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Why Limited Scope Representation Could Work for You in a Custody Case

Posted on February 19, 2020 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (9)
So you are looking to file a child custody or child support case but you do not want to hire an attorney to handle every aspect of the case because that would be cost prohibitive.  For the most part you want to be hands on and handle the case yourself.  However, there may be some small aspects of the case that require legal expertise.  For those issues you can us "Limited Scope Representation" as an affordable option that will allow you to get what legal expertise you may need without breaking the bank.  If you decide to go this route you will need to set out the parameters of representation in a limited legal services contract.  The best way to do that is to set an appointment to discuss what it is that you want and need and then sign a written document evidencing exactly what it is that will be expected from the attorney.  Our office can help you with those details and enter our limited appearance in your case, if that is what is outlined in the agreement.  If an Entry of Limited Appearance is filed in your case and once the work outlined in the limited scope representation agreement is completed a Termination of Limited Appearance will be filed with the Court and the attorney's work in the case will end.  However, an attorney is not required to file an Entry of Limited Appearance in every case.  Work can be completed without an attorney ever entering their appearance in your case.  If you are interested in this type of representation, please give my office a call to set an appointment.  Let my assistant know that your office visit is to discuss possible "Limited Scope Representation." The phone number for The Faulstich Law Firm is 314-260-7823.

Divorce and Parenting Plans with Small Children

Posted on June 17, 2016 at 11:54 AM Comments comments (6)
In every Divorce where children are involved, a parenting plan is required by the court. A parenting plan lays out the basic perimeters of the custody of the child as well as the support of the child. Part A of the Parenting Plan deals with the legal and physical custody of the child. Part B deals with the monetary issues that arise when parenting a child (for instance health insurance costs, extracurricular costs and child support itself). Unfortunately, when Children are involved in a divorce, there's always a good chance that you are going to have to go back to court some day to modify the agreement that you have made in your initial divorce. Children's lives will change and so will yours throughout the years. What may have worked before may not work five or ten years down the road.
For instance, when you have very small children, between the ages of zero and five, the children are not in school yet. This makes for a very different schedule than when the children are in school. Additionally, smaller children need more frequent periods of visitation with both parents if possible. Many publications on the early psychological development of children back this up and the courts have taken notice. This is a well-accepted rule and something that should be taken into account when the children are young. A week on, week off schedule may work well for you but realistically children this small shouldn't be away from the other parent for that long. It's well established that this is an important bonding period that requires frequent contact more so than later stages of a child's life.
Also, day care needs will change. The older a child gets, the less child care the child needs. Many parents decide that by the time a child is high school age that he or she can watch him or herself completely. Prior to that time, some after school care or before school care might be required. And in the very early years, constant daily child care is usually required until the child reaches school age. This matters a great deal because depending on how the child care costs are calculated into the Parenting Plan Part B and the Form 14 (the form that calculates child support numbers), this can drastically change the amount of money one parent owes to the other for support. And more importantly, this will affect the custody schedule as well.
It is also not unusual for a parent to find a new job or remarry and move. This can be tricky. Sometimes later in life it will become apparent that a child has a special learning need and that needs to be accounted for as well. So many things can change over time that will affect the plan that was originally agreed upon.

In general, your life will change. The younger your child is, the more time there is for your life to change  and for that to affect them—making it imperative that a new order be written. I like to try to account for every change I can at the time of the initial Dissolution or Paternity, but it's difficult to anticipate the future perfectly and account for every twist and turn. It's important that when things do inevitably change for you and your family that the order is modified. It's best to do this before problems occur and you and the other parent cannot agree on new terms that are appropriate for the children. Many times, thousands of dollars can be saved by creating a Consent Order while there is a high level of agreement about the change that needs to be made. This can be done without litigation and I think that is attractive to a lot of parents. There are enough stresses raising a child in two separate households as it is. Planning is key to a less stressful and successful division of the responsibilities of parenting of young children. 

Does Mediation work?

