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Episode 109 - Divorce Coaching - How to Get Legal Help Without Retaining a Lawyer

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As lawyers, we wish we could represent everyone that needs legal help. Unfortunately, the economics of our world do not give us that option. Even with pro-bono work, we are still limited in how many people we can represent. The challenge for us is helping those that make too much to use legal aid but not enough to hire legal counsel full time. Thankfully, there is another option. In order to help more people, more and more lawyers are providing divorce coaching as opposed to actually representing a client in Court. The concept is known by many names: Ala-Carte Legal Services, Legal Services on a Consultation Basis, Un-bundled Legal Services, and Divorce Coaching. In this Episode, we break down what that might look like and how to get the most out of a lawyer you have hired as your divorce/family law coach.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new talk 106.7. Here you learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.Com.

Leh Meriwether:             You know Todd, one of the things that frustrates me being a lawyer is I can't help everyone. There's certain limitations. For a lot of people that go to law school, they've incurred a lot of financial debt because law school, there's an extra three years on top of a college education and then there's time you take off often to study for the bar. Sometimes people borrow money for that. Gosh, I've seen lawyers out there that their ... And doctors too for that matter, where their student loan payment is more than their mortgage payment. That just puts them in a bind.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah. You don't need to listen to us to know hiring an attorney can be expensive. Sometimes people get put off because they think about, or they go and talk to an attorney, they think about how much it's going to cost to retain an attorney. I can be a lot of money.

Leh Meriwether:             A lot of money.

Todd Orston:                   We're not talking about tens of dollars. We're not talking even hundreds of dollars. Oftentimes, it could be in the thousands, 2,000, 3,000, or more, dollars. It's interesting because according to data collected by the American Bar Association, there are, or when there are situations where an attorney doesn't charge enough, because again sometimes people have a complaint about that.

Leh Meriwether:             They have a big heart.

Todd Orston:                   Right. When attorneys don't ask for enough money, it gets them into trouble because they run out of money, the work that needs to be done can't be done. Sometimes even attorneys find themselves going out trying to get other clients to get more money and retainers paid just so they can do work on older clients. They just don't have enough. Then, a lot of those attorneys fall into the category of, "I want to help everybody, but I can't."

Leh Meriwether:             Right, so it creates a serious tension. There's lawyers out there that do do pro bono work and then you've got legal aid. There are options out there, but most lawyers are going to limit the amount of pro bono cases they take because they still have to pay their bills. If they have a family, they got to take care of their family. There's all those just expenses of life.

Todd Orston:                   Legal aid, first of all, it's not even in every county. In the counties where there is a legal aid, getting them to handle your case, first of all there has to be a certain financial ...

Leh Meriwether:             Threshold.

Todd Orston:                   There's a financial requirement, a threshold. If you make too much money, and we're not talking about a lot, a lot of money. If you make too much money, then you won't qualify. They won't help you. Even if you do meet that threshold, sometimes they're just too busy. They're handling too many cases. Like us, they want to help everybody, but they can't.

Leh Meriwether:             What that leaves is a large number of people in the population that are in court representing themselves. We've talked on other shows. You can do that, but the problem is when you're in the court room, a judge and the clerk of court, they can't give you legal advice. You could be in court presenting your case but not know, "Hey, I need to tell the judge X, Y and Z in order to receive A, B, C and D out from the court out of my divorce." If you don't ask the right questions, if you don't present the right evidence, the judge has to make a ruling on the evidence presented in the court room, and so we see pro se litigants, people that represent themselves, get really a raw deal sometimes. It's not because the judge is doing them wrong. The judge is following the law, but because of the lack of information, or lack of experience in a courtroom, the pro se litigant comes out and gets, I don't know if raw deal's the right word, but doesn't get a good outcome.

Todd Orston:                   Look, what it comes down to, just building on that, judges aren't going to punish a pro se litigant just because they are representing themselves. But, a court can only, their decisions, they can only do so much with the information that they are given. If a pro se litigant who doesn't really understand what's going to be important on a particular issue to a judge, fails to present the right information, the judge doesn't have the necessary information and therefore it could, and oftentimes does, impact the ultimate decision of the judge.

