Archive for August, 2011

Child Support… Sometimes It Pays To Stay at Home!

By Attorney David Engler

Child Support is determined by state statute. (In Ohio you can look at http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/31 )

Basically child support looks at the gross income of the couple. Gross income does not include means tested income like SSI or food-stamps.

The Obligor pays the obligee and what they pay breaks down on a percentage of gross income basis. If the husband (Obligor) made $60,000 and the wife (Obligee) made $40,000, the (couple’s) gross income would be $100,000 and the father would be ordered to pay 60% of the statute ordered presumptive correct amount of $16,583. I am over simplifying… but multiply $16,583 by 60% for a total of $9948 and divide by 12 for an award of $829 per month.

For sure there are deductions and the amount might change if the father and mother have equally divided the visitation or companionship with the children. There are also deductions for local income taxes, union dues, work expenses and payments made for other children.

I have argued cases where the Magistrate did not deviate much from the formula because they thought that there was a great disparity in income between the obligor and the obligee. But I would urge a person who is ordered to pay, to flush out all the benefits the receiving party might be receiving, like Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps, Housing Assistance and College Support.

In one recent case, I represented a mechanic who was lucky to bring home $50,000 gross per year and it looked like the ex-wife was making less than $11,000. After my client was done paying child support and a mortgage and car payments; he had nothing; But when you looked at all the tax free benefits she was receiving, her after tax annual income was $34,000.!

There is an entire group of people who know how to game the system to maximize government benefits. Governments and Judges often have a paternalistic view of a poor unemployed obligee, but if you dig long enough there are reasons people stop finding work. The government has taken away the incentive to look for a job if you can basically stay at home and make $34,000 tax free!

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How do Lawyers Charge for Their Services?

By Attorney David Engler

Lawyers charge for their time when they are representing a person who is going through a divorce, child custody matter, a change in support or any other type of family law matter. While lawyers charge an hourly rate, they usually bill in minimum increments of 12 minutes.

In such cases, there will be a fee agreement that is signed in advance, that sets forth how much the lawyer will charge per hour and how much the other involved professionals, such as paralegals, charge for their time. Rates per hour vary according to the location in the country and the experience of the lawyer; some hourly rates are as low as $150 while some lawyers charge as much as $400 per hour. For the majority of my cases the hourly rate is $250 per hour with the other lawyers on the team billing at $150 per hour and the paralegals billing at $60 per hour.

Lawyers usually are paid with a retainer. A retainer is a deposit, paid in advance for the work to be performed. The lawyer then keeps track of his or her time and provides a detailed billing to the client. Often a client will be startled to see that a bill includes time for telephone calls. The retainer amount, which is usually between $1500 to $5000 depends upon the complexity of the case. All time is billed against the retainer and expenses like expert fees or court filing fees are separate.

An experienced attorney will take less time to do their work even though their hourly rate is higher. We are in business to make money but we put the interests of our client’s first. That is what makes us professionals. I don’t like talking about fees once the case is going, I want to focus on the result the client is seeking, so I let my staff make sure the bills are being paid.

Another way in which we bill for a case is on a flat fee basis. Often clients want the security of knowing that they will pay just one fee, a set amount. A client may want a Dissolution and the lawyer after listening to the facts may quote a flat fee of $1500 to complete the matter. In simple cases, with little in the way of assets, this is the preferable way to bill

Clients should look in the fee agreement to make sure the lawyer has malpractice insurance. If the lawyer does not carry insurance then he/she is required to disclose the lack of insurance.

It is important to completely understand the fee structure and feel comfortable with how much your case might ultimately cost before getting started. No two cases are alike. An experienced attorney will be able to give you a good estimate of what the end of your case will look like after your first meeting.

Also, do not get swayed by emotions when making a decision on who to hire as your counsel. Often one of the more difficult situation a lawyer faces is when a client is so upset with their spouse that they are willing to equate yelling and mounds of paperwork with effective legal counseling. Make sure you know the difference. The results will be with you for a lifetime.