Posted on June 10, 2016 at 3:58 PM Comments comments (8)
Mediation can be a good tool for certain sets of people in family law cases. In some jurisdictions, a certain amount of mediation is required before you delve too deeply into your court case. Mediation can help facilitate settlement. However, if the two parties are too far apart or have poor communication skills with each other, mediation can be an expensive detour from the process. Some cases are made for mediation and some are not. A good attorney can tell the difference. Some might be in a grey area. A good attorney can tell you that as well. In my experience, a lot of people look to mediation to keep costs down. Also in my experience, it rarely does that. If money is truly an issue, I would probably suggest to a client that each party talk to an attorney to see if this case is right for mediation. If both say yes, then try mediation. In this way, you will only have a consult fee for an attorney (one for you and one for spouse or ex-spouse in the case of modifications) and then also pay a mediator for his or her time. On the other hand, without at least doing a consult first, you may think your case is ripe for mediation and find out that it is not and that you cannot come to an agreement. At that point, you have to do everything you would have had to do in the court system and you've already spent a great deal of money in mediation, perhaps as much or more than you would have spent on a retainer.  And additionally, no progress has been made. A consult might also give you an idea of the range of what you can reasonably expect if the case went to trial so you know that you are not agreeing to a bad deal for yourself.  

Grandparent Rights: Beyond the Basics: A Loophole

Posted on July 17, 2015 at 10:52 AM Comments comments (0)

Recently I handled a case in which Grandparent Rights were at issue. As I have written before on this blog, Grandparent Rights are not as strong as a Grandparent might hope for or expect. There are only special circumstances in which a grandparent may ask for rights. Many times this is in a divorce case or a modification of the order from that previous divorce case in regards to the child custody portion of that divorce case.
The law allows for Grandparents to Intervene in Divorce cases and Modification of Child Custody cases. It also allows for Grandparents to request rights in other ways, under other circumstances. However, there is a loophole in the law as it exists at this moment. Consider this circumstance:
A couple has children together. They split—either by divorce or just split as a couple. Either the couple goes through a divorce and comes up with a custody plan or the unmarried couple splits, no court required. A grandparent has a chance to intervene here in the divorce. In the second situation, the grandparent does not because there is no court proceeding to intervene in. The grandparents have been close to the children for years, but the grandparents believe that the dissolution is their son or daughter's own business and they don't want to get mixed up in their case. This is a legitimate consideration. Divorces are messy. Many times these proceedings can bring out the worst in people, and in this case it's grandma and grandpa's son and daughter-in-law or vice versa. Grandma and Grandpa don't want to see this part of their son or daughter and they don't want to hear the accusations the other spouse has.
The reluctance of a grandparent to intervene could very well be a mistake that costs them their right to have a relationship with their grandchildren. In many instances, this is something that you can go back and ask for but here is the rest of the scenario:
                Grandma and Grandpa's son or daughter dies. Son or daughter is in a car accident. Son or daughter has a terminal illness like cancer and passes. Perhaps son or daughter dies some other way.
Terrible things happen all the time. One of the things we do as lawyers is prepare people for those terrible things and hope they never come to pass. If grandparent does not intervene and does not ask for grandparent rights before son or daughter's death, their rights to see their grandchildren could be in jeopardy. When son or daughter dies, past daughter-in-law or son-in-law may request the court for their current partner to adopt the son or daughter's children. As of now, the law has explicitly disallowed grandparents (whose son or daughter is the deceased ex-spouse) from intervening in an adoption. Once an adoption has occurred, all grandparent rights cease for the grandparents (whose son or daughter is the decease ex-spouse).

BOTTOM LINE: Intervening when the opportunity presents may allow an attorney to add language to court documents that can preserve your rights.

What are some common pitfalls when self-representing in a divorce?

Posted on January 21, 2015 at 12:22 PM Comments comments (0)
(1)    Not understanding the law and what you are entitled to before agreeing to a Settlement agreement. For example, a lot of potential payors on child support or maintenance don't realize how much the law and the legal landscape has changed in the past decade, and therefore they end up paying far too much, because of their preconceived notions and expectations about what they were going to have to pay (notions which are probably based on outdated societal expectations). Recently, higher credits for noncustodial parents were allowed, but you have to know how to ask for them and why. Also: a lot of spouses leave huge assets on the table that they are legally entitled to have. This happens commonly with retirement accounts but also happens with other assets.
(2)    Not knowing how to collect the assets that you are awarded in the divorce case. This is a problem with child support. This is also a problem very commonly with retirement accounts. Litigants don't understand that collecting these does not automatically happen when the court enters their orders. More paperwork is many times required especially in the two above-mentioned situations.