Todd Orston:                   Just a general example, if you're in court and you're fighting over custody and you go in and don't bring it up or establish or prove that let's say your spouse has a drug problem, well then a drug problem isn't going to come into play in terms of the court deciding what would be a fair, reasonable solution for custody. Whereas an attorney might gather the right information, put a whole plan together, a presentation for court, go into court and be able to say, "Judge, I have this evidence, this evidence, this evidence. There's an alcohol or a drug related problem. That can impact that person's ability to act as a parent and therefore, it needs to be taken into consideration." Without presenting the right things, unfortunately the judge can only do what the judge can do.

Leh Meriwether:             It could be even simpler than that. Say somebody came into a marriage with a retirement account. During the course of the marriage, they really didn't contribute to it but it grew. If they're in court and they say, "Judge, I have an IRA and she has an IRA," and they think that they're saying, "We each had our own separate IRAs," the court could just all of a sudden, "Well, we're going to split those." The person didn't know, "Judge I owned that IRA before we got married. Here's a copy of my statement." That's an example, a financial impact.

Todd Orston:                   A separate property claim, that could have awarded or resulted in award of a majority of that asset to you because it was your separate property you brought into the marriage. You just waived that entire argument because you didn't present the right information. Going back to what we're talking about and the purpose of the show, is that there are many, many people who either by choice or necessity represent themselves in these types of divorce actions. That's fine.

Todd Orston:                   What we're going to be talking about today, goes by there are different ways to term it or different ways to refer to it. Basically, what we're talking about just because you don't go out and hire an attorney to represent you, doesn't mean that you can't or should not get some level of help from an attorney. That could be on a consultation basis. It can be with al la carte legal services that are provided by an attorney and/or firm. What we're going to be talking about today is that, that even if you can't afford to hire an attorney and you can't pay that very sizeable retainer, don't feel bad. It's not a self pity time. It is now figure out how you can get yourself that help.

Leh Meriwether:             What's my alternative?

Todd Orston:                   What's my alternative? And there are alternatives out there.

Leh Meriwether:             Today, that's what we're going to be talking about.

Todd Orston:                   Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether:             We're going to be talking about, one way to say it is divorce coaching. That's one way. But we're going to spend the whole hour, we're going to break down what's left, or we're going to break down the different what you should be thinking about, the mechanics of it. At what points in time in the litigation process, the divorce process, should you spend the money on meeting with a lawyer? We're going to talk about other derivations of that, just different options, subsets of that too, so that way people, they're like, "Well, I can't afford to pay the 3,500 or $5,000 retainer, but I've got a few hundred dollars extra every month that I can meet with a lawyer," so we're going to break that down and go through that.

Todd Orston:                   We're going to talk, and just to be very clear, we're going to talk about specific strategies. We're not just going to say, "Okay, you can't afford an attorney. Go and have a consultation." There are times that that would be strategically more advantageous to have a consultation with an attorney. We're going to talk about those times. How to communicate with the attorney that you're not paying to basically ... That you're not retaining and that is not representing you in the case.

Todd Orston:                   We're going to tell you how to communicate to be efficient, to be effective in your communication with that attorney. That's what we're going to go over in this show so that if you do choose to represent yourself, that's fine, but be prepared. Be ready to at least communicate with an attorney so that you can be prepared for whatever gets thrown at you. Whether you can negotiate and settle at mediation, or if you have to have a temporary hearing, an emergency hearing, a final trial, whatever it is, you're going to be ready.

Leh Meriwether:             Just talk about cost for a second, we recently helped someone last year with this process. Over the course of a year and a half, he actually paid us about $4,000. Now, that might sound like a lot, but I can tell you that if we had been full-time representing him, it would have been between 35 and $40,000, just because knowing what was going on in the case. Yet, he actually got an excellent outcome in the case. He got something that, to be frank, I'm not sure I could have done better than what he did. He did very, very well.

Todd Orston:                   There were some complexities in that case.

