COURTS ARE BEGINNING TO RECOGNIZE THE CONTRIBUTION OF FATHERS

There was a time when fathers were typically given “visitation” with their children, and rarely received custody. But things are changing. Today, joint custody is becoming the norm. Courts are beginning to realize that, like mothers, fathers can be nurturers, and that children benefit from the contributions of both parents.

But as the law evolves, we need to take care not to attempt to fit custody cases into a one-size-fits-all model.  For instance, some states are considering a “cookie-cutter” approach that would become the “default” custody arrangement in every case. In my opinion, that would be unfair to all concerned. Every family is unique.  Every custody matter is different.  Therefore, each case should be judged on its own facts; each parent should be judged on his or her own merits; and the Court should fashion a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the children.

Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney who has been a fixture in the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix, Arizona for over thirty years.  The law Office of Gary J. Frank handles divorce cases, as well as custody, relocation/move-away, spousal support, child support, Paternity, Grandparents’ and Non-Parents’ rights cases, modification actions, enforcement actions, and all other matters related to Family Law.  If you are in need of a consultation, we’d love to talk to you.  Please call us today.  You can reach us at 602-383-3610, or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, take a look at our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We look forward to helping you.

WE’RE THE PATERNITY / CUSTODY EXPERTS

According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics the number of firstborn children belonging to unmarried, cohabiting women has increased from 12% to 22% between 2002 and 2010.  The percentage of cohabiting fathers of firstborns rose from 18 to 25% during that time frame.  Having children out of wedlock is becoming the norm.  It is no longer the taboo it once was, which is a good thing, since a child should not be scorned for something over which he/she had no control.  On the other hand, having a child out of wedlock (even if the parents are living together) still presents challenges from a Family Law perspective – especially as it pertains to custody, parenting time, support, and decision-making.

Gary Frank has handled Paternity, Maternity, Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support matters in Arizona for over 30 years.  If you would like to learn more about your parental rights or are in need of a consultation regarding paternity/maternity, custody, support, or parenting time, please do not hesitate to give us a call.  You can reach our office at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or you can contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to speak with you.

THE TYPICAL ARIZONA FAMILY LAW TRIAL LASTS LESS THAN ONE DAY

Here’s something I’ll bet you don’t know:  While a trial in a criminal or a personal injury case, or even a contract dispute, may lasts days or weeks, or even months, litigants in a typical Arizona Family Law Trial are rarely allowed more than one day to present their entire case.  Family Law trials are often high-conflict matters involving multiple complicated issues such as divorce, contested custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and division of property and debts.  Sometimes they involve domestic violence issues.  Other times they entail dividing stock options, determining the value of a business, or selling real estate – all of which may require appraisals and expert testimony.  Sometimes they involve hidden assets and forensic accounting.  These are not easy cases.  Judges have the authority to allow a multiple-day trial, and sometimes they will do so; however,  litigants in Arizona Family Law courts will typically be given one day or less for trial; and each party is allotted one-half of that time in which to present his or her side of the case.      
What does this mean for you?  It means that in order to properly present your case, you will benefit from the help of an experienced attorney; someone who is organized and focused; who knows the rules of the game.  Someone who can take your family history and get right to the very essence of the problem.  Someone who can spot the most pertinent issues; then take the facts and distill them into a concise and persuasive argument.  You need someone who has excellent writing and research skills, since cases are often won by rock-solid arguments made in written motions which are submitted to the court before the trial.  You need someone who knows how to cut directly to the heart of the matter in the courtroom, using a strong cross-examination, or a powerful oral argument.   What you need is a skillful and experienced advocate who is capable of presenting the strongest possible case in the shortest of time frames.   