As an attorney, I know that some people will need  to do some of the legwork on their own, but a great time to consult an attorney is when you have been offered Settlement Documents by the opposing side. An attorney can charge you just for the few hours to review the document and consult with you about your rights. This is well worth the expense for any litigant. Additionally, if that attorney knows your final Settlement agreement, she can advise you on what you will need to do to collect your assets. Something easily defined like the required order to get to retirement assets or the required request for child support payments directly from noncustodial parent's workplace can also be accomplished on a "flat fee", which means that you will know how expensive the work is before the attorney does it. This is not a viable option with an attorney for a full dissolution proceeding because of the unpredictability of the work needed, but it is an option at these very specific points in the case.

Can I file a dissolution on my own or do I need an attorney?

Posted on January 19, 2015 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)
You can file a dissolution on your own. Depending on what county you are in, some may be more difficult than others. For instance, here in Missouri, in St. Louis County, there are some services set up to help with this. On the other hand, the surrounding counties like St. Charles, Franklin County, St. Louis City (separate from St. Louis County), and Jefferson County, which admittedly are much smaller, do not have the same resources. Additionally, none of these resources can give you free legal advice.
For legal advice, you need to hire an attorney. Some people may qualify for legal aid with places like LSEM or CLAM, but many do not and, these organizations do have problems meeting the huge need for their services even for people that do financially qualify. If you look up federal poverty guidelines, you will get an idea of who qualifies. The levels are extremely low and depending on the size of household, can be between income of approximately $14,000 a year and $35,000 a year in income. 
The legal community sees that there is a need for people beyond these lower limits that is not being met. It offers as a solution Limited Scope Representation. You can represent yourself for most of the case, but get legal advice when you need it.

Bottomline: You can file a dissolution yourself, but you may want some advice along the way.

During my dissolution, can I hire an attorney at any time?

Posted on January 16, 2015 at 4:38 PM Comments comments (0)
The answer to this is yes. You can always try to start the process and call an attorney later if you feel the need. This might not be advisable for a number of reasons, but if you need one, late is better than never. That said, there will be times where most attorneys will refuse to jump into the case. Taking on the responsibility of representing someone is something that we take seriously. Coming into a case midway means a lot of catchup for an attorney who has not been involved with the previous proceedings. They will need to know the history of the case by, at the very least, acquiring a copy of the court file and speaking with the opposing party's representation. Sometimes we will see the need to collect further evidence, which can take time—not atypically, months of time.

If you think you need an attorney, the very latest a prudent person should get counsel is at least a month before any planned trial. Depending on the circumstances, some attorneys may still refuse to get involved at this late date. We want to be prepared and maintain our reputation in doing so. If we feel we cannot meet those standards in a certain time frame, we may decline representation. We are also ethically obligated to provide diligent, competent services and shortening the timeline makes it that much harder to do so. On the other hand, if we think it is likely we can get a continuance of the trial date, we may jump into the case at a late date. Some courtrooms are more likely to do this than others. This has to do with the judge but also has to do with the docketing system. Some judges simply cannot afford to move a trial because their schedule or "docket" would be so backed up, cases would be delayed for an unduly long period of time. 

What type of information will I need to provide to the court during my dissolution?

Posted on September 26, 2014 at 4:38 PM Comments comments (0)
When you marry, that act has many legal repercussions involving how your finances are treated and your children are treated in the eyes of the law. Therefore, it makes sense that when you are dismantling this legal union that you will be asked to provide a great deal of information about both finances and your children if you have them.