Leh Meriwether:             Yes, there were complexities. He met with me during certain times. One of the things I did was I went back and looked at those times. I said, "You know, this would make a great show." We can share this information so there's others out there that realize, "Hey, I don't have to go this alone. Even though I can't afford a lawyer to be with me inside that courtroom, I could know what to do before I get to the courtroom." Up next, we're going to go into the best points in time during a divorce process, maybe even a modification, other types of family law cases, where it would be best to meet with a lawyer and the mechanics of what that relationship might look like.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always read about us online at AtlantaDivorceTeam.Com. Today we're talking about divorce coaching, or consultations, using consultations or al la carte services. I think the American Bar Association calls it unbundled legal services. We're breaking down the concept of if you can't afford to hire a lawyer full-time in a family law or divorce case, there are other options so that you don't go through this alone.

Leh Meriwether:             Now, before we go any further, before we get into the specifics like how to best maximize the use of a lawyer during this process at the best times, we should give some caveats. I'll start with a state by state caveat. Some states, the bar rules have allowed lawyers to do this. Actually, a lot of states. Off the top of my head, I don't know if there's any states that actually limit it, but I'll give you an example. In Georgia, a lawyer can actually draft a pleading for a client that's representing themselves in court and they do not have to put their name on it. As far as the court knows and the other side knows that the pro se litigant, the person representing themselves in court, so that's the term of our pro se litigant, they don't have to disclose that. But, in Florida ...

Todd Orston:                   There's a term, ghostwriting.

Leh Meriwether:             Ghostwriting, yes. Yeah, Florida, it's in the bar rules that the lawyer must, so if the lawyer drafts the pleading, they must write on there that, "This pleading was prepared by," and then the name of the lawyer. They may not be in court with them, but they have to disclose that. Every state's a little bit different. Depending on what state you're in, you're going to need to reach out and talk to lawyers. We'll be focusing more on Georgia, but I did want to give that caveat. If you're listening for somewhere and your case is another state, check with the local lawyers.

Todd Orston:                   Keep in mind, what we're talking about is ... This is a show about communication with an attorney. It's just what kind of communication are you having? Is that attorney representing you or are you engaging in that kind of a pro se consultation kind of relationship, in which case you're going to be asking these questions, whatever state you're in, of the attorney. "Hey person, with the bar rules here in this state, are you able to draft things for me if I pay you for that?" They might say, "I can, but my name has to go onto the document." Or here in Georgia, like you just said, "That's fine. Yes. We can help you with some drafting and then you can file everything on your own."

Leh Meriwether:             The other thing is what to expect in the relationship with the lawyer. There's some lawyers out there that they're going to just want you to, "Hey, I'll meet with you. I'll go through your stuff in our meetings, everything, but that's the extent of it." There's other lawyers, like us, where we do this where you can say, "Hey, can I send you some follow up emails or can we have follow up telephone conversations?" From our perspective, we actually want that money up front. We're just explaining, there's other lawyers that may want this, just a little bit of money set aside so that when you call, we just bill off that small bit of money. Maybe it's 500 bucks, or 1,000 bucks, depending on the nature of the type of case and how many times you may have to call. That helps to facilitate the communication and keep the lawyer engaged with you.

Todd Orston:                   Let me put it this way. Do not be shy. If you know that you are going to run into some financial constraints, when you pick up the phone and you talk to an attorney, more than likely, a lot of firms, the attorneys are going to be selling themselves basically for, "You're going to retain me. I'm going to be your attorney of record. I'm going to do all the work that needs to be done." That's what they are selling you when they're on the phone with you and you're talking, initially. There's nothing wrong with that. That's what we do. They may not be very good at saying, "Yeah, but there are options."

Todd Orston:                   With us, we do a little bit, I believe, better job, or at least a good job, of saying, "Okay, here are your options." If they don't talk or come up with it and say, "Oh yeah, by the way, there are some options if they retainer's going to be a problem," don't be shy. Ask. You might be able to say, "Hey, retaining's going to be difficult. Just being honest with you. But, I've heard about consultations or unbundled services. If I need you, can I just pay as I go? I know you won't be going to court with me. I know you won't be entering an appearances. You won't be my attorney of record. But, can I at least get some help?" They may be able to do that.

Leh Meriwether:             I know I may be jumping ahead a little bit because I had this noted to talk about later, but I think you've opened the door to just mention one more thing. You may not be able to retain a lawyer today, but maybe you've been served with a complaint for divorce. You don't have a choice. You have to represent yourself. You just don't have the money put together. What you can do is you can follow that divorce coaching concept, divorce consultation process, and wait til you get the money later and have the lawyer step in. In cases where the client, they had a budget.

Leh Meriwether:             They had us work with them through the course of the entire case. When it came time for a final hearing, they came and retained us just for the final hearing. We made a limited entry appearance just for that final hearing. Because they didn't feel comfortable representing themselves at that last hearing.

Todd Orston:                   Sometimes, a lot of times, we can make that work. Sometimes it's not going to be possible.

Leh Meriwether:             Depends, yeah.

Todd Orston:                   If you're going to have a very hotly contested, complex case, it may not be possible because too much work needs to be done. For you to really get the help that you need, you're going to have to be doing consultations constantly. It's going to still be a lot of money.

Leh Meriwether:             In the example I gave, she was coming in once a month. She actually had a regularly scheduled appointment with us to talk about where she was. I believe the attorney that went to court for her was aware of the whole process. That was very helpful. She had a very positive outcome, too.

Todd Orston:                   One of the main messages of the show is going to be you have options. You should always explore those options because it is better for you to at least talk with attorney to get some tips and better understand strategy and things that you need to do to protect yourself than to not do that and just try and truly do everything on your own.

Leh Meriwether:             Let's start getting into the specifics of what point should you reach out to a lawyer and have them double check things? I would say the first thing is the filing of any pleading. A pleading is a document that you file with the court. The pleading that starts a divorce is called a complaint. You'd want to have a lawyer review the complaint. They're going to want to make sure you've got the necessary points that are required to start a divorce in the complaint. They may have you take out some points that are unnecessary.

Todd Orston:                   I'm also going to hit it from a different angle. You're talking about the drafting. There's strategy that goes into the drafting of the complaint, or the drafting of an answer in response to the filing of a complaint. For the plaintiff, or petitioner, it would be beneficial and advisable as you are putting the paperwork together, go and have a meeting with the attorney. Understand, because you ...

Leh Meriwether:             It could be just more than just the drafting.

Todd Orston:                   Right. It's the strategy behind it. If alcoholism is an issue, does that need to be put into the complaint? If there's adultery, does it need to be put into the complaint? What are your goals? What are you trying to accomplish with the filing? I mean, obviously the basics in a divorce, your goal is to get a divorce. Do you want this to be amicable? Do you want to try and work things out quickly? The same thing goes for the respondent, or defendant, who is responding to the filing of the complaint. You may want to not just talk about the drafting in the form of your answer, but how should I respond? What are some strategies I should be thinking about to put me in the best position possible? Whether your goal is mediation and settlement, or unfortunately you foresee hearings and trials in your future, you need to understand a good strategy.

Leh Meriwether:             Those two pleadings are relatively simple, complaint and answer, but there may be other motions that are much more complex that will take a lot more time. A good example might be a motion for guardian ad litem or a motion for a custody evaluation. A motion to compel. Those are just, I'm going to throw out some examples. Again, on those motions, there's a strategy. There's should we file these motions? Should we file, what's called, a motion for guardian ad litem over a motion for custody evaluation? If you are at a point where you've got contested custody and you don't know ... My other tip was actually, if you get stuck and don't know the next step, these tie together, you would come and talk to a lawyer and say, "Here's my concerns about the proposal that the spouse has given me for parenting time. What do you think would be my next best step?"

Leh Meriwether:             It may be, "Well, gosh, you've got these concerns about alcoholism. Maybe we need to have a guardian ad litem investigate, or have an alcohol evaluation done." You'll learn that the court's going to require both parties to participate in that. That's another point where you want to just have that meeting. Then they'll give you the tips on what to do. You can just start executing on it.

Todd Orston:                   What it really comes down to is you just need to be very strategic in how you speak to and when you speak to an attorney. If you are strategic, the way that we're describing it, if you listen to it one way, you might be like, "Well, great. I'm going to save money because I'm not retaining, but I have to have a consultation at this point, and then at this point, and then another point, and da, da, da, da, da, da." Next thing you know, you've done 15 different consultations and you've spent just as much as you would have if you had retained. That's not what we're saying. There are options. If you're strategic, if you go in at the right time and ask the right questions, then you can figure out and limit what you need to do and limit the number of times you need to meet with the attorney to figure that out and do it the right way.

