Tuesday, March 28, 2006

How much will a divorce cost?

The most accurate (and very frustrating) answer to this question:
it is impossible to predict.

Each divorce case differs from the next. A divorce could be relatively quick and inexpensive in a case where the parties have no assets or debts to divide, no children and they each earn similar incomes. If both parties agree to the divorce, the cost will include the filing fee (usually $200 to $300) plus paying an attorney to draft the appropriate affidavits, notices and waivers (usually approximately five hours of attorney time).

Most divorces, however, contain numerous issues: custody, child support, alimony pendente lite, spousal support, equitable distribution. Each of this issues, if unresolved, could require various court appearances, preparation by counsel, involvement of experts and possibly sessions of mediation.

No one can predict how much a divorce will cost. Generally, an attorney will ask for a retainer fee and place those funds in an escrow account. This account will be used to pay costs (filing fees, etc.) and the attorney’s hourly rate. When the account is depleted, some attorneys ask for an additional retainer fee or send out monthly bills. A retainer fee is usually designed to cover the first twenty or so hours of work so the amount could range from $4,000 to $10,000.

In order to determine the relative complexity (or simplicity) of your case, consult with an attorney familiar with family law who practices in the county where the case will be filed. After hearing the facts, issues and concerns, an attorney can provide preliminary advice and quote a retainer fee that you will need to get started. Most attorneys, if they provide advice and analysis in the initial consultation, will charge a consultation fee.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Protecting Your Personal Information

Taking Steps to Avoid Identity Theft

Imagine finding out that someone had applied for a mortgage, opened a cell phone account or ordered merchandise on-line using your credit card information. Even though banks, merchants and even lawmakers are taking steps to thwart the crime of identity theft, sometimes the criminals are one step ahead. Here are some tips to make it more difficult for someone to steal your personal information or use credit in your name.

1. Instead of signing the back of your credit cards, write "Ask for Photo I.D." This way, if someone steals your wallet, that person may have difficulty using your card. Of course, not all merchants check signatures so this is not foolproof.

2. Do not have more information than absolutely necessary printed on your checks. Do not include your telephone number or social security number. If your bank permits it, only include your first initial - if someone steals your checkbook, the thief will not know how to sign your name.

3. Photocopy the contents of your wallet, front and bak of each item. This way, if your wallet is stolen you will have all accounts and phone numbers and can begin cancelling the credit cards.

4. Put your wallet on a diet. If you do not need it, do not carry it. The less personal information in your wallet, the better.

5. Be careful when you receive emails requesting personal information. Known as phishing scams, crooks send phony e-mail designed to trick individuals into replying with personal data such as Social Security numbers, bank PIN numbers and credit card numbers. These emails can be designed to look like they are sent by a large company such as a bank, credit card company or even eBay. Do not reply to any requests for personal information, even if the email provides a link to a website. Often, the websites are faked. Telephone the company to verify the request.

6. If you are the victim of identity theft or have lost your personal information, file a police report. This can be a hassle but if your accounts were charged by someone unlawfully, a police report is often the first step in getting your money returned or the charges taken off of your account.

7. You can put a fraud alert on your name and social security number by contacting the major credit reporting agencies. This will require that you be contacted by telephone if someone applies for credit in your name. Contact information for the major credit reporting agencies can be found here.

8. Every year or so, order a credit report on yourself to make sure that the information is accurate. If you find an error, take steps to fix it immediately, before the problem spirals out of control.

Of course, none of these steps are foolproof. However, following these guidelines may make it more difficult for a thief . . . and if it is more difficult, he or she might just give up!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Love is blind but marriage can be a real eye opener!

Rarely does one anticipate a divorce.

Most people go into a marriage thinking it will last forever, defying the statistics. Realistically speaking, though, some marriages fail.

Considering divorce can be downright terrifying. Before worrying yourself into a tizzy, gather some information. A good place to start is with a trusted counselor, priest, rabbi, clergy member, friend, doctor or other person who can give you some objective advice. However, be careful of just shopping around until someone tells you what you want to hear. Marriage and divorce are adult decisions that require careful thought and analysis. No one can make this decision for you.

Once you feel it is more likely than not that you are headed for divorce, try to gather information regarding all income, assets and debts. This includes information regarding both spouses: tax returns, bank accounts, real estate, retirement accounts, automobiles, artwork, jewelry, investments, insurance, credit cards, personal loans, mortgages, and so on and so on. Even if you are not able to gather all of the information, try to get as much as possible. If you do file for divorce, your lawyer can look for information through a process called discovery. However, it is helpful to provide a roadmap so your lawyer knows where to look.

If children are involved, start to think about how custody will work. Some good points to consider are listed here.

Finding a lawyer can be tricky. Family law is so personal that many people rely on recommendations from friends and family. However, a lawyer who is a good fit for one person might not be appropriate for another. Look at the lawyer’s qualifications and experience. Some lawyers provide free consultations over the telephone. Ask a trusted colleague or a professional in another field for recommendations. Many therapists become quite familiar with local lawyers over time. Accountants often have developed working relationships with lawyers and are another good source for referrals. Many lawyers charge for an in person consultation but this is usually money well spent as this is a good way to have an experienced professional analyze your case and provide you with an opinion.

Almost all family law lawyers charge an hourly rate. These rates vary depending on the experience and credentials of the lawyer, the size of the firm, the location of the firm and sometimes the complexity of the case. Most lawyers require a retainer fee to get started. No lawyer can predict how much a divorce will cost because the final cost depends on many factors that are out of the lawyer’s or client’s control. Hourly rates in the Philadelphia area can vary from $150 per hour to $500 per hour. Retainer fees are usually in the range of $1,000 to $10,000 but that depends on the individual case.

You are not marrying your lawyer! Family law cases are so personal, and sometimes can take such a long time, that some people realize their attorney is not a good fit and find a new lawyer midway through the proceedings. Although this can add to the cost, the matters are important enough that you do not have to stick with someone you do not necessarily like. So choose carefully, but do not feel as if you are making an unbreakable commitment.

Finally, as treacherous as divorce can be, it does not last forever and it should not overwhelm you. Keep happiness, fun and fulfillment in your life as much as possible – spend time with friends and family, treat yourself when possible, take care of yourself (mentally and physically) and try not to let it get to you.