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How do I start a Rhode Island divorce proceeding?

Divorce_womanQUESTION:  How do I start a Rhode Island Divorce?

ANSWER: First, let me say that personally and professionally that with I've learned in my almost 20 years practicing divorce in Rhode Island I do not recommend filing your own divorce. In the very least you should get legal coaching/advice from a lawyer who regularly practices Rhode Island divorce before you fill out and file the paperwork.  Every divorce is not the same, no matter how simple you may think it is.  The court clerk's office will provide you fill in the blank forms and they may give you samples of how other family court litigants might fill them out.  They may even give you general questions to give you an idea of what a judge might be interested in knowing at the time of your divorce hearing.  However, every (and I do mean "every") divorce is different and no form is a substitute for legal advice. The forms provided by the courts are intended to follow the minimal guidelines provided by law.  They are not intended to protect your rights nor should you expect to receive instructions on what to fill in to make sure your rights are protected.  It is the obligation of each person or their attorney to protect your rights by filling in the form or even by modifying the form if necessary with the correct legal terms so that your rights are properly protected.

To start a divorce proceeding you need to get what I call a "divorce filing packet" from the Rhode Island family court.  You can get the documents that comprise this packet at the domestic clerk's office. This packet consists of the following documents.

1.  Civil Case Cover Sheet;

2.  Complaint for Divorce/Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board;

3.  Statement Listing Children;

4.  DR-6 Financial Statement of Assets, Liabilities, Income, and Expenses; and

5.  Four (4) Language Notices - English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Cambodian

To start your divorce, you fill out the foregoing documents and file them with the Domestic Relations Clerk's Office in the Rhode Island family court in the county where the Defendant resides within the state. If the Defendant does not reside in Rhode Island, then you file in the family court in the county where you reside, provided you have been a resident and continuously domiciled inhabitant of the State of Rhode Island for at least one year before you file.

When these documents are filed correctly with the family court you will pay a mandatory court filing fee which may include a technology surcharge which currently amounts to $145.32 as of March 11, 2019.

Upon filing, you must check back with the court to find out if your filing has been accepted.  Once accepted, the court generates a Summons with Proof of Service and Notice of Automatic Orders.  You then must arrange to make proper due process service on the Defendant pursuant to Rhode Island law and the Rhode Island Rules of Domestic Relations Procedure. Service requirements vary depending upon whether the defendant is within Rhode Island, in another state, in another country or in the military.

Generally speaking, this is how a divorce proceeding or a legal separation proceeding is started in Rhode Island as of March 11, 2019.


Why the paperwork in a Rhode Island divorce or separation proceeding is more than just "filling in a form."

Divorce_paperworkAuthored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

You believe your family court proceeding divorcing you from your spouse is straightforward.  You've talked to your spouse and think you have worked out all the major issues.  However, you are a bit apprehensive since you don't know the legal process, so you look into hiring a lawyer.  You meet with a few lawyers and the cheapest one you can find will charge you $2,000 for an uncontested proceeding.

You don't believe it should cost that much money "just to fill out paperwork" when you and your wife are amicable.  So you decide you are going to do it yourself and save the money.  You go to the closest family court in Rhode Island and an assistant court clerk hands you a packet of divorce/separation documents and informs you that you need to return with them completely filled out along with payment of the filing fee.

You get home and look over the documents. You look at the Complaint form.  It provides has a box to check off for the type of proceeding and you must check one.  It gives you two options.

[] - Complaint for Divorce  [] - Complaint for Divorce from Bed and Board

Do you know what the difference is?  Does checking off one box give you different rights than checking off the other box?  Is the result in the legal proceeding different if you check off one box compared to the other box?  If you check the wrong box when you file this document, are you allowed to change to the other legal proceeding if you make a mistake, or do you have to start over and refile all the papers and pay a new filing fee, etc.?

This is one small example why the paperwork is not "just filling out forms."  Ultimately, if it is just a matter of filling out forms then anyone could do it.  You wouldn't need to be a lawyer.  You wouldn't need a law degree.  You wouldn't need to know the law. It would simply be common sense or you would simply know the answer or the answer wouldn't have any detrimental consequences to you.

Looking further just at the Complaint for you see two boxes one labeled "Plaintiff" and the other "Defendant."  You know that the Plaintiff is the party who files the documents and that you will be doing the filing so you know that your name should be placed in the Plaintiff box and your spouse's name will be placed in the Defendant's box.   Then you question yourself.  Does it make a difference who is the Plaintiff in the case?  Does it make the case harder or easier if one spouse files as opposed to another?  You don't know so you continue with the documents.