Leh Meriwether:             Up next, we're going to go into four other situations where you'd want to sit down with your divorce coach.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online, AtlantaDivorceTeam.Com. Today we're talking about divorce coaching, or it's an alternative. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer full-time to represent you in your divorce, or similar family law action, there are other options out there. You can use what's called an al la carte services, or unbundled legal services. Those options are becoming more and more available across different states as state bar associations realize that, "Well, people need help in courts and they can't always get the legal services they need."

Leh Meriwether:             We're talking about the mechanics of what that might look like. We've been giving examples of the points in time during your case when you really do want to sit down and talk with a lawyer. All right. Let's keep going. Another thing we se a lot of times is somebody will get a settlement proposal. Like in the beginning of the case, oh great. They'll look at it and it seems fair to them on the surface. Maybe, we talked about, maybe they feel a little bit guilty about an affair. They're like, "Well, I should probably do this because I did something wrong." Don't sign anything 'til you meet with a lawyer.

Todd Orston:                   Unadvisable because I can tell you right now that, again, we want nothing more than for you to be able to get through a divorce process quickly and efficiently. I can't tell you how often people do that, meaning they sign off on an agreement, they don't get it reviewed, they don't make any changes because they don't know what to change. Then they're calling us saying, "Hey, I entered into this agreement, maybe even entered the agreement, it was then made a part of a final order. Wow, these terms are really unfair. What can I do to change them?" Usually, at that point, our answer is, "Well, pretty much somewhere between nothing and absolutely nothing."

Leh Meriwether:             There's a lot of pitfalls that people can run into, like what we call stupidly generous. Another thing is you see people agreeing to things that a court can't order on their own. A good example of that is agreeing to pay for college education, particularly with no limiting factors.

Todd Orston:                   Don't get us wrong. If you want to participate in the payment of college tuition and expenses for one of your children, fantastic. I'm not saying ...

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, we're not saying don't do that.

Todd Orston:                   We're not saying don't do it.

Leh Meriwether:             Just don't put it in the order.

Todd Orston:                   We have seen problems where there are people whose jobs and incomes have gone ... It's been effected by the economy, or it's just in some kind of a ... It's a type of job that, well, you may work here for a year or two, but maybe not. Then you have to go look for another job. I've seen people lock themselves into college tuition and there aren't any limitations. Then they're coming to us because they lost their job, they were hurt, they can't earn. Guess what? They're still on the hook to pay for college.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, even though they can't pay.

Todd Orston:                   Even though they can't.

Leh Meriwether:             That's the things that a lawyer will go through with you. Another thing on the flip side is that perhaps you are arguing about a point that you really shouldn't. You see something, you don't feel like it's fair, but you know what? That may be the law. The proposal may actually be fair even though it feels unfair. You don't want to waste time and energy and ... Perhaps you're on the cusp. You go one path, you're going to have a great co-parenting relationship with your spouse, but you go the other path and you're going to be butting heads for the entire time that your kids are minors. A lawyer can provide clarity there too.

Leh Meriwether:             Lastly, I think a good thing to remember is sometimes lawyers will, they will present things with a certain level of confidence. Not trying to be mean or pushy, but like, "We think this is really a fair offer." They present that ... They use that magic word, fair. "Oh, it's fair, I need to consider it." It's the way they do it, it's the presentation, everything. But double check with a lawyer because maybe it's not fair.

Todd Orston:                   Or maybe it's really fair for the lawyer's client.

Leh Meriwether:             True.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, you have to make sure that it's fair for you. What we always say is that understand that the terms of the agreement that you reach, or an order, if you get an order from a court, meaning that you have a trial and the judge issues an order, that's going to carry with you for years to come potentially. If you have children, if you're paying child support, alimony payments, division of property and debt, if you're giving up because you don't know any better on separate property claims, these are things that are going to carry with you and have a major impact.

Leh Meriwether:             On the rest of your life, potentially.

Todd Orston:                   That's right.

Leh Meriwether:             There's two good books out there. I'm just going to throw them, Never Split the Difference and Getting to Yes. Those are good negotiation books that you might want to pick up on your own. Then use the information you would gain from that in conjunction with your consultations with your lawyer. Another phase where you may want to sit down with a lawyer would be discovery. What's discovery?

