David and Kathy entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement in their divorce after Kathy was caught with another man. In the agreement David gained ownership and control of the life insurance policy covering his life, including the right to change his beneficiary.
David's policy was for $750,000 and Kathy was designated as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. For whatever reason, David focused on the big battle of getting through the divorce hearing itself and getting control of his life insurance policy because in the event of his death he did not want Kathy to receive the $750,000. Instead he wanted the life insurance policy monies to go to his children in the event of this death.
But David didn't do anything but take a well deserved break from all the litigation for the divorce and unfortunately he never got around to changing his life insurance beneficiary.
Seventeen days before the final judgment of divorce might have entered in his case, David had a heart attack on the golf course and died. Even though David didn't want the insurance monies to go to Kathy, David never filed the Change of Beneficiary Form. Therefore, since Kathy was the beneficiary listed on his life insurance policy at the time he died, she put in the claim and was paid $750,000.
There was nothing David's family could do. The life insurance was governed by the contract he had signed with the life insurance company. All of David's efforts to get control of his policy and the right to change the beneficiary were wasted because David failed to immediately change the beneficiary to protect the life insurance proceeds and insure they where paid to the persons he wanted them to go to in the event of his death.
We never expect to die. We never plan to die. For some reason we always think we are going to live forever or that we can put off changing the beneficiary to another day because we've done enough work for today. Yet life insurance plans for death. It is protection for that very thing and the replacement of your income in the event it happens.
In a divorce, when you get control of your life insurance policy and the right to control your beneficiary, then make the change immediately. It will take a few days to process as it is and even those few days are a risk. If you have to pay a little extra to expedite the process or the mailing, then do so. The alternative is far worse.
I'm sure that if David had realized that he was going to die, then he would have done these things and prevented the wife that cheated on him from receiving $750,000 when he died. Act on it and plan on changing your beneficiary as if you ARE going to die. It's that important.
It's worth several hundred and even several thousand dollars at times to get experienced legal help from a professional who knows the Rhode Island Family Court System.
Yet would if you could get good solid legal advice on various issues for only $150 or even $300 to prevent a travesty like this that rewards your ex-wife and leaves your children with nothing from you. It be worth such a small amount to get the help of an experienced professional, wouldn't it!
Don't leave your divorce, your life, and your legacy to chance. Call Me and Set up Your Legal Advice Session! (401) 632-6976
Are you thinking about representing yourself in your own Rhode Island Divorce because your divorce seems so simple or you just don't want to spend the money to hire a lawyer? If so, you may want to reconsider. There are literally thousands of simple mistakes that you can make that can cost you much more than either hiring a lawyer.
Gertrude's Simple Mistake
Gertrude and Joseph were getting divorced. They separated all the property they purchased during their marriage and Joseph agreed that Gertrude could keep the house. Gertrude and Joseph were both on the deed. Joseph moved to Arizona and told Gertrude she could have the house and he wasn't coming back for the divorce hearing. Gertrude went to the divorce hearing and told the judge they had divided everything and that they were each keeping what they had. So that is what the judge ordered. Gertrude was happy until she tried to sell the house for a good profit. Gertrude discovered that she had made a mistake at court and in the way she drafted the documents for the judge to sign. Gertrude broke down and cried when she went to a lawyer and learned that Joseph was still an owner of the house and that she either had to buy out Joseph's interest in the house or get a deed from Joseph transferring his interest in the property to her.
When Gertrude met with the lawyer she discovered that all it would have taken was getting Joseph to sign a deed before he left for Arizona or ask the judge to award her the property at the time of the divorce using the specific words the law requires and then give an explanation to the judge that was acceptable to him or her as to why she was asking to be awarded the house.
At that point it was too late for Gertrude to fix. What would have been a simple thing to do at or before the time of the divorce hearing was now a much bigger issue to fix. Unfortunately, it cost Gertrude thousands of dollars in attorney's fees to fix her mistake when either representation or a coaching session would have avoided the mistake for much less.
