We hope the following information is valuable. We allow about an hour and will be happy to schedule that meeting for you at your convenience. If you have additional questions please feel free to contact us.
Who Should File and Does It Matter?
It does not matter who files for the divorce. The Court does not care. The filing fees are nearly the same for the Petition and the Response. It might be an issue if you and your spouse live in different areas of town and one of you wish to have the matter heard in the courthouse closest to your home – all hearings and subsequent filings will occur at the courthouse where the Petition is filed. The first to file, the Petitioner, does get to present their case first at trial, but since only a small percentage of family law cases ever go to trial that advantage is minimal.
What Are Mr. Bishop’s Qualifications?
Mr. Bishop is not a Certified Family Law Specialist (100% dedicated to family law work); however, 95% of his practice is devoted exclusively to the area of family law. His other areas of practice are closely related (estate planning, adoptions, guardianships, etc.) He has handled thousands of cases over the last 30 years. He is experienced in highly contested, high income and asset cases, representing famous athletes and well-known business and community figures, as well as far less complex matters for the “average” man or woman. He does not restrict his practice and welcomes anyone looking for an aggressive, experienced, fair and highly skilled attorney.
Mr. Bishop is a sole practitioner and he will be the only attorney working on your case. He has a highly qualified support staff assisting him. The support staff is very important, providing accessibility and accountability at all times.
What Is the Most Significant Change in Family Law Over the Years?
Mr. Bishop believes the most significant change in family law over the past 30 years is that the Courts have become increasingly gender-neutral. Men have far more equal footing in custody and visitation issues as well as financial matters. Consequently, the “old school” rules no longer apply and an attorney must be on the cutting edge of today’s judicial attitudes. Mr. Bishop spends considerable time keeping abreast of changes in the law, changes in Court staffing and fluctuation in the socio-legal norms.
What Does Divorce Cost?
The expenses of most divorces are driven by the parties and the complexity of the individual case. It is nearly impossible to render an accurate estimate of the total cost. We have had cases breeze through in weeks within the parameters of the initial retainer. We have had hotly disputed, complex cases drag on for years and run $50,000 and up. An average case runs about six months to a year-and-a-half in duration and $7,000 to $10,000 in fees and costs (provided child custody and visitation are not issues).
Your questions about fees and costs may be more specific. To provide the most complete information possible, we will provide a sample of Mr. Bishop’s standard retainer agreement upon request.
Do You Handle All Family Law Matters?
Mr. Bishop is fully experienced in post-divorce actions, including motions to change child custody or visitation, to increase or decrease child or spousal support, to enforce a property settlement or to compel compliance with court orders. In addition, Mr. Bishop handles paternity cases, contempt prosecutions and defenses, legal separations and annulments. The practices and philosophies outlined for divorce are also emphasized in those other legal areas.
Do You Encourage Mediation?
While Mr. Bishop believes in dispute resolution, his experience suggests mediation as a formal alternative is all too often a waste of time and money. In essence, it is merely hiring a third party, usually another lawyer, who cannot give advice or explain options from a pro-active standpoint. If the parties and opposing counsel are willing and able to work together, Mr. Bishop greatly prefers and does everything possible to negotiate a full resolution of all issues. The process usually ends in what is called a Marital Settlement Agreement – basically a contract between the parties that incorporates all the terms, provisions and mandated language required by law. This document becomes part of the Final Judgment. This method it is typically faster and less expensive than litigating and certainly easier on everyone.
Constructive communication between the parties is always encouraged. A large part of Mr. Bishop’s divorces are resolved through negotiated agreements and if the parties are able to work together, it helps minimize attorney fees.
There are numerous instances where the parties find themselves in relative agreement on most, if not all issues, before a divorce is initiated. In those circumstances, Mr. Bishop is available to assist in finalizing the essential terms, preparing and filing the required documents with the Family Court to start the divorce action and drafting a Marital Settlement Agreement for review approval by both parties.
In these situations, two lawyers may not be necessary. While Mr. Bishop can only represent one party, he will thoroughly explain the family law process to both parties, including the meaning and effect of each provision of the Marital Settlement Agreement.
Unlike the mediation scenario, this arrangement allows Mr. Bishop to give his client specific direction and advice, while maintaining the cooperative environment and healthy attitudes between the parties.
In the event the parties are insistent on mediation as an option, Mr. Bishop’s training experience and expertise in dispute resolution more than qualifies him serve in this capacity.
Does Mr. Bishop Always Go To Court?
