. “Equitable division” does not necessarily mean that retired pay should be divided equally; it means that the share of retired pay that was earned during the marriage must be divided in a way that the fact-finder decides is fair, considering all the circumstances. This is one of the many areas where an experienced divorce lawyer can help you decide what is fair and what is worth fighting for.

4. By the way, do you know what a “fact-finder” is? In Georgia, the “fact-finder” is either the judge or the jury. Georgia is one of only two states that allow a jury trial in a divorce case. Even in Georgia, the vast majority of divorces that go all the way to a trial are heard by a judge, alone. However, either side in a divorce action can request a jury trial. Where a jury is requested, the jury may decide many questions regarding property division, child support, and alimony, but the judge alone makes decisions about child custody and visitation.

5. Do you know what the 20/20 rule is? A former spouse is typically entitled to retain many military benefits, including health care, if the parties were married for at least 20 years while the service member was in the military. If the former spouse can’t meet the requirements of the 20/20 rule, health care benefits are generally available temporarily, for 18 to 36 months, under the military’s Continued Health Care Benefit Program (“CHCBP”). CHCBP must be purchased within 60 days of the time Tricare eligibility ends, but coverage actually begins when Tricare ends. As you are planning your life after divorce, don’t forget to think about you’re going to pay for health care.

Of course, this list does not come close to giving you all the information you need when you are negotiating the process of your divorce. Call and make an appointment for a consultation with Maxine Wallace. After your consultation, if you decide to retain Ms. Wallace, she will apply the consultation fee to the total cost of your divorce.

Share This:

Mediation Works, Even When It Doesnt

In Columbus and the surrounding Georgia counties, our judges have entered a Standing Order which requires that all divorce actions go to mediation before they can move on to a final trial. Some judges will waive this requirement under certain conditions; other judges are pretty adamant about sticking to the rule and requiring mediation.

HOW MEDIATION WORKS
On its face, a divorce mediation is a simple process:
1. The wife and husband, along with their lawyers, meet in a room with the mediator.The wife and her lawyer sit on one side of a table, the husband and his lawyer sit on the other side, the mediator sits somewhere between them.The mediator explains the rules of mediation.The lawyers tell the mediator basically what the issues to be decided are.The wife and husband don’t have to say anything at this point, if they don’t want to and no one talks about who is at fault in the divorce.The only purpose of this initial meeting is to inform the mediator what decisions must be made.
2. The wife and husband go into separate rooms with their lawyers.
3. The mediator meets first with one side, usually the plaintiff’s side, in a meeting called a “caucus.”The mediator helps them formulate their first proposal for settlement of the case.Then the mediator takes that proposal to the defendant’s side and helps them formulate a response and a counterproposal for settlement.The mediator continues to move back and forth between the wife and husband, trying to find a middle ground for settlement.

WHY MEDIATION WORKS
One of the most basic benefits of mediation is that everyone who is involved in making decisions about the divorce are all gathered together in the same space, at the same time.
To fully appreciate the importance of this arrangement, you have to consider how cases are generally settled without mediation:
(1) Lawyer A meets with her client and they come up with a proposal,
(2) Lawyer A writes a letter to Lawyer B about the proposal,
(3) Lawyer B makes an appointment for his client to come in so that they can talk about the case and come up with a counterproposal,
(4) Lawyer B writes a responsive letter to Lawyer A,
(5) Lawyer A and her client meet, but, by this time, days or weeks have passed and—particularly in a divorce case—the situation has shifted, the parties have argued, and both Lawyer A and her client are offended by some part of the counterproposal that they don’t really understand,
(6) Everyone is back at square one, or, even worse, they are further apart than ever.

In contrast, a trained, experienced, and creative mediator can keep all of the parties talking, prevent misunderstandings, and offer suggestions to all parties about solutions and compromises. The attorneys are there to look out for their clients’ best interests and to get the best deal they can for their own clients; the mediator is there to help the parties communicate effectively and efficiently.

The very fact that everyone is in the same vicinity at the same time, with an open line of communication between them (albeit filtered by the presence of the mediator), significantly increases the chance that the parties will be able to settle their case without the trauma and expense of a full-blown trial.

MEDIATION WORKS, EVEN WHEN IT FAILS
Most cases that go to mediation are settled during the mediation process. But the parties to a divorce cannot be forced to settle if they don’t want to, and, obviously, not all cases settle.
I don’t like to waste time and I know my clients don’t want to waste their money on a useless exercise, so I strive to ensure that my clients get the maximum benefit from the mediation process, even if a settlement is not reached.
In my practice, I treat the mediation process as an opportunity for trial preparation while the mediator tries to settle the case. A mediator is considered “neutral” in the sense that she is not an advocate for either party, but a really good divorce mediator will share her opinions and her own experiences with both parties. It is something similar to having an outside consultant evaluate the case and provide a critique of the case’s strengths and weakness. While the mediator is in the room with me, my client and I listen carefully and discuss the mediator’s ideas and opinions with her; when the mediator goes to the other room to talk to the other party, my client and I get busy making our plans to capitalize on our strengths and shore up our weaknesses. I like to make the mediator work hard for the settlement. I want to know that, if the case settles, I have gotten the best deal for my client that can be made; if the case doesn’t settle, I want to know that I have wrung out of the mediation every bit of help the mediator has to offer.

Share This:

Litigation is Good for the Soul

To be perfectly frank, I do not believe people should waste their time and money litigating matters of principle.  I encourage my clients to be practical.  I believe in identifying problems and finding solutions.  But yesterday afternoon, I recognized one very big exception to my general philosophy:  you can’t back down from a bully.

Yesterday afternoon, my client–who has a history of avoiding conflict with her domineering ex-spouse–very patiently sat through hours of mediation, while her former spouse kept throwing in ridiculous demands for us to field.  I knew my client wanted a resolution to her ex-spouse’s demand for a downward modification of child support; but I knew, too, that she was heartily sick of feeling that she was being controlled and taken advantage of by the ex-spouse that she had fought to be free of.

After hours of work, we were very close to a settlement.  We had handwritten an agreement and sent it over to the ex-spouse for his signature.  But, instead of a signed agreement, the mediator sheepishly came back into our room with yet another demand:  the ex-husband wanted my client to return to him an item of personal property she had been awarded in the divorce.  My client looked at me and, after a long pause, asked me what I would do in her place.  I had to think about it very hard for a minute.  I didn’t want her to invest more time and money in litigating details that, in the long-run, would be relatively insignificant; but, I knew too, that she needed to send a signal.  She needed her ex-husband to know that his reign over her was finished.  We took the entire settlement off the table and walked out.  We will be seeing them in court.

Share This: