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On Demand 1h 10m 08s

Handling Client Intake for Marital & Family Law Matters

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Handling Client Intake for Marital & Family Law Matters

In this course, Dolly Hernandez will discuss practice tips on handling client intake for marital and family law matters. This course will address the initial conflicts check, potential issues and sensitivities in marital and family law matters, and the components of a consultation. Dolly will also review practice pointers and materials needed for a successful marital or family law intake process.

Transcript

- My name is Dolly Hernandez, and I am a Partner at Boyd Richards Parker & Colonnelli PL in Miami, Florida. I practice exclusively in the area of marital and family law, and I'm licensed to practice law in the State of Florida. Among the recognitions I have received are making the list in Best Lawyers of America since 2019, South Florida Legal Guides Top Lawyers, Florida Trends, Legal Elite and Super Lawyers. Today, we are going to discuss marital and family law matters and how to conduct an intake in those particular matters. I'm going to take you through the initial conflict check. I'm going to then address certain issues and sensitivities that should be addressed the consultation, and then the actual components of the consultation and what should be addressed with the potential client. And any materials that should be given to clients as well as practice pointers that I have learned along the way. Let's start by looking at the unique sensitivities about marital and family law matters. Marital and family law matters are unique because attorneys, we are delving into the client's private affairs, and we are delving into details that most likely the potential client may or may have relate to a family member or a best friend or someone that they can confide in. And sometimes the potential client has not confided in anyone. And as an attorney, we are the initial point of contact and we have to provide the potential client with information to be best able to determine whether they want to proceed with a divorce process. And these private affairs range in issues from income, whether they have bank accounts, maybe in a foreign jurisdiction that their spouse may or may not be aware of, issues of hiding income, spending issues, debt issues. A lot of times it could be that the potential client has not relayed to their spouse a number of different issues. and they're coming to the consultation to get a better grasp on how is it that I can address these issues with my spouse in light of the fact that I'm contemplating divorce? And should I address these issues with my spouse prior to filing for divorce? So there's a number of different issues and sensitivities that potentially can be addressed during the consultation. And then there's issues with parenting styles and other related children's issues. And a potential client may come to you for guidance and request referrals to potentially therapists or materials that they could read on how best to address timeshare and parenting issues, as we call it in Florida, because Florida no longer has a concept of custody. So in order to best navigate what is a very sensitive and difficult issue. So now that we've addressed the sensitivities, what are the best ways to practice or to prepare for your initial client interview? I basically have a questionnaire that I utilize and provide to the potential client. And then the questionnaire provides a roadmap of potential issues and questions that I am going to ask the potential client during the consultation. So the questionnaire provides me with a roadmap. And the roadmap starts with the basic information. Your address name, an address where the potential client is living, an email address where they could potentially receive information, documents in the event that your firm is retained by the potential client. And you want to ensure that the email is secure. A lot of times it could be unbeknownst to your potential client that their spouse has somehow acquired the password. Maybe it's saved into the family computer, and the spouse is able to garner and obtain information from that spouse's email address. And that could cause an extreme issue if, first of all, it's attorney client privilege communication between you and your client, but having that the other spouse find out for the first time that their spouse is contemplating divorce through email is going to wreak havoc into the process. So separate apart from it being attorney client privilege communications and information that's being relayed through the email, finding out for the first time that your spouse is contemplating divorce by viewing an email from an attorney is going to make the process that much more so difficult to break to that person. And then there's the breakdown of salary and assets and liabilities and determining initially whether potential client believes it's marital or non-marital and getting a sense of the universe of assets and liabilities that are out there for both parties to the extent your potential client has that personal knowledge. And then breaking the income down. What is the compensation? Is it gross wages that the earn weekly, bi-weekly, what is the frequency of pay? And then bonus income and delving into when the bonus is paid? Is it paid annually? Is it paid quarterly? Is it paid bi-annually? What are the criterions for having that person be issued a bonus by their employer? On the other hand, if your potential client is unemployed, then the inquiry centers on why is your potential client unemployed? Is it a voluntary unemployment? And getting into those factors as to why they're