Mr. Bishop is also an excellent courtroom litigator and has had new clients referred by people who have seen him in action in front of a judge. Other family law lawyers who prefer not to go to trial assign their cases to him when they reach the pre-trial stage. You want to beware of an attorney who is afraid to go to Court – he or she might negotiate away your position whereas a hearing could attain your goal. Likewise, you want to be sure your attorney is willing and able to negotiate – some attorneys refuse to talk to opposing counsel and needlessly escalate case costs by insisting every issue be decided by a judge. Mr. Bishop approaches each case according to the dictates, goals and needs of his client and is equally comfortable with negotiations or litigation. It can be a powerful advantage for Mr. Bishop’s clients when the other lawyer knows he or she is dealing with a highly qualified trial attorney.
What Can I Do To Prepare and Reduce My Fees?
You can minimize your costs by organizing certain information and documentation, such as your income and expenses, all assets (whether separate or community) owned by you and your spouse and all debts owed by you and your spouse. We give our new clients a lengthy questionnaire to help them gather the pertinent information. If available, you will want to provide account statements close to the date of separation as well as tax returns for the last three years. Copy your most-recent income information statements or pay stubs and the same for your spouse. You will want to obtain a “blue book” value for your vehicles. This can be done easily and free on-line at www.kbb.com. Filling out and returning all paperwork given to you by the attorney thoroughly and promptly will help avoid unnecessary fees.
How Will Our Assets Be Divided?
As thorough as any client is about the details of his or her marriage and circumstances, there are usually many blanks that need to be filled in before any sort of educated guess as to ultimate outcome can be made. For most couples the most significant asset to be divided is the equity in their family residence they own together. Sometimes the house is sold; sometimes one party buys out the other. If the home was purchased during marriage and the down payment was paid from community funds, usually the equity is divided equally. Sometimes, the starting point and equalizing offsets are calculated. Regarding retirement plans, if you were married the entire time you earned retirement, you can expect your pension benefits, IRA, 401k or other retirement rights to be divided equally. Typically there is a little “let’s make a deal” in the process and frequently an offsetting payment from one party to the other will result. The goal of the Court is to divide assets and debts as equally or equitably as possible.
How Are Child Support Rights Determined?
California uses a highly complex mathematical formula to calculate child support. The formula itself is not important – the results are what matter. California’s system is statewide, with little variation between counties. There are only 4 significant criteria involved in the equation. They are: 1) the number of children; 2) Father’s annual income; 3) Mother’s annual income, and 4) the parenting schedule or “timeshare” (how much time the child/children spend with each parent).
Once given this information, Mr. Bishop can easily calculate “guideline” child support using a software program identical to the one used by judges.
Oftentimes there is uncertainty over the income of a self-employed parent or one who receives compensation “under the table”. With over 30 years of experience, Mr. Bishop understands how to best address these issues, including the most effective investigative methods
Is Spousal Support Based On the Same Formula?
Since spousal support is unrelated to whether a couple has children, the calculations are different but utilize the same statewide-approved software. The amount (and duration) of spousal support is variable from county to county (even from judge to judge). Unlike child support with its mandatory guidelines, judges have far more leeway in setting spousal support.
Mr. Bishop’s vast experience and familiarity with the emphasis of the different family law judges is of significant strategic importance to clients. Every case needs to be individually tailored to its specific facts. It is of enormous benefit to have an attorney like Mr. Bishop who spends the time to effectively analyze each case and design an approach best suited to achieve the desired goals.
How Can I Make Sure I Can Collect Support Once the Amount Is Established?
Child and spousal support orders are enforceable by a mandatory wage assignment prepared by Mr. Bishop and served on the employer. The money comes right out of the supporting party’s paycheck and is sent by the employer every payday. Parties can agree not to use a wage assignment if they have confidence the other party will pay faithfully and on time.
Self-employed individuals are not subject to wage assignments and Mr. Bishop knows lots of “tricks of the trade” to ensure his clients receive that to which they are entitled.
Is It True the Man Always Has To Pay the Attorney Fees?
This is one of the more commonly misunderstood facets of family law. In virtually every case where there is a significant difference in the incomes of the parties, the individual with the higher income is required to make a “contribution” to the other’s attorney fees. The difference must be significant and it is calculated after taking into consideration any support orders. This is called the “need and ability” standard.
If both sides make roughly the same incomes or, after support is factored, are left with about the same income, the Court typically determines each should pay their own fees.
It is extremely rare for one person to have to pay all the fees of the other party.
In rare circumstances where one party has acted in “bad faith” (lied to the Court, disobeyed court orders, maliciously abused the system to increase the conflict or drag out the case) a judge has the power to order the “bad actor” to contribute to the “victim’s” attorney fees regardless of their respective economic positions.
Having said all of this, it is still very typical for the Wife to expect her Husband to pay some, if not all, of her attorney fees. Overcoming (or enforcing) this expectation is one of the many challenges at which Mr. Bishop excels.