Friday, July 19, 2013

“I Have an Appointment to See a Family Law Attorney…What Should I Expect?”

When clients call or email me about a family law issue (or really any legal issue) they are having, I usually like to speak with them on the phone for a little while about their case, then I encourage them to schedule an appointment for a consultation at my office. There are many reasons for this, but primarily, I find that a face to face meeting means that people are serious about pursuing their case. Secondarily, in a world where coming to see an attorney often means missing work or school, a face to face meeting is almost always more productive than phone or email correspondence because communication is usually better (no hearing problems or dropped calls), and you have the added element of seeing those nonverbal communication cues.

Thus, in the initial phone call or email where I set up an in person consultation, I like to prepare the potential client for what our first in person meeting will be like. I find that informing the potential client about what will happen first alleviates some nerves, as well as creates a more productive meeting (because the fear of the unknown is hopefully minimalized).

So, what can you expect upon heading into my office for an initial consultation meeting? First, you’ll be welcomed by either myself or another member of my firm’s staff and asked if you’d like coffee, tea, or water. Then, we’ll likely meet in the conference room at the firm where we’ll get quickly acquainted and get an overview of the issue for which you came in to see me. Next, we’ll start filling a questionnaire out full of different information such as your name, contact information, and depending on the type of potential case, the contact information of your spouse. Next, we’ll move on to talking about your children if you have any as well as your employment and income. After that, we’ll talk more about any property you own, and other financial matters. (Note that depending on the type of case you are talking about will help me determine what types and how much information I’ll need to best give advice).

Once we get the questionnaire portion of the consultation over, I like to dive more into the facts of their issue, and then give options for what I can do to help out. Once I lay out the options, I often encourage clients to give their initial reaction to which option (s) they are interested in, not interested in, and ones they have questions about. After answering questions, I like to ask why they’re interested in certain options and why they’re not interested in other options. The answers to these two questions typically helps me find out more about the potential client, how to proceed with their case, and also gives me insight on how to handle their emotional state in the case. Some clients are emotionally ready to proceed full speed ahead while others require a gentler pace. In my opinion, good attorneys recognize this difference in each client, and adapts to each particular client’s needs.

So, that is what to expect in an initial consultation meeting with me (and likely pretty much any family law attorney). Knowing what you’re getting yourself into for an initial meeting will likely lead to a more productive meeting, and helps lay the groundwork for a better attorney-client relationship and representation!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"I Need a Divorce"….Who Should I Talk to First? The Lawyer or My Friend Who Has Gotten a Divorce

These days, everyone seems to know someone that has gone through a divorce. Oftentimes, when either one spouse or both spouses decide that a divorce is best for them, they go to one of two different people for advice. A lot of people find that person they know who has gotten a divorce. Usually, for folks that talk to friends or family about the divorce process, the dialogue becomes more about how horrible the friends ex-spouse was, how much it cost, and that they got “screwed” by a lawyer, or the judge (or the double trouble situation where the lawyer and judge were out to get one spouse over the other!).

Other people go to the other person I mentioned above—an attorney. While I am a lawyer, and make my living helping people through divorces and other family law related issues, this is the route that I recommend (but keep reading because I still believe speaking with family and friends about the divorce is an integral part of the process!).

Here’s why I recommend speaking to a lawyer before your family member or friend who got a divorce: first, a divorce is a very private matter that conjures up an incredible array of emotions. I often find that when someone calls me to talk about a divorce, they’re not totally ready to proceed and actually set up a meeting to talk more about their situation. I tell clients that this feeling is understandable…afterall, there was something that brought you and your spouse together years ago, and now you’re talking to a stranger about getting out of that. I am a big believer in the fact that unless the person is ready and willing, my representation of them them will not be productive…so, I often recommend that people take their time, and give me a call back or email when they’re ready to meet to talk more about what’s going on.

The second reason that I recommend speaking with an attorney before the family member or friend who has gotten a divorce is because an attorney is the correct person to get the facts straight on the process, explain and discuss the different options to get a divorce, and the time line that getting a divorce will encompass. While I know that people have family members and friends that are deeply knowledgeable about getting a divorce in Pennsylvania, you wouldn’t go to your friend who read a book about stitching up a deep cut on your hand…you would go to a doctor to get the stitches because the doctor is an expert and will help take their own emotion out of deciding what is the best course of treatment for the particular injury. This is exactly what an attorney will do that most family and friends won’t be able to do. An attorney can take their own emotion out of a situation, and help counsel a client on the best way to achieve the goals of getting a divorce.

Now, remember when I wrote above that I’d get back to speaking with family and friends about the divorce process? It is now, after you’ve had your initial consult with an attorney that I recommend you speak with those friends and family members who have gotten a divorce (obviously plus other family and friends who can be a support system, even if they haven’t gotten a divorce and have never even talked to an attorney). The family or friends with divorce experience are the best people to help you come up with questions for your attorney about the divorce. Through their experiences, you will come up with a whole slew of questions that you never even thought of. Those questions are from real life experiences, and most likely, your attorney will have dealt with those situations and questions before. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, speaking with family and friends will help you actually get through the divorce because it almost certainly will cause a major lifestyle change once it is completed.