voluntarily unemployed or is it involuntary? Were they laid off? Were they fired? Why were they fired? Were they fired for cause? And get into those details of how it is that the situation came about. And the next step and probably once you have a lay of the land in terms of the assets and liabilities and the income is the family history and how finances have been administered. Did the husband or the wife, were either one of them primarily responsible for paying the bills? Who paid the bills? How were the bills paid? Were the bills paid from a joint account? Were the bills paid from a separate account that's solely titled in the name of one of the spouses? And then at times you have a mixed issue where you have some expenses being paid from a joint account and then either party being responsible for certain expenses from their separate account. So having an understanding of how finances were administered, how expenses were paid. If they were paid by a credit card and then at the end of the month a payment was made from a joint account towards the credit card to pay that off or was there a different contribution? Did one spouse pay 50% of the expenses and the other spouse paid 50% of expenses from their separate accounts? It's interesting and it's important to address how the expenses were paid from where they were paid and why they were paid in this light. Was it by agreement? Was it something that happened along the way in the course of conduct of the parties administering their day to day lives? How did this current schematic come about? So from that perspective, addressing the finances and then moving on to children's issues and understanding the family dynamics and who is doing what on a day to day basis? Who is taking the kids to school, dropping off, picking up, extracurricular activities, who is taking them to the extracurriculars? Who's taking the children to the doctor's appointments? Who is sitting down with the children and doing homework and projects? It's going to be important to understand who is primarily spearheading these issues for the kids, or are the parties equally dividing the labor. So those are some of the issues that should be addressed in order to have a sense of the family history. And then having the client provide you with a general overview of why it is that they're at your office, because it becomes very important to understand why, and under what circumstances led potential client to pick up the phone or email you and master up the courage to come see a divorce lawyer. Because a lot of times it takes a potential client, an extreme amount of time to decide, "I'm gonna go see a divorce lawyer." So you need to know what was the impetus for the call. Is it a long time coming, it's been going on for two years and they've been figuring out, well, when's the right time to go see a divorce lawyer or did they recently learn some information, did their spouse have an affair or they found a hidden account. You need to understand the triggers as to why that potential client is at your office, sitting with you, whether it's by Zoom on a video call or live in person, what brought that person to your office? The next issue that I'm going to address is whether there should be a difference in the way a consultation is conducted depending upon how the client was referred to you. And I don't have a different way of conducting the consultation. If someone came to me from an internal referral at the firm, or if it came from an external referral outside of the firm, the consultation is the same for divorce matters, obviously tailored to the factors of each particular case. If there's no domestic violence in a matter, then there's no need to go through factors and go through a timeline of events. But if, for instance, there's a divorce with domestic violence, then there's a different line of inquiry that needs to be conducted. So it's not a cookie cutter approach, but it's a generalized questionnaire. And depending upon the factors in that particular case, then I tailor those factors to that particular client's matter. But if it's a referral internally or externally, I don't make a distinction and cater the actual consultation differently. It's the same, regardless of how the client came to me. And segueing into the issue of comfort and comfort level. I believe the consultation is crucial in terms of understanding whether you and this potential client can work together. We're human beings, we're dealing with human beings that are most likely dealing with one of the most stressful issues that they will come about in their life. And you need to understand and conduct a consultation to be able to assess whether you can work with that client and whether that client is going to take direction well from you or whether there are going to be hiccups along the way. And no one particular matter is perfect and every matter has hiccups, but managing and mitigating the hiccups is important because only then can you work through the actual legal issues of the case. So you want to get a sense of, is this client committed, will a client commit to providing documentation in support of the claims in their cases. For instance, in Florida, we have what is called mandatory disclosure. And in Florida under very limited circumstances you can waive mandatory disclosure or by agreement. And if you do not have a case where mandatory disclosure is waived or not required, then the client should be given the checklist and the client has to give you the documentation well in advance of the deadline. So if the client doesn't understand that, yes, you are their lawyer, but they need to provide you with the information and the tools to be able to defend them and represent them in court. So that's in Florida, providing