You will be asked to provide information about your income. Information that you will need will be broken down on paystubs and W-2s that will be helpful in providing the court with this information. You might also need to provide bank statements or credit card statements. Healthcare information for vision, dental and general healthcare may need to be provided. You will need information on retirement accounts. Assets that you have will need documentation. For most people this at least includes a house and a car or two, and the loans and mortgages underlying those. Even if there is no loan on a car or a house, values will need to be provided. Depending on what financial information you need, you might want advice on specific forms or information that would be helpful in proving the value of assets. You might also want advice about income. Just because you make a certain amount of money does not necessarily mean that the opposing party cannot impute income to you above and beyond your current wages for the purposes of maintenance and child support.

If you have children, you will be asked for information on how you will provide for their care. Some of this is intertwined with the above financial information, such as income being tied to child support. You might be asked about day care providers and costs, even travel out of town for work. You will also be asked to create a picture of how you imagine sharing time with your children with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. You may be asked about their doctors, dentists, therapists and counselors.

Bottom line: You will be asked for a great deal of information pertaining to your finances and your children. Organizing these and having access to this information will help you start the process or respond if your spouse initiates the dissolution. This list is just the tip of the iceberg in a contested case.

My spouse and I have decided to get a divorce. How do I get started?

Posted on September 25, 2014 at 4:51 PM Comments comments (0)
You will need to make what is called an initial filing. This begins the divorce process, which in Missouri is legally referred to as a "dissolution". An initial filing will include multiple documents. You will need to provide court approved forms for some of these. Some of the documents will ask for simple data like birthdate and date of marriage. Others are more complex and will require you to "plead" certain information based upon legal statute (a type of law). Also, these will need to be served upon the respondent, which in this case would be your spouse or your spouse's attorney. This cannot be accomplished via regular mail for a dissolution proceeding.
Like most litigants, even after you look into this yourself, you will probably have questions. You do not want to "mess this up" or make a mistake that could have negative legal repercussions. This is perfectly normal, and perfectly justified. The simplest course is to retain an attorney who can answer all of your questions, help you to file for dissolution, and represent you at court hearings along the way. This would be ideal. This proceeding will touch every aspect of your life, the largest repercussions usually being financially related and/or related to parenting. The court will decide and enforce some very private aspects of your life.

However, I realize as an attorney that not everyone can afford a full retainer, and while fully retaining an attorney will be the ideal situation, there is another alternative if you simply cannot afford an attorney: This is called Limited Scope Representation. At the very least, on the simple side of the Limited Scope spectrum, you can have an initial consult and ask some questions that you have after you have done your research and then have an attorney look over your filings to make sure there are no red flags or additional documents that you need. This is a popular option when marital assets are below six figures. Anything above six figures and you will likely find in the long run (many cases take over a year to resolve) that having an attorney was worth the cost but you can ask about what suits you best at an initial consultation as well.

Can a Parent Be Stopped From Moving By Their Ex-spouse to Relocate For a New Job or Move In With a New Spouse?

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 1:04 PM Comments comments (0)
As discussed in previous blog entries, Missouri has a law for relocation after a divorce when you have children that are still living under the parenting plan that was created during the initial proceeding. For a smooth transition to a new parenting plan, it is imperative that a parent planning to move understand the requirements under the statute. Not only can insufficient notice cause you to lose some of the custody rights that you previously enjoyed, but it can also cause your move to become practically speaking very difficult.
Many times when parents are planning a move, it is centered around a big life event. For instance, many parents remarry and move in with their new spouse. Sometimes parents move for better career opportunities, usually with a specific new job waiting for them with a set start date. A move is no small event for most people. It can require timing of shipments of your personal belongings, purchasing airplane tickets, selling your previous residence, storing personal belongings, enrollment of a child in school along with a myriad of other factors.
As soon as you know that you want to move, you should consult an attorney. An attorney will be able to attack custody and support issues head-on and make the transition process as smooth as possible. If you plan your move with your child before consulting an attorney, you risk mistiming your moving and multiplying your moving expenses in order to entertain a custody battle. An attorney can help you with strategies to comply with the law as well as aid you in trying to meet your deadline, whether that be moving to a new city for a job start date or simply living with your new spouse after your nuptials.

An attorney will also know a few things that you might be able to use to your advantage should the issue arise again. For instance, some people know that their career might require them to move quickly again. An attorney will  know drafting strategies in your new parenting plan that can help you expedite your next move.