It asks you to check a box for the proper county family court that the divorce matter is to be heard in.  You live in Kent County and your spouse lives in Providence County.  Which family court do you file in?  Kent County Family Court or Providence/Bristol County Family Court?  Must you file in one Kent County or Providence/Bristol County?  Can you file in either county? Does it make a difference where you file?  If you file in the wrong county do you have to restart the process and re-file the proceeding in the correct family court and pay a new filing fee?  You select your county and move to the first numbered paragraph in the complaint.

In Paragraph Number 1 of the Complaint it states,

"1.  The Plaintiff, _______________________________, of __________________________ (city or town), in the County of __________________________, states that the Plaintiff has been a domiciled inhabitant of Rhode Island and has resided therein for more than one (1) year next before filing this Complaint and is now a domiciled inhabitant of Rhode Island."

It seems fairly straight-forward to put in your name as the Plaintiff and then the name of the city and then the county you live in. However, what if you haven't been a continuous resident in the State of Rhode Island for at least 1 year before filing of this complaint?  Can you still file for divorce?  What if you haven't been a resident in your current county within the state?  Can you still file for divorce in that county?

In Paragraph Number 2 of the Complaint it states,

"2. Upon information and belief, the Defendant resides in the city or town of __________________________ in the State of __________________________ and has resided in that state for _____ years next before filing this Complaint."

Once again it seems straight-forward enough.  You fill in the town and state where your spouse lives and state how many years your spouse has lived in that state before filing this complaint.  Does it matter how long your wife lived in Rhode Island before you filed the complaint?  

Let's assume that you know that because things are amicable between you and your spouse that the grounds for the proceeding are irreconcilable differences that have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.  Let's also assume that you get to the end of the Complaint document and it says that you are asking for a judgment of divorce AND ....

What do you ask for?  Do you know what things you can ask for?  Do you know if there are any things that you must ask for otherwise they might be permanently waived?  If you forget to ask for something do you lose your right to ask for that particular thing in the future? Do you ask for specifics such as the car you drive?  Or do you just ask the court to generally split everything 50/50 if that is what you and your spouse have talked about?  Do you know if Rhode Island is a 50/50 division state or what the legal standard is for property division in Rhode Island?  Does anything happen if you ask for something you aren't legally entitled to even if your spouse has said he or she will agree to it?  How do you word what you will ask for in the divorce so that nothing is missed?

The Complaint is only one of numerous documents that must be filed throughout a divorce case.  The purpose of this article is merely to demonstrate why lawyers don't "just fill in forms".  The forms provided by the court are as close as you can get to a one size fits all document.  Regrettably, it does not fit all cases and, in fact may not fit most cases.  As lawyers we know that we have to be fluid with the form and modify it where the factual circumstances do not fit within the form.

It is certainly true that we as attorneys prepare legal documents and fill in forms, but it is not merely blindly filling in forms because of any general information we have.  As divorce and family law attorneys we do much more than that.  

As you will note from the questions above, we know the difference between a Complaint for Divorce and a Complaint for a Divorce from Bed and Board and that the results are legally different and that each is normally pursued for very different reasons.  We also know that it sometimes makes a significant difference as to which party is the filing party (the "Plaintiff") based on factors such as (1) who wants the divorce and who does not, (2) who is local and who is not, (3) which county each party resides in if both the parties reside in Rhode Island, (4) which spouse has more time to give to the divorce to attend to the filing issues, (5) whether the other spouse plans to get a lawyer or not, and on occasion (6) who the judge is that might hear the case.

As lawyers, when we meet with client's and make sure the complaint complies with the law, we know when and where to modify it and which court has both the proper jurisdiction and proper venue to hear the case so that a case is not filed in the wrong jurisdiction or county.  Mistakes such as these can cause you issues or concerns or cost additional monies and time for re-filing.

When we approach the complaints we have created or prepare to fill-in and/or modify the documents provided by the court we know that the first two paragraphs are not merely filling in the blanks.  Those paragraphs tell the court about the parties and whether or not the court has jurisdiction over them so the case can be properly heard.  Simply filling in the first two paragraphs does not insure jurisdiction unless one of the spouses meets Rhode Island's statutory requirements for residency.   Therefore, what appear to be simple questions about where the spouses live are actually crucial.  Your answers may or or may not establish jurisdiction to invoke the family court's power to grant you a divorce.  Without the knowledge of whether or not what you are filling in for your residency is both accurate and triggers the court's jurisdiction could cause you a lot of wasted time if the court does not have the power to grant your type of divorce.