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

HOLIDAY SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR DIVORCED PARENTS

It takes courage. 
Making it through the holidays can be stressful for any family.  But for newly divorced couples, or those who are in the midst of a divorce, it can feel almost traumatic.  The thought of not having your children throughout Christmas, or of being alone on the holidays, can cause feelings of anxiety and despair.  The disruption of what has become a family tradition can cause sadness.  Worries about how the children will fare while in the care the other parent (especially when that other parent was not the primary caregiver) can lead to panicky emotions.  Dealing with the loss of a marriage, and concerns about your children and your uncertain future, can be a recipe for fear and anger.  All too often, these are the types of emotions that come to the forefront during the holidays.  And the result can be arguments, disagreements . . . Conflict.  It is important for you to be able to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling, and decide to take control of them (rather than allowing them to control you).  It takes courage.  But by rising to the challenge, you will be taking your first steps toward building a healthy future for yourself and the children.   
It takes patience.
Not surprisingly, family law attorneys are busy during the holidays.  When communication between parents shuts down, fear takes over.  When moms and dads become unwilling to discuss and compromise, anger flares.  That’s when people turn to their lawyers and the courts.  Sometimes emergency motions and court appearances are necessary, however, in many cases they are caused by a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived slight or threat; something said in the heat of the moment which neither party really intended to turn into an expensive legal skirmish.  In these instances, a little patience can go a long way.  When conflict occurs during the holidays, rather than jumping right in and engaging in a war of words, it helps to sit back, take a deep breath, and consider the alternatives.  This doesn’t mean giving in.  It simply means not “taking the bait” and escalating an already volatile situation.  It means keeping your composure and calmly examining your options before reacting.  Most problems can be worked out when people are able to think clearly and rationally. 
It takes faith.
Statistics show that the vast majority of family law disputes are resolved out of court, before trial.  And following the divorce, most people will eventually settle into a time sharing routine that works for both the parents and the children.  If you can control the panicky emotions now, and make an effort to communicate respectfully with your ex (or soon-to-be ex), then you will be setting the stage for better communication in the future, and a healthier way of handling problems when they do arise.  Try to have a little faith that things will work out.
Here are ten tips for handling the stress and making sure that the children will enjoy the holidays:
1.         Allow yourself to grieve:
If this is your first holiday having to share the children, it doesn’t help to pretend that it isn’t difficult.  You can’t deny your emotions, but you can look for healthy ways to deal with them.  This might include talking to a friend or family member, finding some alone time, looking for a support group, or even seeking the help of a good therapist.
2.         Make time for social activities and exercise:
There will be times when you do not have the children over the holidays.  So, make the best of it.  Spend more time with friends and family.  Look for activities that you enjoy, and do them.  Take time to exercise — it will get your endorphins pumping and help you to feel good physically and mentally.
3.         Plan ahead:
Planning early for how time with the children will be shared during the holidays reduces the chances for miscommunication, and it allows you time to iron out potential problems before they occur. 
4.         Put the needs of the children first:
When putting together a time-share schedule, make sure to consider the age of the children, as well as their developmental and social needs.  The goal is for the children to be able to enjoy the holidays, and this takes precedence over the convenience of the parents.  For very young children, it may be necessary to set up short periods of time with each parent.  For older kids and teens, longer time periods with each parent (such as a week with one, followed by a week with the other, during the school break) may be the best alternative.
5.         Be flexible:
If there is one thing I’ve learned about the holidays, it is to “expect the unexpected.”  It happens every year:  A favorite aunt, uncle, or cousin decides to visit at the last minute; a kid gets sick; plans for a family dinner get changed to an earlier, or later, time, etc.  Despite our best planning, these things happen.  So, be willing to be flexible.  It will not only make the holiday more fun for the children, and reduce conflict between parents, but it will make things less stressful (and more enjoyable) for you.  
6.         Allow for open communication:
Lack of communication between children and a parent is a frequent cause of conflict during the holidays.  “I haven’t been able to speak to my kids for a week, and their mom won’t pick up the phone when I call.” — “Whenever Meagan calls me, I can hear her dad listening on the other line.” —  “My kids told me that my ex won’t let them talk to me on the phone.”   When children are in the home of a parent, they should be allowed to have reasonable telephone contact with the other parent, especially during the holidays.  This eases the children’s fears and shows them that their parents are willing to work together for their best interests. Problems can be avoided if the parents are willing to discuss this issue prior to the holidays and work out a reasonable schedule for phone calls – and, of course, it is important to be flexible.
7.         Don’t try to outdo the other parent:
There is sometimes a tendency for divorced parents to try to outdo each other during the holidays . . .  More fun.  Bigger gifts. Later bedtimes.  Less discipline . . .  Of course, this type of competition is understandable, but it is a trap.  Not only does it make life unnecessarily stressful for the parents, but it is certainly not in the best interests of the children.  Your children love you.  You don’t need to buy their affection.  If you want the kids to enjoy being with you, all you need to do is to give them your love and attention.
8.         Keep the children out of the middle of your dispute:
One sure way to ruin the holidays for your children is to make them feel as though they are in the middle of a battle between their parents.  Don’t make children choose.  Don’t complain to them about the other parent.  Don’t use them as messengers to communicate with your ex.  Don’t let them hear their parents arguing about issues involving them.  They are children, so let them be children.  They deserve to have a nice holiday and, as their parent, it’s up to you to make sure they do.
9.         Allow the children to love the other parent:
Children of divorce can feel torn.  They not only love each of their parents, but they often feel an allegiance and a responsibility to each.  The parents divorced each other, but they did not divorce the children.  Therefore, the children have a right to continue to love both parents after the divorce.  To deny them that right can lead to long term psychological problems.  You are the adult and it is up to you to let your kids know that, despite the divorce, it is ok for them to love the other parent.  You can do that by not badmouthing the other parent; by not interrogating the kids after visits; and by not putting them in the middle of your dispute.  Just taking these simple steps can help assure that your children will grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults, and that they will always look forward to the holidays with their family.      
10.       Start a new tradition:                                
One of the hardest things for parents to bear following a divorce is the loss of a beloved holiday tradition with their children.  So, start a new tradition: a party with family and friends; baking holiday goodies together; a fun trip; working with a charity.  The holidays are all about family, and giving.  You can sit down with your children and let them help choose a new activity that will become a beloved family tradition – something they will always remember.
Gary Frank is a Family Law attorney with more than thirty years of experience as a litigator, a mediator, a judge pro tempore, and a children’s advocate.  His practice includes divorce; custody; parenting time disputes; child support; spousal maintenance; actions to enforce and/or modify orders; grandparents’ and non-parents’ rights; move-away cases; division of property and debts; and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  We have offices around the Valley to better serve our clients.  If you would like a consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone at 602-383-3610; by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

IF OUR LEGAL SYSTEM WAS A GAME OF PING PONG, CHILDREN WOULD BE THE BALL

Ever since the Arizona legislature passed its new law replacing “custody” with “legal decision-making” and “parenting time” something has been bothering me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on — until today.  In reviewing the development of custody law for an upcoming trial, it occurred to me that the history of Family Law in America has always been a battle between “Mothers’ Rights” and “Fathers’ Rights.”  . . . But what about Children’s Rights?  Who speaks for them?

From the time this country began until the late 1800’s children were, from a legal standpoint, treated as property of their father.  Women had few legal rights, and when a divorce occurred, legal custody of the children was almost certain to be awarded to the father (despite the fact that the children had been raised by their mother).


That all changed at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was during this era when courts began accepting the view that children of tender years need the nurturing that only a mother could provide.  The vast majority of mothers, during that time period, remained in the home to care for children as their primary responsibility. (Of course, this was not necessarily by choice — social and legal barriers were entrenched in our society and women had few opportunities in the workforce.  As late as 1970 only 27 percent of women with children under the age of three were working.)  The “Tender Years Doctrine” almost assured that mothers would receive custody of young children in a divorce proceeding. However, it ignored the fact that fathers could be nurturers, too; and that in any particular case, the children’s father might be the better parent.


The Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements of the 1960’s created a sea change in our society.  Barriers that had existed for centuries began to slowly crumble. Women were accepted into college and entered the workforce in increasing numbers.  As opportunities for women grew, it became more common to see families with two working parents, and by 1985 more than 50% of mothers with children under three were working at jobs outside the home.


In the 1970’s the concept of “Joint Custody” was introduced into the Family Law lexicon.  Joint Custody assumed that divorced parents should share the rights and responsibilities of raising their mutual children.  The law provided that, in making its decision, the Court was to consider the “best interests” of the children based on a laundry list of factors contained in the statute.  As joint custody gained acceptance and eventually became the norm, fathers were given a greater role in making legal decisions for their children.  The “Tender Years Doctrine” was shelved by the courts.  


Now it is 2013 and a seismic shift in Family Law has once again taken place.  Arizona has amended its statutes to remove the term “custody” altogether.  That term has been replaced with the words “legal decision-making” and “parenting time.”  This sounds innocuous, but the effect may well be that in every contested “custody” proceeding, a judge will start with the assumption (although not a legal presumption) that the parents should be awarded equal time and decision-making rights with respect to the children.  The Court is still required to make its decision based on the “best interests” of the children — but it could be assumed (unless proven otherwise) that it is in the children’s best interests to divide parenting time and decision-making equally between the father and mother.


Is this fair?  I say no.  Determining what is best for a child does not lend itself to a “template” decision-making process.  Every family is unique.  Every case is different. Therefore, every case involving children should be determined on its own merits.  Mothers should not be favored.  Fathers should not be favored.  Instead, the Court should look closely into the facts and family dynamics of each individual case to determine the outcome that best meets the needs of the children.


The children.  

What is in the best interests of THE CHILDREN? 

That should be the compass that guides the Court in making its decision.


 

Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, spousal and child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We’d be happy to help you.

SAY GOODBYE TO CUSTODY

Custody is now a relic of the past.  The Arizona legislature has spoken, and the term “Custody” has been banished from our statutes.  Beginning on January 1, 2013 parents coming before our courts will not be awarded sole custody, or joint custody . . . or any kind of custody.  Custody is dead and buried.  It has been replaced by the terms: “Legal Decision-Making” and “Parenting Time.”  From now on, the Arizona courts will either enter an order awarding joint legal decision-making to both parents; or they will give one parent the right to make decisions regarding the children.  The court could also split the decision-making rights and responsibilities between the parents (for example, the mother might be given the right to make medical decisions while the father has the right to make educational decisions).
Some experts view this new arrangement as an earth-shaking philosophical shift that will lead to a significant change in the way the courts decide family law cases.  Other experts take the position that the wording of the statutes is merely a matter of semantics, and that things will not change much at all.  Only time will tell.  Over the next year, as the law unfolds, I will keep you apprised of how the courts are interpreting the newly revised statutes.
For several years now, there has been a trend in this and many other states to award joint custody (rather than sole custody) in the typical family law case; and, today, court orders for equal parenting time and decision-making have become commonplace.  This represents a real departure from the past, when the vast majority of cases ended up with the children living primarily with one parent.  The recent changes to Arizona family law seem to reflect an extension of this trend.  While the statute does not contain a specific “presumption” of equal time and decision-making, at least one judge who has worked on the new law believes that joint decision-making and equal parenting time will now be the “starting point” for judges in determining family law disputes. 
This new philosophy is revealed in the language added to A.R.S. §25-403.02.  Section B of the statute states: “Consistent with the child’s best interests in section 25-403 and sections 25-403.03, 25-403.04, and 25-403.05, the court shall adopt a parenting plan that provides for both parents to share legal decision-making regarding their child and that maximizes their respective parenting time.  The court shall not prefer a parent’s proposed plan because of the parent’s or child’s gender.” (Emphasis added.)
A.R.S. §25-403 contains the factors that the Court will use in deciding what type of parenting arrangement is in the best interests of a child.  In the past, the court considered, as a factor, “whether one parent, both parents or neither parent has provided primary care of the child.”  However, that factor has been removed from the new statute.  Instead, the court will now consider “the past, present and potential future relationship between the parent and the child.”  Some experts are disturbed by this change.  They argue that a parent’s track-record of providing primary care is important evidence that should be considered by the court in determining the type of parenting arrangement that would be in a child’s best interests.  Other experts disagree and point out that after the divorce, both the father and the mother will probably have to work full-time, and each of them will be required to “step-up” and become single parents. Therefore, in making its decision, the court should consider not only the past and present, but also the anticipated future relationship between the parents and the children.  They argue that because a parent was not the primary caregiver in the past does not mean that he/she is incapable of nurturing and providing excellent care of the children in the future.  This issue will certainly be a hotly contested one in family law litigation during the coming year.
Another new factor for the court to consider in applying A.R.S. §25-403 is contained in Section 7.  This section states that, in deciding which type of parenting arrangement is in the children’s best interests, the judge shall consider “whether one parent intentionally misled the court to cause an unnecessary delay, to increase the cost of litigation or to persuade the court to give a legal decision-making or a parenting time preference to that parent.”   The apparent purpose of the new provision is to place both parents on notice that if either one of them makes a false or improper allegation, or attempts to expand or delay the litigation, or acts in an unreasonable manner, it could be a basis for the court to take legal decision-making and/or parenting time away from that parent.  (To put it in terms of the old statute, if the judge believes you have acted unreasonably during the litigation, it could result in you losing custody of your children.)
Domestic violence continues to be an important factor that the court will consider in making its determination of legal decision-making and parenting time.  But based on the language of the new statute, the presence of domestic violence now takes on even greater importance.  The legislature has added a new factor to A.R.S. §25-403 which requires that the court shall consider “whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse pursuant to section 25-402.03.”  That section mandates that “joint legal decision-making shall not be awarded if the court makes a finding of the existence of significant domestic violence pursuant to section 13-3601 or if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that there has been a significant history of domestic violence.  The statute also states that “the court shall consider evidence of domestic violence as being contrary to the best interests of the child.”  Under the law, abuse of a spouse is considered to be akin to child abuse, leading to “a rebuttable presumption that that an award of sole or joint legal decision-making to the parent who committed the act of domestic violence is contrary to the child’s best interests.”
Under A.R.S. §25-403 if the court determines that a parent has abused drugs or alcohol or has been convicted of a substance abuse offense within twelve months before a petition or request for legal decision-making or parenting time is filed, there is a rebuttable presumption that sole or joint legal decision-making by that parent is not in the child’s best interests.  What constitutes “abuse” of drugs or alcohol is not defined in the statute.  The issue will surely be the subject of much litigation in 2013 and beyond.

The Arizona legislature made a number of other important changes, as well, especially in the area of Third Party Rights (such as grandparent and non-parent visitation and legal decision-making); and in the area of Sanctions for Litigation Misconduct. 

Arizona’s new approach to what was formerly known as “custody” is groundbreaking.  It is at the forefront of a growing national trend which views divorced parents as partners in raising children.  But is this view realistic?  Will it protect the best interests of children in divorce cases, or will it hurt them?  The answers to these questions will be determined as the new law unfolds.


Gary J. Frank is a litigation attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorce, custody, and parenting issues. Mr. Frank has served on the Governor’s Task Force for Prevention of Child Abuse, and has received a Volunteer Lawyer award from the Maricopa County Bar Association for his work with children. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack. He can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or through his website at www.garyfranklaw.com. If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us today.


 

ASK THE LAWYER – Helpful Hints on Divorce & Custody Issues from a Phoenix Family Law Attorney

My purpose in writing this blog is to give you, the reader, some useful information on topics related to Family Law.   Contemplating divorce, or running into problems involving custody or parenting time after the marriage has been dissolved, can be stressful and even frightening.  It is often hard to know where to turn for information – and without good, solid information, it is hard to make an intelligent decision.  Hopefully, this blog will provide some of the important information you need and point you in the right direction.