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How long do I pay or receive spousal support?

By Attorney David Engler

It used to be known as alimony and in some states goes by the name of maintenance. It is usually the last piece of a case to be negotiated and it is important to know the “term”. That means how long will you be paying or receiving.

Spousal support is dependent on many factors that are listed in the law. But the most important almost always seems to be the length of the marriage and the difference of net incomes between the parties.

For certain there are other factors like the health of the parties, whether there are children still at home and what assets have been split as a result of the divorce.

Spousal support is different from child support because there are no tables or formulas that can give a person an exact estimate of what the court will normally award.

Courts say they do not use formulas but one that is often heard is that one year of spousal support will be awarded for each three years of marriage. However I have practiced before one judge that multiples the number of years married by that same number than moves the decimal point over to get the numbers of months. That may sound like an incomprehensible formula but it gets used. The appellate courts are quick to point out that there are no formulas and each case depends upon the individual facts.

Term is the length that spousal support will be paid. If it is a long-term marriage then the term can be undefined. That means that the court always retains jurisdiction over the spousal support award number and it is often for life. Spousal support in a short-term marriage of under three years may not be awarded at all.

Each case varies. A judge in a case where the parties were married for 34 years told the husband “you bought the farm”. In a fifteen year marriage 5 years might be acceptable. But there are many factors that are considered like the age of the couple and what other options for earning does each possess.

And almost always the term of spousal support will end if the party receiving the support dies, re-marries or cohabitates with unrelated adult. It used to be of the opposite sex but a good number of cases end up with the spouse leaving to be in a same-sex relationship.

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What is Divorce?

“Marriages do not come with a guarantee. If you want a guarantee live with a car battery.” Erma Bombeck

by Attorney David Engler

Divorce is the majority of our practice at Engler Law Firm. When someone is looking for a divorce we understand that the call alone is sometimes a huge hurdle or step forward, a major life event. Usually a person does not think about calling a lawyer until a crisis has occurred. The causes of divorce are many but usually fall into the areas of problems with finances, addictions, cheating, abuse or a sense of disconnect. Of course, often a divorce will have all of these attributes.

So we recognize that this is a very stressful time in your life and take great care to treat every client individually and with attention to the stress that they are under. We always ask what our client’s expectation are for the future so we can help shape a final result that gets that person closer to a place of security and peace in their life. Expect that we will ask you to think about what a successful outcome would look like to you if we were to meet two years from the point in time you first retain us. We want your expectations to align with your goals.

We are very careful to ask some initial questions from a phone call or an email inquiry because maybe the person just wants to know what their options might be. People have all sorts of notions about what divorce might be like, but not until you speak to a lawyer will you know exactly what happens in dividing property, paying spousal support or determining issues of child custody and support.

When a couple both agree to a divorce and can work out the details then we often agree to a Separation Agreement and file for a Dissolution. A dissolution speeds up the time to get a divorce and it is possible that the parties can get by with one person representing just one party and the other without counsel if there is a great deal of trust and knowledge about what is to occur. Even in a dissolution without a lawyer, the judge is going to ask the party without a lawyer if they know that the lawyer is representing their husband or wife and that they are waiving counsel.

A divorce or a dissolution ends with an agreement that is reduced into writing called a judgment entry. If the parties cannot agree upon a settlement then the matter will go to trial. Most jurisdiction require that a matter without children be heard within 9 months of filing to 18 months of filing if there are children.

Most cases are resolved after discovery and negotiations between parties and some initial intervention by a Magistrate, who is someone who works for the Family Law Judge. Temporary hearings establish what the status quo is while the parties proceed with a divorce. It is very important that a person seeking a divorce be well prepared to ask up front what they want from their spouse because often the temporary orders look like the final entry.

A party must have been a resident of that county for more than 90 days and 6 months in the State before filing. The cost for filing is usually going to be around $250.00.

It is a big step, so if there are problems in your marriage make a call and seek advice from a lawyer; the decisions involved will last a lifetime.

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