mandatory disclosure, it's filling out a financial affidavit that gets into your assets and your liabilities and your income and your expenses. And the way I broach the subject with the clients in order to assess whether they will cooperate, I basically let them know that there are deadlines and there are deadlines that we need to meet. And yes, there are times that we can seek an extension by agreement or if need be, by order of the court. But the goal should be to timely comply to the best extent possible so that we can move the ball forward and we can get the case resolved. And the client needs to be committed to the process, and the client needs to understand that they need to provide the documentation. And they also need to be emotionally vested in the process and emotional equilibrium to the extent possible is key. And if that means that the client needs a referral to a therapist to address issues that they need to address from a therapeutic standpoint, then the client needs to be committed to that process as well, because divorce is an emotional, physical, and financial commitment to a process that can take, if it's a contestive matter, I mean, it could take anywhere between nine months to a year or even two years, depending on the complexity of the case. So assessing the client's commitment and the client's willingness to cooperate are key issues when conducting the consultation. And when you're assessing this information, it's important to have the client feel comfortable, comfortable with you, comfortable in opening up, comfortable with the fact that they're gonna go through this tedious, emotional process. And they need to feel that you're in their corner, that I will serve as your advocate, but both of you are team members and each team member is responsible for their role and their responsibilities. And in order to make the client feel comfortable, it's important to establish some commonalities, maybe delving into something of interest for the client, if the client is an animal lover, or if the client has hobby, plays a sport, addressing an issue of commonality where the client is at least for a couple of minutes, able to segue into an area that they like and have good memories. And with that element of commonality, they may feel more comfortable in disclosing information. In terms of how much law should be discussed at a consultation, I believe that's a stylistic point. I've heard from some attorneys that the purpose of a consultation is to determine whether the client and the lawyer can work together in light of the goals that client wishes to accomplish and the lawyer assessing whether they can meet the client's goals. And then there's another school of thought that, yes, you have to go in and determine the client's goals and get to know the client and determine whether the expectations of the client can be managed coupled with providing the client with a general overview of, for instance, Florida law and how the equitable distribution statute applies for the purpose of distributing assets and liabilities. And if there are children, how it is that the court will fashion a parenting plan and provide time share to each parent. And addressing with the potential client, generally, the factors that the court would take into account. What would happen if you sense that a potential client is not forthcoming with information or is misrepresenting in some way? the best way to approach that particular situation is to ask the client. "Well, it seems that the issue is X and you've relayed that it's Y, and I want to understand the discrepancy." So you're confronting the client, but in a non-confrontational fashion, because you're going about it in a way where you're asking somehow for a reconciliation of the facts and to address the discrepancy as opposed to coming out and accusing someone of the misrepresentation. So that's how I would approach that situation of the consultation, if I believed that a potential client was misrepresenting the information. And at some point, in order to determine whether the client and your firm were going to be working together, a retainer letter needs to be provided. I do not care for the hard sell. My approach with retainer letters are as follows. We conduct a consultation. I don't go into the consultation with a signed retainer letter. That's prepared and I've signed off on and I'm just waiting for the client to sign. I basically let the client understand that they have time assuming they have time, right? And they're the party that's going to file. And at that point, tell 'em to contact me when they're ready to proceed. If at the end of the consultation, the client advises, "I would like to proceed." Then I can draft up the engagement letter right then and there and provide it to the client for review. If they have any questions, I'm available to answer it. Now, on the other hand, if you're approached by a potential client who's on a filing deadline and their spouse has filed for divorce and they need to respond, it depends. I may go in with a retainer letter or not. If the potential client says, "You're one of four attorneys that I will be interviewing," then I'm not going in with a retainer letter. If the client says, "I am going to work with you, and I know that I'm going to retain you, even though we haven't gone through the consultation yet," then under those circumstances that I would bring in a retainer letter into the consultation. So it just depends on the particular scenario and what's presented to you. And at that point, you make a determination of how best to proceed, whether to bring a retainer letter with you, wait for further instruction from the client, or wait for the client to leave the consultation and get back to you as to how they