On my web site, I have a section entitled “Ask the Lawyer.”  In that section, you will find questions that clients and others have asked me concerning a wide range of Family Law problems, along with my answers.  The topics include everything from custody and parenting time, to relocation, child support, spousal maintenance, property division, and many other issues that arise when a marriage comes apart.  Some of those issues may apply to your own situation. 

If you are interested in looking at my answers to Family Law questions, check out our website at http://www.garyfranklaw.com/ and click the “Ask the Lawyer” link.

PARENTING CLASSES ARE FUN AND HELPFUL


I know a woman who has a degree in Early Childhood Education & Child Development.  She graduated from college with high honors.  Yet, she attended parenting classes throughout the entire time she was raising her children – classes on parenting toddlers; young children; “tweens”; and teenagers.  She could have taught the class.  Why did she join a parenting group and continue to classes go all those years?  The reason – because it made her a better parent. 

WHAT CAN A PARENTING GROUP OFFER?

There is a common misconception that parenting classes are for bad parents.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  People who join parenting groups are generally excellent parents who love their children enough to want to become even better.

I recommend to all my clients that they consider joining a parenting group and signing up for a class.  Once they’ve done it, the reaction I usually get is:  I love this group!  I’ve met some great new people who have kids the same age as mine.  They’re really supportive and we’re becoming friends.  And the class is so interesting — and FUN!”

Parenting classes are not like going to school.  (No boring lectures.  No homework.  No tests.)  Instead, it’s a chance to get together with other parents who are going through similar experiences with their children.  It’s a chance to talk and share ideas.  

Many of the best Valley parenting groups meet for an hour or so, once a week or every other week, at times that are convenient for parents.  Some classes are held at night.  Most of the parenting groups provide babysitting and serve food or refreshments.  The groups are generally run by a child development expert.  A different topic is covered for each class period (such as how to deal with tantrums, how to get your kids to do their homework, kids and computers, etc. – the range of topics is wide open, and many are suggested by the parents, themselves).  The “teacher” will give a brief overview of the topic, and then the rest of the session will be an open-ended, free-flowing discussion with the parents sharing their ideas and input.  It’s exciting to know that other families are dealing with the same issues that you are.  You can get some excellent tips on what works, and what doesn’t, from other parents – and you can make suggestions of your own.  This is a great way to learn new ideas and make new friends.  Both Mothers and Fathers are welcome.

HOW A PARENTING CLASS CAN HELP YOU IN A CONTESTED CUSTODY CASE

As a Family Law Attorney, I sometimes have an ulterior motive for recommending a parenting class to a client (even for the ones whom I know are excellent parents).  In a contested divorce and/or custody case, the power to decide which parent will be awarded custody rests in the hands of the Family Court Judge.   It is the Judge who will determine which parent is the “better parent” for custody purposes, and whether it would be in the best interests of the child to live with Mother or Father.  The Judge will decide whether joint custody or sole custody is the best arrangement; whether there should be a “primary residential parent,” or whether the parenting time should be shared equally; whether one parent or both parents should make medical, educational, religious, and other major decisions affecting the child, etc.  By joining a parenting group, you are not only going to gain new skills that will make you a better parent – but you will send a message to the Judge that you are a highly motivated parent, and that you care enough about the children to make an extra effort.  So, it’s a “Win-Win” situation.  You can enhance your chances of impressing the Judge and, at the same time, become a more skilled, competent parent.  What could be better?

WHERE DO I FIND A GOOD PARENTING GROUP

There are a number of excellent parenting groups around the Valley.  Two of the best, and most well-established, are:

Scottsdale Parenting Group 
http://www.scottsdaleparentinggroup.com/
North Central Parenting Group
http://www.ncpgaz.org/

If you are interested in having fun, meeting new people with like-interests, and becoming a better parent, look into joining a parenting group today.
Gary J. Frank has a wealth of experience dealing with parents and parenting issues in the Family Court.  If you would like some ideas on parenting classes, or if you are in need of a consultation regarding any other area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us by telephone (602-383-3610) or by email through our website.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

IF YOU THINK YOU CAN’T AFFORD A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY, YOU’RE PROBABLY WRONG

If you think you can’t afford a Family Law Attorney, you’re probably wrong.  Consider what’s at stake:  Your children.  Your assets.  Your future.  Placing these important matters in the hands of an experienced professional, rather than taking a do-it-yourself approach, is likely to pay dividends.  While it is true that contested divorce and/or custody cases can become expensive, there are strategies you can utilize which are designed to maximize the odds of a favorable outcome, while minimizing the cost.