In the case of grounds for divorce, we have assumed it's amicable and that you would know that the preferred grounds in such cases is "irreconcilable differences that have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage."   This is referred to as a "no fault" grounds for divorce.   However, experienced divorce lawyers know that it is possible to plead more than one grounds in order to protect your client, including both a fault and non-fault (i.e. infidelity) grounds.  Family court lawyers who practice divorce know that there are actually eight (8) fault grounds for divorce and two non-fault grounds for divorce including living separate and apart for a space of time in excess of three (3) years.

Each aspect of the paperwork that is completed by attorneys in any divorce proceeding is done with the knowledge of the law and the court system.  Without this legal knowledge saying a lawyer just "fills in some forms" ignores the fact that each paragraph has legal significance and that if you fill it in incorrectly or fail to modify the court's "blanket form" in a way that complies with the law but still allows your divorce to be processed may cost you time, money or worse yet your legal rights. 

Here is a common example of a person who does not understand their case or what an attorney does.

Last week I received a call from an individual claiming she had an easy divorce .  She said it was uncontested and all worked out with her spouse.  I gave her a quote for an uncontested divorce as long as it remained uncontested and based on her representation had she it all worked out with her spouse.  She took issue with the quote I gave her claiming that it was easy to get married and since they had agreed on everything she didn't think it should cost more than $1,000 "just to fill in a few forms." 

I chose to ask a few questions and this is what I learned.

1.  The spouses hadn't spoken in almost a year and had no written agreement regarding how they wanted to divide their assets. 

2.  She lived in Rhode Island.  Her spouse lived in another country.  It was clear that research would need to be done to see if lawful service in the foreign country could be made on the spouse in accordance with the Hague Convention to ensure that the Rhode Island family court could obtain jurisdiction with allowable service in the foreign country.

3.  The woman's spouse had no intention of coming back to Rhode Island and did not want to  respond to the divorce proceeding.

4.  The foreign spouse had an affair but the local spouse didn't want to bring it up unless the agreement (which didn't seem to exist) fell through. 

5.  Both spouse's expected to simply sign a settlement document ad have the court sign off on it without testimony.  She was not aware the court has the power to approve or deny settlement agreements but only after testimony by the parties.

6.  The foreign spouse did not speak english and would require an interpreter.

7.  Since they expected a signed agreement the court would have to give permission for the foreign spouse to testify telephonically.

8.  It was not a short marriage and involved five (5) pieces of real estate in two (2) different countries.  There were also retirement accounts, bank accounts and personal property all of which were held in two (2) difference countries and were at least partially marital assets.  

In short, the court's form didn't apply and would have to be modified.  However modification could not occur until the issue of service of process had been researched.  Once service was researched, jurisdiction had to be confirmed for the proper location based upon whether legal service was allowed and in what form based on the Hague Convention and the laws of the foreign country.  Assuming Rhode Island had jurisdiction and service could effectively be performed, a concrete settlement agreement would have to be created for the parties not only because it involved real estate and assets in different countries but because the matter was likely to go before a judge that would not approve a verbal agreement between a bilingual individual and foreign spouse who required a translator. 

Based on what I had learned, the agreement would have to be drafted in both english and spanish and it would have to be approved in both forms by the parties in writing and under oath.  If that all went well, approval would have to be obtained from the judge hearing the matter for the foreign spouse to be allowed to testify by telephone and a court translator would have to be arranged for that telephonic hearing.  Since the foreign spouse did not speak english it was also likely that this particular judge might require all court documents to be drafted in spanish as well as english to insure the foreign spouse received proper notice of every aspect of the proceeding.  This was especially true because the foreign spouse presumably did not want to retain an attorney for the matter.

Even when these things were explained to the caller, the caller insisted I was attempting to make this more difficult than it needed to be in order to make money and claimed it was just a matter of filling out a few forms and would do it herself.

Regrettably, people often think lawyers complicate things unnecessarily. However, the fact is that the law is complicated and it is always changing. In the end, I was disappointed that the woman didn't realize the complexity of the matter she was dealing with.  I was, however, glad that I didn't have to explain to her that she did not have a simple flat fee uncontested divorce and that I would not undertake representation for the flat fee I had quoted her based on the her initial representations.

In closing, I have learned from numerous Pro Se individuals who handled their own divorces that one wrong word can cost you thousands of dollars in time and legal fees repair the damage caused by an incorrectly written document.  In some instances it has been difficult to inform a Pro Se individual that he or she filled in a divorce document incorrectly and as a result they lost something vital that cannot be undone.

It is always best to sit down for an advice session with a competent and experienced family law attorney in the state in which you have your issue before taking any kind of action.