It's too easy to make a simple mistake. Even lawyers can mistakes and we are subjected to years of training. So imagine how easy it is to make a mistake when you aren't trained in the law and you don't practice it every day.
If there is anything significant at all in your divorce that you want to keep or that you must get right such as a car, house, trust fund, retirement, child placement, visitation, child support, medical coverage, etc... then it is too easy to botch things up. How do I know? Because before I was a lawyer or knew anything about divorce and family law I sat right where many people like Gertude (and perhaps you...) might be sitting right now and I botched things up. Later I was kicking myself and I paid a price greater than a few thousand dollars. I lost seeing my children.
Make sure you don't victimize yourself by avoiding a good family law lawyer for the sake of a few dollars. Trust me... it isn't worth it. Is it a pain to get divorced? Absolutely. Can it cost you money you would rather not spend? Most certainly. Is it worth it do go through the aggravation of getting a lawyer and spending the money to get things right? DEFINITELY!
Take the time and money needed to get it done right. Some things just can't be fixed if you botch them up.
There is a huge PRO SE movement going forward in the Rhode island Family Courts. The court schedules have people representing themselves in their own cases every day. Beside each listing for those people it says "PRO SE." The listings used to be few and far between on the Rhode Island divorce and family court calendars but today they are everywhere.
I started wondering why this newer "PRO SE" movement had grown so large when your legal rights relating to your family law matters are so very important such that even one mistake can cause irreparable harm.
So months ago I began listening to people more intently at court, in my office, and in public commentaries in print and online. For my result I focused on three (3) questions that might help understand this PRO SE trend on the family court calendars.
1) Is it that all divorce lawyers are viewed as being too expensive?
2) Is it that people simply don't have the money to hire a divorce lawyer in any capacity?
3) Or could it be that the Rhode Island family court is making divorces easier and people don't see the perils of representing themselves?
The answer related not to one or two of the questions but to all three (3).
The vast majority of people I listened to and considered related mostly to Rhode Island divorces but still I kept my ears open about comments by people talking about lawyers, their consultations with other lawyers, editorials and other materials. I found that the vast majority of people in the middle class viewed lawyers as being drastically overpaid, expensive and not worth the monies they would be paid and so they would rather go PRO SE and save themselves expensive attorney's fees.
A good many people also believed that representation in a divorce or family law matter was the only option available to them and therefore concluded that since they simply didn't have the money to hire a lawyer to represent them to protect their rights that they were forced to go forward PRO SE and represent themselves.
Lastly, there were quite a few people who didn't want to spend any money on getting divorced and heard through a friend or relative that not only was the court giving out the questions that they should be prepared to answer at the hearing but that the judge's were, in fact, leading them through the divorce and therefore a lawyer was unnecessary.
The reasoning used by most of the people who were part of my private study was interesting but flawed for two reasons.
First, people need to understand that representation is not the only form of legal assistance available in the Rhode Island legal community. Coaching in divorce and other areas of law has been around for years. This is legal assistance that lawyers provide to clients on an "as desired basis" or "as affordable basis" to clients who cannot afford full-service "in court" representation but who must represent themselves due to the cost but still need to know their rights and the proper procedure for asserting those rights.
The challenge of finding one of these "Coaching" attorneys is that many of them still focus on full-service in-court representations and they do not openly promote their "coaching services" which brings in a small amount of income and a greater level of liability exposure for what they are paid. As you can imagine then, this is not the focus of many practitioners and this option is often only revealed when a prospective client discloses that he or she cannot afford the full-service representation. Yet coaching has become a substantial way to exercise your constitutional right to represent yourself, save a considerable amount of money compared to full representation and yet still have access to an experienced lawyer to learn about your legal rights as well as the procedure you can use to press those rights before the court.
Yet coaching and it's affordability doesn't come cheap. It's price? It can take substantial time and effort to find an attorney who offers coaching in the area of law that you need assistance with (family law or otherwise) and therefore if you want the affordability it comes at a sacrifice of your time and effort to find such an attorney.