FIND A QUALITY ATTORNEY:

When hiring a Family Law Attorney look for someone with extensive experience and an excellent reputation.  One good way of doing this is to ask for a recommendation from a therapist, a counselor, other attorneys, or people you know who have gone through a divorce or custody case.  When you have narrowed your search, meet and talk with the attorney to make sure you are comfortable with him or her.  Prepare a list of questions to ask at your consultation, so that you can make sure you understand how the process works and what the attorney will be doing for you.  If you do not feel a sense of trust and confidence in the attorney, find another.   A strong, experienced attorney may have a higher hourly rate than an inexperienced or sloppy one, but he will not spend his time – and your money – “spinning his wheels.”  He knows what needs to be done, and how to do it.  

LOOK FOR WAYS TO NEGOTIATE:

When a person becomes embroiled in a heated divorce or custody dispute, it is easy to simply “shut-down” and refuse to communicate.  This is a recipe for a lengthy and expensive litigation.  Certainly, there are times when you need to stand your ground and fight (for instance, you wouldn’t want to give joint decision-making authority and equal parenting time to a child abuser); however, in the vast majority of cases a negotiated solution is possible, and it’s likely to be the quicker, less expensive, and better option.  There are a number of dispute resolution alternatives that you can use to simplify the process and save money.  These include private mediation, court ordered ADR conferences, and settlement conferences conducted by a judge pro tempore   You can also set up a settlement meeting with the parties and their attorneys.  

By being willing to negotiate, you take control of the situation rather than placing your life in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you and has only a limited amount of time to hear your case.  When parties to a divorce or custody case are able to successfully negotiate their own resolution, they tend to “own it” and are happier with the outcome in the long run.  They have “built a bridge” and learned to communicate.  Therefore, they are less likely to run back to court, and spend their hard-earned money on attorneys, whenever a future dispute arises. 

It helps to view mediation or a settlement conference as a business negotiation.  Taking strong emotions out of the equation allows you to view things more objectively and make better decisions.  Your attorney can assist you in preparing for the negotiation, so that when you walk into the meeting you will be confident and well-organized.  This will increase your chances for success. If the negotiation doesn’t result in a settlement, your attorney is standing by, ready to go to battle for you.  However, a strong, experienced attorney who is looking out for your best interests can often save you tens-of-thousands-of-dollars by helping you reach a favorable settlement and avoid a lengthy, contentious, expensive litigation. 

CONSIDER “LIMITED SCOPE” REPRESENTATION:

If you have a relatively simple matter, or if you cannot afford an attorney to represent you on a full-time basis, you can still make effective use of an attorney by having him or her assist you on a “Limited Scope” basis (sometimes referred to as “unbundled services”).  Lawyers in Arizona are now allowed to assist a party by performing a particular service, such as writing a letter, or participating in a deposition, or drafting a legal document to be filed with the court, or even by appearing on the client‘s behalf for just one hearing.  This procedure requires the attorney and client to enter into a written agreement specifying the action to be performed.  Thereafter, the lawyer files a Notice of Limited Scope Representation and appears in the case for the purpose of providing the service described in the agreement and the Notice.  When that service has been completed, the lawyer files another notice and withdraws from the matter, and the attorney-client relationship is terminated.  If the lawyer is needed later in the case, he can once again become involved, but a new attorney-client agreement and Notice of Limited Scope Representation is necessary.  By using an attorney on a Limited Scope basis you are able to save money, since the attorney is working only on a specified project and is not representing you in the case as a whole. 