So, if it is the unfortunate time that you are in need of an attorney to help you with a divorce, my recommendation is that you speak with an attorney first…get the facts straight on what the divorce process is like, then go to your family and friends who have gotten a divorce to both help you come up with more questions for your attorney, and also to serve as your support system through an incredibly tough time.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Collaborative Divorce—A More Amicable Solution for Divorcing Couples

When married couples come to the determination that their marriage must end, they are often faced with the unknown, a divorce. The divorce itself can be challenging enough--think of the legal jargon, paperwork, attorneys, fees, court, judges, all of the signatures required, etc. However, in my experience, the most challenging aspect of divorce is typically on the family itself (especially if there are children involved). Further challenges include financial challenges such as dividing the assets such as the marital home, cars, etc., plus the liabilities such as credit card bills and mortgages. Finally, another challenging of divorce is something that is not traditionally prioritized: the sustainability of the agreement that divides the assets, custody schedule, and support payments, etc.. This is where the relatively new practice of Collaborative Divorce can be a benefit.

Traditionally, there are two different routes couples may go through in order to come to a settlement in a divorce – litigation or mediation (that is unless the couple comes to an agreement on their own). There is nothing wrong with these two methods -- in fact, I currently represent clients in one of the methods -- traditional divorce litigation. The traditional litigation method often connotes the imagery of “pitbull” attorneys fighting to “take everything they’ve [the other spouse] got.” While not all divorce litigation cases take on the “pitbull” characteristics (and I try to avoid them!), litigated divorces have their drawbacks, such as breeding contention, as well as removing an element of control over the divorce from the couple into the hands of a judicial official (like a judge).

The second traditional method that divorcing couples may go through is mediation. Here a neutral person “mediates” differences between the spouses, and they come up with something typically called a “Memorandum of Understanding.” With this memorandum, the couples typically must hire an attorney to write a Marital Separation Agreement to file with the proper court. So, there is the obvious drawback of having to hire the mediator, then going forward and still having to hire another attorney to actually get the divorce.

This leaves us with the newer practice of Collaborative Divorce. While it is not for every divorcing couple, Collaborative Divorce is a third alternative, and in my opinion, an alternative that creates a more sustainable and amicable divorce. Collaborative Divorce is a voluntary process where the spouses each have an attorney, and there are other professionals such as a financial planner, child specialist, and potentially other experts, who all collaborate to come to an agreement on all of the open issues such as separation of assets, child custody, etc.

As a group, the team of spouses, attorneys, and other professionals meet in order resolve differences, and come up with a solution to ensure that each spouse is satisfied with the divorce settlement. There is no threat of litigation because each spouse pledges to avoid it. The lack of a threat of litigation helps couples get to the root of the issues, both big and small, in order to work together towards a common goal (one would assume that, there was something between the two in the first place…that’s why they got married!). Getting to the root of the issues, prioritizing what matters the most for each spouse and affected parties (for example, the children!), and thinking about the lasting impact of the decisions each spouse makes in the separation agreement, helps distinguish Collaborative Divorce from the other two methods.

Finally, Collaborative Divorce is not for everyone. I encourage anyone going through a divorce to consider each alternative equally, and speak with an attorney about each of these divorce methods before deciding on a path towards your divorce. In future blog posts, I will write more about the details of Collaborative Divorce as well as the positives and negatives of each of the methods I briefly wrote about above.

In the meantime, please feel free to contact me directly about any questions you have about divorce, or other family law matter. It would be my pleasure to speak to you about your needs, and to help provide counsel about your unique situation.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Welcome to the Family Law and Legal Corner Blog

Hello, and Welcome to the Family Law and Legal Corner Blog! It is my pleasure to have the privilege of writing with the DelCo Times, and most of all, to inform, educate, and hopefully entertain you, my readers. Please allow me to introduce myself: My name is Thomas Bluestein, and I am an attorney licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I practice primarily Family Law, but also dabble in drafting Wills, and some other general practice areas (I will do some smaller criminal cases also!). I am a member and partner in the firm Spadea, Lanard, & Lignana, LLC, which is based in Center City Philadelphia. In addition to my areas of practice, Spadea, Lanard, & Lignana specializes in business law, specifically franchising and commercial law. In this blog, I hope to write about pertinent topics involving Family Law mostly, but also about more general topics involving the Law. I already have some ideas for different blog topics, but would love to have readers also submit questions that they may be interested in learning more about. Please feel free to email me your comments or questions at, or leave a comment in one of my blog posts. In the meantime, thank you very much for reading, and I hope you look forward to my upcoming posts!