wish to proceed. In terms of explaining the concept of privilege to a client and how it applies at the consultation, I advise a potential client that the discussion that we have, the initial consultation is privileged and confidential even if that client does not retain me and the firm. And I explained in very basic layman's terms that this information that's provided to me is confidential and that I cannot disseminate this information. So let's take a look at couple of hypotheticals. And I'm going to provide a fact pattern. And then we're going to walk through how to approach each particular fact pattern of these hypotheticals. So the first hypothetical, potential client requests a consultation with you, and they have the consultation. Potential client's spouse then contacts your office after you've had your initial consultation with the other potential client that's their spouse. How would you address spouse number two who was requesting a consultation? Well, since you've already consulted with spouse number one and provided the consultation, I would have the assistant thank spouse number two for contacting the office and advise spouse number two that you're unable to proceed with the consultation, point blank. At that point, your assistant politely wishes spouse number two a good day and terminates the call. Now we move on to hypothetical number two. Potential client contacts your office for a consultation. You proceed with the consultation, that same potential client contacts your office for a second consultation. At this point, you decide whether to provide a second consultation or advise that your office policy is to provide one consultation to a potential client before being retained. At times, there are those potential clients that do not seek to hire counsel and are not candid as to their intent. So as part of the conflict check and consultation process, it's important to gather information to determine if the potential client who's contemplating divorce is conducting a multitude of consultations in order to potentially just conflict certain attorneys out from being able to represent their spouse. And going to the initial call and conducting the conflict check, and providing preliminary information to the client, when a potential client contacts your office for a consultation, a conflict check should be conducted. A lot of times at my office, we will hear, "Well, my spouse doesn't know that I'm contacting you for a consultation. How can I be assured that my spouse will not find out?" Well, potential client is reassured that this is a confidential internal process at the firm, and that we do not disseminate the information as to who our clients are and who has contacted our office, but we need to determine whether there's any conflict in representing them in a divorce action. A lot of times the client that understands and then provides the information and the conflict check is conducted. Now, if the client is adamant, they do not want to provide their spouse's name for the conflict check, then at that point, I politely decline the consultation because it's a condition precedent, meaning if I cannot conduct a conflict check, then I will not be doing the consultation. I understand that divorce is a difficult issue and that clients waffle back and forth as to whether or not they should contact an attorney. And they want to ensure that it's confidential and that their spouses don't find out because they're not wedded to the process. They don't know whether they're going to file or not. But on our end, we need to conduct conflict check and somehow relate to the potential client, the necessity, and potentially the repercussions of not conducting a conflict check, because the purpose of the conflict check, as we know, is to determine if any lawyer at the firm has ever represented party with interests that are adverse to those of the potential client. And explaining that to the client is important so that they understand the process and whether the attorney can actually proceed with the consultation. And separate and apart from the conflict check, I like to conduct due diligence online and conduct a search and just plug in the name of the potential client and plug in the name of their spouse to see what information's out there in the web. And at times that information helps me navigate what I find out while I'm navigating the internet, searching for information on either party. It helps me navigate the initial consultation. So now the conflict check has been completed. Now, we proceed to obtaining relevant information. And I had spoken earlier about the questionnaire and how the questionnaire provides me with a general outline. And we touched upon some of the basics in the questionnaire, and now we're going to take a deeper dive into the components of the questionnaire and what we should be getting from the client when we're conducting our consultation, utilizing the questionnaire as an outline. And I like to view the questions in terms of four different buckets, right? There's the financial sphere, which is what we've discussed, the assets and the liabilities, income and expenses, the physical bucket, whether your client has the physical wherewithal to endure a long and potentially the litigious process if it's not going to be amicable. The emotional bucket and the psychological bucket. So the emotional bucket and the psychological bucket go hand in hand, that's where you are assessing whether your client needs any services such as potentially going to therapy counseling to alleviate some of these stressors of a divorce process. And part of the work at the consultation is asking questions about each element and each component. The physical, emotional, psychological, and financial spheres, and