For people within the State of Rhode Island, feel free to call me to set up your comprehensive low-cost flat fee legal advice session. Know what your options are before you act.

Call today and be on your way to getting the answer you need!  (401) 632-6976


Affordability Doesn't Come Cheap When Trying to Find a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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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.

QUESTIONS

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.


Rhode Island Divorce - A Pre-Paid Legal Insurance Plan Might Help in your Divorce!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a. The Rhode Island Divorce Coach

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Publisher on Google+

 

It's amazing that most Americans haven't heard of preventive legal plans. I'm not sure if other attorneys are keeping them a secret because they think they might lose business or what the story might be.   Yet I know that for legal situations they are the best savings and protection that people can get for their dollar.

According to the National Resource Center for Consumers of Legal Services and American Hospital Association, you are three times more likely to become involved in a legal situation than you are to be hospitalized.  In 1997, 33 million hospitalizations were reported in the United States compared to over 100 MILLION lawsuits were filed that year.  It's Incredible!; You are 3 times more likely to end up in court than you are to end up in the hospital.

Really the best way to understand a preventative legal membership plan is that it does for attorney and legal bills what an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) does for doctor and hospital bills.  Consider these real figures.  The national average is that attorneys want an up front $1,500 retainer and $194 per hour.  Who can afford that?  Who should have to?  Being upfront, I couldn't even afford myself and I'm in this business.

If you had a legal problem today, what would you do?

Could you afford a a qualified attorney?

Here's an example.  I know this real doctor.   We'll call him Dr. Alfred. Dr. Alfred worked hard all his life and he was good at saving money and never had to use a lawyer except for real estate purchases.   By age 69 Dr. Alfred had amassed about $1,750,000 in assets for his retirement.  Along came his son-in-law with this great business idea.   He trusted his son-in-law who presented him with a document to sign so they could be business partners. Dr. Alfred was excited and signed the paper.   Three years later Dr. Alfred and lost all his real estate, $1,500,000 in his cash reserves that his son-in-law had drained from his bank accounts and had spent $100,000 in legal fees to fight a lawsuit brought by his son-in-law to discredit and bankrupt Dr. Alfred.

If Dr. Alfred had owned a Pre-Paid Legal Insurance Plan that offered a legal discount he could have used his Pre-Paid Legal plan attorney in his state, discovered that the paper he gave his son-in-law afforded the son-in-law unlimited power over his assets and the attorney could have prevented Dr. Alfred from being reduced to $50,000 in assets for his whole life's efforts.

Think about it.  A single document destroyed Dr. Alfred's life savings and retirement.   Don't think it could happen to you?  Think again.

Should you consider getting a preventative legal plan?   Consider this.

You have health insurance but you don't PLAN on getting sick today, right?

You have automobile insurance but you don't PLAN on going out and having an accident today, right?

You have homeowners insurance but you don't plan to burn your house down today, right?

You have life insurance but you don't PLAN on going out and dying today, correct?

No doubt you got these insurances to protect your loved ones and your assets in case disaster strikes.

And disaster strikes without warning to thousands of people every single minute of every single day without warning. The time to prepare is not AFTER they have happened!   That is too late.  The time to protect yourself is NOW and that is why there is such a great need for these types of plans.

So in a country where you are 3 times more likely to be in court than you are to be hospitalized, doesn't it make sense to have a preventive legal plan?

The great thing about a preventive legal plan is that it covers ALL FOUR of your other protections!

Now, not all plans cover divorces or family court matters but many of them do, even if they give you a 25% discount on an attorney's services for the nominal monthly fee that is charged, isn't it worth it?   Imagine saving $50 PER HOUR on a $200 PER HOUR attorney.  Just 20 hours saves you $1,000 right there.

Legal plans aren't perfect.   They have their drawbacks as well as their benefits but that's a blog article for another day.   For many people, legal plans are just what the doctor ordered be it for divorce, family law and other types of cases.


The Catch 22 of Getting A Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer - Take your Time When Hiring!

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Atty Chris Pearsall

Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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If you're getting divorced in Rhode Island you may have considered hiring an attorney rather than just trusting that your spouse will be reasonable and won't ask for anything unreasonable during the course of your divorce proceeding.

This is generally a good thing with one caveat . . . greedy lawyers do exist!  Now, I don't believe myself to be one and I certainly have no intention of attacking or in any way defaming my own profession. The truth is, there are good lawyers out there who will look out for your interests and try to get your case done as economically as possible.  Yet I would be less than helpful if I didn't tell you that there are lawyers out there who would rather blow things out of proportion and run the client's fees up so that they make a reasonable amount of money off you. 