Second, people need to understand that the questions provided by the court in the divorce papers are merely general questions that can relate to many divorces. They were not created necessarily to help the public but to help the judges by providing a guide that PRO SE people could follow, regardless of whether it was right or not for your divorce. However, that particular determination is yours to make because you are acting as your own lawyer and the protector of your own rights when you are PRO SE. The judges may even ask you the questions on that sample sheet. Litigants look at this as kindly helping them through the process just as they should be going through it. This presumption is dead wrong. The judge asks you questions that the judge knows apply to most divorces because the judge needs to make findings of fact and a decision affecting the parties' rights at the end of the hearing. Without specific content the judge can't make the required findings of fact and the decisions in the case. The judge's job is to give you your day in court and to clear his or her docket properly and legally of the cases on it. It is your job to protect your own rights. The sample questions you are given DO NOT protect your legal rights. If the judge asks you the sample questions or other questions during the divorce proceeding, this is not designed to protect your legal rights.
It is YOUR JOB and ONLY YOUR JOB to know your rights and to protect them during any divorce or family law proceeding in the Rhode Island Courts. So, if you represent yourself, PRO SE, and you miss something, forget something, mis-state something, or misunderstand something then you should understand that you should not expect that you should or even can sue the State of Rhode Island or the Judge who presided over your proceeding.
If you want a cheaper or more affordable divorce and you feel up to representing yourself, then by all means you have the constitutional right to do so but you should most assuredly get some coaching from an experienced family law practitioner who offers coaching and can inform you about your rights, the procedures, etc... Naturally your level of protection and safety in the proceeding relates to the amount of coaching and advice you are willing to engage the attorney for, but it is better than thinking that you know as much as a lawyer who has been doing this for many years and has read the law, or than thinking that the court is already protecting you so you don't need a lawyer at all.
If you don't know your legal rights in a divorce and how to protect them, you might as well not have them.
Yesterday I had an appointment scheduled with a man who had already rescheduled his appointment once. Just before his appointment for his divorce advice session I saw him pull into the driveway.
The prospective client hesitated in his car in the parking area. He had been advised in the confirmation email that he would be coming to a residential area and that my office is located in the lower level of the split level house to save my client's money by eliminating expenses and lowering my fees and making a more comfortable, homelike environment so people could feel comfortable with their divorce lawyer.
The propective client looked around from the driveway at the raised ranch that houses my law practice. Then he drove away. No call that he wanted to cancel his appointment. No courtesy call to let know he wanted to reschedule. No call to explain why he chose to cancel.
For sixteen (16) years, I have dedicated my every effort to try to help the people of this state in our Rhode Island Family Courts, including mothers, fathers, children and even the court itself.
So yesterday, this prospective client judged a book by it's cover. He looked at the house and he didn't see a fancy law office on the outside. He didn't see a big sign with impressive lettering. He didn't see a BMW or a Jaguar in the driveway. So without seeing everything he expected to see in a traditional law firm he drove away without so much as a courtesy call to me as the lawyer inside. So I continued on with my work day.
Yet it was this prospective client's loss that he doesn't realize. What he didn't see was the lawyer in a business suit suit prepared to meet him inside behind an antique oak desk. What he didn't see was 16 years of experience waiting to inform him of his legal rights and answer his questions.
What the man didn't realize is that lawyers with a fancy law office must charge you more to pay for that law office. What the man didn't realize is that a fancy sign really means nothing. It simply costs more and tries to make you look more impressive. What he didn't realize was that a lawyer's BMW or Jaguar doesn't go into court for you. When all is said and done what is crucial is that you remember that the value you get is in the lawyer you hire. Your lawyer goes to court for you. Your lawyer argues your case. Your lawyer makes the difference. When you are impressed by desks, offices, secretaries, support staff, huge copiers, paralegals, etc... and you believe that gets you a better law firm, you're fooling yourself. When all is said and done it is your lawyer that makes the difference.
So the man yesterday drove away to his loss. What if he learned that he was getting a $250 per hour lawyer for $150 per hour. How would he feel after the fact realizing he could have obtained a lawyer with the same experience as the fancy looking law firm for $100 per hour LESS.