basically asking the potential client, whether they're prepared to address the issues that they may encounter in the various spheres, for instance, financial sphere. Your client may or may not have to pay temporary support during the pendency of the proceeding to the other spouse. Do they understand that? Are they prepared to do that because two live cheaper than one? If one spouse hypothetically vacates a marital residence and rents an apartment so as to lessen the acrimony at home, is that client going to be able to balance all these financial components coupled with attorney fees? So addressing these little intricacies is very important so that you ensure that your client is able to keep up and they start something that they can complete. And the questionnaire, as I mentioned before, goes into the basic information, name of the potential client, name of spouse, names of children born of this marriage. And I also like to know about children born from a prior marriage, because that may impact the timeshare that you have, that your potential client may have with the children. So I like to get into those details too. And when it comes to a residential address, it's important to ask the potential client, where should you be sending any physical mail? If the parties aren't living together, it makes it difficult to send mail to the house because nothing prevents the other spouse from potentially hijacking the mail, opening the mail and learning information about the case that they should not have access to. So a lot of times there are clients if they are residing with their spouse during the pendency of the proceeding, they may have a P.O box that they open in order to receive their mail, just a divorce related mail. And at least there, there's a safeguard that the information will not be hijacked by the other spouse. And separate and apart from an alternate physical mailing address, we touched upon having a secure email. And we address the issues that could be present if a client's spouse intercepts any communications. So it's important to potentially have your client set up a divorce email address where akin to the P.O box and receiving information about the divorce at that address, same concept for the email address, separate email address just for the divorce filings. And it's also prudent because if the client has one specific email address and receives a lot of personal emails, spam, there's nothing that prevents your email from getting lost in the shuffle. So I believe it to be a good practice to have the client set up an email just for the divorce process in obtaining information. And I do not address the, if there's an issue with an extra marital affair, I do not address that in the questionnaire. That is one of the sensitive topics in divorce. And a lot of times spouses and potential clients will tell you about whether it's their spouse having an affair and that's the reason why they came to see you, or that potential client's having the affair and they no longer wanna be married to their spouse. So a lot of times the potential clients will raise this as an issue, and there's no need to address it in the questionnaire because that's one of those points that's going to make someone feel uncomfortable. If they have to fill out a questionnaire where they are admitting that they've had someone else in their life. So I think it's better to just address it as you go during the consultation. And if they don't volunteer the information, maybe as a catchall at the end of the consultation, the issue can be presented if it's not clear as to why it is that the parties are going through a divorce process and say, "Is there anything else that you would like to relay about your marital situation? Is there a third party that's involved that I should be aware of?" Maybe phrasing it along those lines. And the questionnaire should have a section requesting the potential client social media account handles, including Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, and LinkedIn is important from the employment perspective, because if you have a client that's unemployed, a lawyer's gonna look at the LinkedIn profile to determine what's the history of this person's work? How long were they employed? How long was their previous employment? And try to obtain information from that respect. And then also asking about the other spouse's social media handles. That information should be requested because for so long as they are public profiles, then there's nothing that prevents your paralegal on a public profile from viewing the social media pages of the adverse party and saving any information that could potentially become relevant in the case. For instance, if there's a time shared issue and the spouses page on Instagram is public and there's pictures and videos of that person partying and consuming alcohol and any other activities that could be relevant in the timeshare determination when the court fashions of parenting plan, then all of that information could potentially become relevant. So reviewing the public social media profiles and obtaining any information that you may be relevant to your matter is potentially a good source of information. And then explain to the clients the potential relevance of the social media posts and why it could have a bearing on the case or not. And stress upon your client that they should not be deleting any information, because the anticipation of litigation, because they do not want any claims being made that they destroyed any potential evidence. So that's one particular factor. Children's issues and consuming alcohol and posting videos and the like. And then also another potential example is, let's say there's a temporary support hearing. And on the social media