This is not a pot shot at the legal profession.  There are, as many readers can imagine, bad eggs in just about every profession.  It is sad that these bad eggs oftern ruin it for the good ones who give of their time, reduce their fees, take on pro bono cases and devote their time to others.  Yet it is both realistic and also necessary to understand that such people do exist.

I recall two attorneys I had discussions with.  They were in no way associated with each other and I did work for each of them on two different occasions during my 18 years working in law.  One attorney ceased working with me several days after making this statement to me:

Chris, you'll be a real attorney when someone comes in your door and you talk to the person and your first thought is, "How much money can I make off this person?" 

Needless to say, that working relationship ended quickly.  I found the statement personally and morally offensive and I wasn't about to associate myself with a person who held that type of philosophy about people and what being an attorney is all about.

Another conversation was a bit less direct regarding the philosophy of what an attorney should do for clients.  I was, shall we say, in a position junior to the attorney and under the attorney's direction.  It went something like this.

Senior Attorney: Chris, check how much time did we put into Mr. Borsche's case.   He gave us a retainer and I want to bill him. 

[I checked the billing.]

Attorney Pearsall: Mr. Borsche gave us a $1,500 retainer on his civil case.  Mr. Borsche is going to be pretty happy because we negotiated a very quick settlement in the case. Our time comes to less than half of the retainer so he'll get a good portion of his retainer back.

Senior Attorney:  Chris, you MUST have missed some work on the billing sheets.

Attorney Pearsall:  No, I double-checked and every entry is here.

Senior Attorney: Chris,  you are missing my point.  I'm saying that you MUST have missed something on the billing because I am absolutely certain that we have used up that retainer and I've already prepared the client that he shouldn't expect anything back.

Attorney Pearsall: I've looked over all our time.  We did this case in half the time we anticipated and we got a good result for the client.  There aren't any entries missing.  I would know because I did almost all the work on this case and that work you did was when I was present and I have accounted for that.  It's just one of those rare cases where things aren't all long and drawn out and the client didn't exhaust the retainer.

Senior Attorney:  Chris, you've missed time!  Plain and Simple!  I am not going to argue with you.  You WILL find the time and you WILL add it to the client's bill and it WILL be more than the $1,500.  We have used up the client's retainer.  It's inevitable.  It happens all the time.  Do you understand me?  Is that clear enough for you?

Attorney Pearsall:  Absolutely.

Senior Attorney:  Good.  Make sure it's done.

(Names and genders have been changed for purposes of anonymity and confidentiality)

Despite the risk to my employment and my junior relationship to the attorney, I am happy to say that I did not comply with the directions of this attorney.  I billed the client the appropriate amount and arranged with the bookkeeper to send the remainder of the retainer back to the client as should have been done.

The point of sharing this dialogue is simple.  There are attorneys out there who will not care about you or your case.  They will care only about how much money they can make off you.  I have seen firsthand how a very simple divorce is blown so far out of proportion by an attorney who simply wanted to make more and more fees off their client before settling a case.

Think about it!  Seriously... I mean really THINK!

I'm an attorney.  I have a client come in and there are no children, no real estate, no retirement plans, both parties work and there is no reasonable claim for alimony, no assets other than personal property but there is a lot of distrust between my client (say it's the husband) and his wife, because the wife thinks there is another woman, when the truth of the matter is that the fellow just fell out of love and can't stand living with his wife anymore.

Since the wife distrusts her husband she goes to another attorney and explains all of this but also tells the lawyer that she thinks her husband cheated on her.  BINGO!  If you are meeting with an attorney who wants to make some money off you then you have just given the attorney the golden goose.  You have just told the attorney what to focus on to make you angry enough as a jealous wife to give your husband some "payback" for the affair that you think he had. 

The next thing you know, this poor faithful guy is going through the divorce from hell because his wife's attorney is now requesting every record under the sun about bank deposits, hotel receipts, charge card receipts, etc... yet little does the wife know that she is the one suffering for this just like her husband because she has given her attorney the justification for doing work that is only intended to bill her (the wife) hundreds if not thousands of dollars in legal fees.

So what is the caveat?  Shop carefully for a good attorney and keep in mind that if your attorney states he or she will do some work for you to get you some answers . . . then ask what they are doing and how much it will cost.  As the client you have the power to discuss matters with the attorney and reasonably instruct the attorney as to how your case is handled.  If you want an attorney to do lots of things for you then you aren't likely to get lots of resistance, though you may have a corinary when you get the bill.

Your best bet.  Take your time hiring an attorney.  The attorney makes all the difference!