Focus is crucial when selecting a lawyer and appearances can be deceiving. It you have all the money in the world, then by all mean just pick the most expensive lawyer you can and hope you get a good one. If not, remember... don't judge a book by it's cover... you could be making a tremendously impractical mistake.
I often wonder where the caring went in our society. So many people seem in so much need of help and yet as much as I try to focus on the people that are helping others I don't see it in my profession. It's sad.
It reminds me of Christmas time. Everything is so commercialized. It's not about the religious nature of the holiday anymore it's about giving gifts and fighting each other on Black Friday to get the best deals by seeing who we can stomp first to get to the front of the line first. It's odd to see what we do to our fellow man. The same is true for my profession. I wanted to join a truly noble profession and make a difference. I didn't want to reach down into some poor guy's wallet or some woman's purse for their last dollar and take it so they couldn't afford to fight for their rights or defend themselves in court. That wasn't my objective at all. It was to help people with my skills. Am I claiming to be a saint? Of course not! Obviously I have bills to pay myself so I have to charge something for my services, but what I charge makes a difference.
I drive down the street and see people putting up their houses for sale as the values plummet. I see abandoned houses in my own neighborhood and go up to some nice houses to read the foreclosure notices on the doors of homes long since left empty.
I see the local Salvation Army doing more business than ever before with lines that rival Super Stop & Shop on one of their best days. It's not a pleasant site to see our recession. I'm far from immune to it. I've taken every energy saving tip I can find and put it to good use. I look for every sale possible. I cut coupons and I do without some of the things I used to be able to afford because the economy isn't that good for people and frankly I'm not going to be the one that breaks their wallets.
This world revolves around people and I see people hurting everywhere. The business for Family Dollar and Dollar Tree is up while the big businesses are down and people are swarming to pawn shops with whatever they can to pay their bills.
I've talked to numerous lawyers during this recession. I hear some of them doing very well and talking about themselves and their families, etc.. I ask if they've changed their billing practices or rates and the answer has been the same... no.
I must admit that I get rather angry at times. Here I am, an experienced family law attorney tucked away in a home office like a pearl inside an oyster they haven't found and I'm giving my all for the client. I've reduced my rates in this economy not because I'm not worth it but because folks need a break. So here I am, this oyster hidden away in a corner just about jumping up and down saying "here I am" all you have to do is open your eyes and see me.
Yet perhaps what disappoints me more than not being noticed when I'm trying to help people is to see the people going to the lawyers listed at the top of Google because they must be the one's you should hire because that's where they are, right? I used to be up there at the top of Google and I had clients who I had to limit because I couldn't keep up with them all. Yet I'm not up there... so people don't see me. What gets me most is knowing that they'll go to the lawyers I see listed on the first page of Google.com and knowing how much they'll be charged and how they'll be treated like a number and not like a person.
Is this jealousy? For being on the first page perhaps, but certainly not for doing what they do. You see, I realized a long time ago that it would be very easy to take a client for every last dime he or she had. It wouldn't be that hard. In fact, I could become good at it in such a very short time. I've already had hundreds of opportunities to do so. So what's my problem, right? My problem is that I have a conscience. I seem to be one of these rare attorneys who worries more about his clients than about his wallet. Yes, I even have sleepless nights worrying about mothers, fathers, and children in my cases. Am I one of the few practitioners who wants to make others lives better and doesn't harp about collecting the almighty dollar every other second?
People are hurting and affordability is what they need. Affordability, skill and perhaps a little bit of caring. You know, I don't know a single attorney in Rhode Island who practices family law who puts the client before the bill except myself. Perhaps I'm too giving. Perhaps I just don't know enough Rhode Island family lawyers. Perhaps I'm not a good businessman as some of the wealthier attorneys have commented to me. And perhaps...I'm that affordable angel that people are trying to find who actually gives a dam.
If this sounds self-righteous, well, then it does though it's not meant to be. I suppose I just don't understand it. In the end, I ended up being a divorce lawyer who really cares, but perhaps I should have been a Catholic Priest after all.