page you're putting yourself out there going to dinner and having lavish dinners and going up with friends, going on a vacation, doing things that cost money. But then on the other hand, you tell your spouse, "Well, I can't afford to pay you X, Y, and Z because I just don't have it." And then the other spouse sees this information about you on social media. Well, that's gonna be relevant because you're making a claim to your spouse that you don't have the wherewithal to do certain things but then you're out on social media posting pictures at a party, out at restaurant, on a vacation, which would lead someone to believe that you do have the ability to pay but you choose to turn your resources over to it for another purpose, whether it's entertaining yourself, entertaining others, or just trying to divest yourself of the ability to pay. I mean, all that will be relevant. So it's very important to be very careful with what you post on the internet, because it can be used against you. And then another example, back on the timeshare issue, if you're a parent, if you're representing a parent that's requesting 50% of the time with a child and there's pictures of you going out every night, then the other spouse is going to confront you and use that information to say, "You don't have the time to be with the child 50% of the time. If you're out partying and drinking four out of seven nights, how can you make an allegation, how can you make a claim that you want 50% of the time with the child, if you're too busy out partying or out with friends?" So you have to make sure that what you put out there is not going to detrimentally impact your case. So that's another example. And back on the timeshare issue, just another example to illustrate this point a little further, let's say a parent does have timeshare on a certain day, and the parent that advises the other parent, "I can't pick up the child because I don't feel too well. I'm feeling sick and I'll just make up my day some other." And then lo and behold, a picture pops up on the internet, on your social media, or maybe on a friend's social media that may be connected to someone that the spouse knows. And now you have a situation where you lied to your spouse about being ill and not exercising timeshare with the child, but you were out with friends as opposed to staying home, like you should had you been ill, right? So those are generally some issues that social media can be used to obtain relevant information. And the questionnaire should also include a section that asks about known assets and liabilities, regardless of how the asset is titled, regardless of how the liability is titled. Potential client should put anything and everything that they are aware of on that questionnaire. So that way, when you, for instance, in Florida, obtain your mandatory disclosure documents, you go back to the questionnaire, you have a frame of reference, and if something is missing, you can ask a client, "Well, I reviewed the initial questionnaire that you had prepared when you came in for your consultation, and now I'm reviewing your mandatory. And I just wanna run through this with you, because I need to know whether we're missing this information. 'Cause I saw that there was this other account that was listed." So that's another point to address with the questionnaire, and it'll help you in the long run. And I also put, and I ask in the questionnaire for the other spouse's information. And there are times when the spouse will tell you, "Well, I believe he or she earns X number of dollars a year, but I'm not sure because we've had separate finances." That's fine. They can put an estimate or what they believe the income to be or what they've heard or if they've signed a tax return what they recall. It doesn't have to be an exact science. And an inquiry should be made as to those non-marital assets that are brought in by either party to the marriage and not just, oh, you bring the asset into the marriage, but get into it. So if somebody had a non-marital property that they brought into the marriage, then the inquiry should be made as to at any point, did this non-marital asset become jointly titled? No, okay, move on to step two. At any point, did the parties reside at this non-marital residence? And did this spouse contribute to paying down the mortgage, paying taxes, insurance, repairing the property? And then get to the specifics, get into the dates, the amounts that were spent, because the other spouse would have a claim for enhancement of that non-marital asset, at least in Florida. And it's going to be very important to have all these details lined up. Or for instance, keeping the same concept and example as a non-marital home, if you have the non-marital home, but neither spouse resided there, and there's always been a renter on the property and from the rental income, all the caring costs for the home are paid. Then that's important because that may potentially change your analysis depending on your jurisdiction. So it's important to get into that level of detail, I think, so that the client is thinking about documents that they could obtain to help with their non-marital status claim of an asset. So to recap, the questions that should be asked when there's a non-marital asset is, were there any improvements made? What was a source of payment for those improvements? What was the amount of pay down of any non-marital liability, such as the mortgage? And what was a source of payment for the pay down of that non-marital liability? So for instance, the mortgage. And back to children's issues. So I spoke earlier about tying in the factors of the statute that deals with parenting plans and timeshare and asking your client for information and records to provide if