USING AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT:

If you cannot afford full-time legal representation in a Family Law litigation, you might consider using an attorney as a consultant.  You can do this by scheduling consultations with the attorney, as-needed, in order to help you understand the process, so that you can effectively represent yourself.  The lawyer does not represent you in your case.  Rather, you are going in for advice, from time to time.

When a litigant steps into the courtroom, he or she is expected to understand the applicable law and the proper procedure.  This is where many self-represented litigants get lost.  The result can be disastrous.  Presenting a legal case is not simply a matter of writing a letter to the court, or standing before the judge and telling your story.  There are rules of procedure, and rules of evidence, and you need to know what documents to file and when to file them.  There are also time limitations.  Imagine stepping on a baseball field to play in a game without knowing the rules.  Which end of the bat do I use?  What is a “Ball” or a “Strike?”  After I hit the ball, which way do I run?  In court, just like in a sporting event, there are rules to the game, and if you don’t know those rules you are at a huge disadvantage.  This is why so many self-represented litigants come into the courtroom full of hope, and walk out distraught, having suffered a terrible outcome, and feeling as if they were never heard.  They lost because they didn’t know the rules of the game.

Presenting an effective argument to the court requires much thought and a great deal of organization and preparation.  For instance, it is not enough simply state that your opponent is lying about his income, or that you earn less now than you did the last time you were in court.  You must have documentary proofin the form of tax returns, W-2’s, pay stubs, bank statements, and/or other income information.  Putting together the necessary proof and presenting your argument in a persuasive manner are critical to achieving a successful outcome.  This is where a consultation with an attorney can be of great value. 

In a consultation, the attorney can help you understand the law and your legal rights.  He can help you learn the rules of court.  He can help you put together your documents and organize the evidence in a manner that will allow you to prove your case.  Finally, the attorney can assist you in determining the best way to present your argument to the judge. 

 There are many ways in which you can use an attorney to help you achieve a favorable result in your Family Law Case.  It’s not only wealthy people who can afford a good lawyer.  You can, too.

Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, spousal maintenance, child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We’d be happy to help you.


YOU CAN OBTAIN A DIVORCE WITHOUT EVER STEPPING FOOT IN A COURTROOM

For many people, the scariest part of getting a divorce is having to walk into court and appear before a judge.  But did you know that there is a way to obtain a divorce without ever stepping foot in a courtroom?  It’s true.
When I began practicing law, it was impossible to obtain a divorce without at least one party appearing in court and providing testimony.  Even when a couple had reached an agreement on all their issues, one of them was required to appear before a judge and testify under oath.  But that is no longer necessary.

Resolving a divorce case can involve having to negotiate many different issues.  These could include division of property, division of debts, legal decision-making (custody), parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, and other matters.  Parties who cannot come to an agreement have no choice but to battle it out at trial.  This can be a long and expensive process, with the final decision being left to the judge.  However, for those who are able to take matters into their own hands and negotiate a resolution of the issues, finalizing their divorce can be a simple matter.
The Maricopa County Superior Court has a “Consent Decree” procedure which allows parties to submit their final Decree / Settlement Agreement to the judge without having to make a personal appearance in court.  In order to use this procedure, the parties must be in complete agreement on all the terms of their divorce.  A written Consent Decree must be prepared, and it must be signed and notarized by the parties.  The Consent Decree must contain the terms of the parties’ agreement, as well as the necessary jurisdictional language required by Arizona law.  Both parties must have paid an appearance fee to the Clerk of Court, or had the fee waived.  The signed Consent Decree must then be delivered to the judge assigned to the case.  If the judge deems the terms of the Consent Decree to be fair and reasonable then she/he will sign the document, the Consent Decree will then be filed with the Clerk — and the divorce will be finalized without the parties ever having to appear in court.

For couples who are able to negotiate a resolution of their issues, the “Consent Decree” procedure can make divorce a relatively painless process.


Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  His office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  He can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach him through his website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us today.