you're retained, for schooling, medical, and education of the child, to see who was responsible for what, who has spearheaded certain aspects of the children's lives. And then also inquire about which parent pays for the health, dental and vision insurance for the children and if they know about the cost and how much of a cost that is. Is it an employer based plan or is it a private plan? Those are issues that should be addressed. And then to add a little more complexity to the matter, if there are international components to your case, and the child needs to visit a parent abroad for an extended period of time, it is prudent to ask how and address how these medical expenses will be shared if insurance is in place that will cover medical care while the child is abroad or whether supplemental insurance needs to be acquired. Whether separate and apart from health insurance, whether any repatriation insurance needs to be handled as well. So there's a number of different issues that need to be addressed separate and apart if there are international components to your case. And then I like to provide a copy of the statute to the client at the consultation. That way with the parenting and timeshare issue, they have the statutory factors, they can use it as a resource, so when they're gathering information, they can go to the different factors and provide you with what they believe is relevant. And then as an advocate, once you obtain the information, you'll review it and you'll sift through to see what factor you can tie that information to. Separate from the Florida statute that I provide the factors, I also provided a copy of the Florida Supreme Court approved parenting plan. So some of the information, all the information in that parenting plan is included in my parenting plan. But my parenting plan is a bit more expansive than the Florida Supreme Court approved parenting plan. There's some more detail that's included, but at least with the approved parenting plan, you provide your client with some guide as to some of the issues that they should be thinking about in terms of timeshare, shared parental responsibility and the likes, so they start thinking about these issues. So I believe that it's prudent to provide them with not only the statute, but Florida Supreme Court approved parenting plan because that's a state where I'm at and that way the client is working through issues. And it also provides the client some time for reflection as to how they wish to address these issues in their case. So for instance, parental responsibility. In Florida, there is a concept of shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility. And there's also this concept of whether one parent should have ultimate responsibility over one specific aspect of a child's welfare, and then that needs to be spelled out. So these are all issues that your client, by providing them with the parenting plan, they're able to read it and then maybe jot down some notes to themselves so that the next time they meet with you, they can address any concerns that they may have. And then when addressing the timeshare schedule, separate from writing out the schedule, I believe it's helpful to include a chart that illustrates days during the academic school year when mom and dad have timeshare. So there will be a paragraph that explains the timeshare during the academic school year. And then there will be a chart right under it with Monday through Sunday and then having a legend that says M equals mother, F equals father, and then putting an M and an F on each day, depending on who has timeshare. So the illustration helps sometimes with the clients to have a chart separate from having it written down. And then addressing a holiday timeshare schedule is very important. And it's important to determine what holidays this specific family exercises. So there could be some religious holidays that may need to be addressed for some families and some other holidays that need to be addressed for other families. So the key here is to figure out the needs of the family that you are dealing with and addressing their needs in the parenting plan. Now, include pick up and drop off times and the location where the child is to be picked up and dropped off. And then a notice provision that addresses any cancellation of timeshare by a parent, because if a parent cancels timeshare with no notice and the child is at school and the parent that canceled timeshare was to pick up the child, that other parent may be at work. And that parent will need to lead time in order to make alternate childcare arrangements. And also address which parents' address will be utilized for purposes of the school boundary determination. So if you have a situation where you have two parents, which are equally splitting the time 50/50, then at that point, you may wanna look to see which parent is in the better district. If one parent's in an A rated school and the other parents is in a B rated school, you may want to designate the parent who has the school with the A rating and designate that parent's address for purposes of school boundary determination. And now passports. So with the children's passports, it should be specified. And you should ask your client if there's any issues with international travel and the factors as to why your potential client believes that there will be issues with international travel. Do they believe their spouse to be a flight risk? And if they do, there's a Florida statute that gets into certain factors. And I would once again, provide that specific statute to them so that they could start gathering information that would support each of the factors if applicable. And then determine who's gonna hold the passports, where will the passports be held? Will they be held at that parent's home, in a safety deposit box? Who's gonna pay for the safety deposit box? Who's gonna have access to the safety deposit box? Is it one parent, both parents? And what's a timeframe to return the passports once the other parent comes back from travel? And then address, if there is a flight risk, then you should get into that area of inquiry and determine why the client believes their spouse to be a flight risk and then address with the potential client what preventive measures could potentially come about that could be requested, for instance, requesting a bond be posted when that parent travels internationally with the children or limiting the scope of travel to countries that are signatories to the Hague Adoption Convention. Or limiting travels to countries that have not been issued a travel alert or travel warning by the US Department of State. So there are a number of different issues with international travel that can be addressed. And at your client consultation, you should be addressing some of the factors and understanding the concerns a parent has in order to be able to determine what will be the course of action if you are retained. And then if private school is an issue, that's another question to be asking at the consultation. So if private school is an issue, then specifics should be addressed. What school children attend, how long have they attended, how is payment being made for the tuition, how about payment for all the other expenses separate and apart from tuition, registration fees and deposits, books, uniforms, et cetera. Have a basic understanding of how these expenses have been paid in the past and whether the potential clients or spouse have communicated in terms of how they will be paid in the future. And address any contingencies and ask, "Is there an issue potentially with the children attending private school? And if so, what would happen in the event a party lost their employment? Would you default to putting the children in public school?" And then if there's a 50/50 timeshare situation, what school will control or what school will be chosen in light of the address that's going to be used for the school boundary designation? Parenting issues are emotional for all parents. So it's important to take your time and allow the potential client time to respond without interruption. If they become overly emotional, offer a tissue and table the issue until you determine that the potential client is able to revisit the issue. Now, I find it very beneficial and I ask the clients to prepare a timeline of events. If I'm retained, I ask the potential client to then draft a timeline of events, and it doesn't need to be perfect, or it doesn't need to be in a certain format, but I need to know the month and the year certain events happened. And I like to take it from the beginning of time, so not so much into the dating history, but date of marriage forward, what has happened, when were the children's birth dates, major significant assets purchased, if they were sold, when, loss of employment, gaps in employment, a multitude of different issues. If someone became ill, how long were they ill? Are they still ill? Is that going to be an issue for the case? So the timeline can give you further insight as to the issues of the case. And that typically I tell the potential client, if we are to work together, I would have you draft up a timeline of events and you could present it to me in any format that you wish, but it has to have in chronological order and it has to make sense in terms of giving me an approximate month and year. Or if you can't recall a month, in the fall of 2020 or something along those lines, to provide more clarity on the issue. And as a final point, there is obtaining information from third parties. In order to acquire information relative to a child's medical, dental, and educational records, the easiest way to go about obtaining those records is to have your client complete an authorization of disclosure at the school, at the medical office, at the dental office, and obtain those records and provide them to you or have the office provide them directly to your office. So the pediatrician can provide the records for the child directly to your office, assuming your client has signed an authorization. And at times the potential client may say, "Well, why do you need all these records?" And then we explain to them, "We need these records in order to review the matter and then determine the best course of action. We don't want to be surprised when the other party utilizes this information. So it's better to be prepared." Now we spoke about social media and we spoke about not letting a client delete information from the internet that could potentially be evidence. And the concept of a litigation hold letter should be explained to the client coupled with preservation of evidence in the ramifications of solely aiding evidence, so destroying evidence. And a litigation hold letter is basically gonna put everyone on notice that you should not be destroying evidence, there's litigation, I.e this divorce process, and this social media information may be relevant to certain issues of the case. So it's important to provide your client with that information. So they understand the ramifications of potentially deleting anything from any social media platform or a website, et cetera. And as practitioners, we should explain to the clients the subject matter and the kind of documents to preserve and be specific as possible. So this concludes the marital and family law intake and consultation segment. Thank you.

Presenter(s)

Dolly Hernandez
Partner
Boyd Richards Parker & Colonnelli, P.L.

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