Todd Orston:                   You get on a boat and you look for new lands and you ... No? Right? The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Monica? No. All right. So history wasn't ... Discovery is you are ... It's definitely discovering I have a bad sense of humor. Discovery is you are discovering information that you need in order to resolve the issues in your pending case. Basically you have a right, by law, to engage in discovery and that means you get to ask questions, gather information. In other words, the other party can't say, "Oh, you want to know how much money is in my account? Too bad. Not going to tell you."

Todd Orston:                   No, you have a right to ask that question. How much money do you make from your employer, from your employment? Not going to tell you. Well, yeah you are because we're engaging in formal discovery. Here's my request. Please show my what's in your bank account. Please show me what money you're earning from your job. Please show me whatever as long as it's reasonable and reasonably calculated to basically result in the presentation and discovery of pertinent information, relevant information to the divorce. Then you can ask about it.

Leh Meriwether:             You can meet with a lawyer and talk about the mechanics of how to go about getting the information you need. Perhaps you've received discovery requests from the other side. A lawyer can make sure that, especially if like it's a contested custody case, you know what, let's be truthful but let's phrase it a little bit differently. Sometimes words matter.

Todd Orston:                   Oh, yeah. It's always be truthful, but sometimes it's not just what you say. It's how you say it. I've had people say something to me, and I'm not goin got use examples, but where they'll say it to me and I'll be like, "Well, hold on one second. The way you just described it to me, I want to put you in jail right now. I don't even think I have that right. Maybe let's reword it. Tell me what you're trying to say. Okay, now I get it."

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah, that sounds much better.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah. You didn't commit three felonies. Okay, let's describe it a different way. You have to be very careful. Also, when it comes to asking for a discovery, just jumping back to that, if you don't ask the right questions, you don't have the information that you need to make good decisions. It is so important on both sides to get to the point where you are comfortable and you're asking the right questions and giving the right information. You say the wrong thing, going back now to what you say in response to discovery. You say it the wrong way, the judge might look at you. Those words will be used against you in court.

Leh Meriwether:             Against you, yup. Yeah. Meet with a lawyer. They'll help you ask the right questions. They'll help you answer the questions in a way that sounds good. Again, not saying you're not truthful but sometimes you just phrase it a way that just sounds better.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, like if you did commit a burglary. "Well, you know, I just borrowed the TV."

Leh Meriwether:             Or you might plead the fifth.

Todd Orston:                   Exactly. Right.

Leh Meriwether:             All right. The other thing is mediations. Before you walk into a mediation, let's say a mediation has been scheduled. You should meet with a lawyer and talk with the lawyer about, "Okay, what should I be looking for? Here are some facts. What do you think would be a good outcome for me? What should be included in our final agreement that comes out of mediation? What should I not agree to?"

Todd Orston:                   And what are the mechanics of the mediation process?

Leh Meriwether:             Process, yes.

Todd Orston:                   When I get there, I don't want to be surprised by the fact that we are either both in the same room with the mediator sitting right there, or the alternative that they're engaging what's called separate caucusing, where you are immediately separated from the other party. You're in one room, they're in the other. You spend 10 minutes explaining what your positions are. Then three hours later the mediator comes back and you're sitting there going, "Uh, they must really like the other party and they're playing favorites because I only got 10 minutes and they got three hours." You need to understand the mechanics of it, too.

Leh Meriwether:             Yeah because in that situation, we've seen that where we'll come in very prepared. We'll be very concise. Here's our proposal, here's why we think it's fair. Great, I'm going to go to the other side. Well, the other side's not nearly as prepared.

Todd Orston:                   Or emotion is driving ...

Leh Meriwether:             Very emotional, right.

Todd Orston:                   They have to just get it off their chest. They're, "In the third grade, I stole a frog." It's not relevant to the divorce, but they have to get it out.

Leh Meriwether:             Or the show.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, right.

Leh Meriwether:             I'm just kidding. When you learn that, and you're in that mediation, you realize, "Okay, this is part of the process. I'm not going to mistrust the mediator all of a sudden, because ..."

Todd Orston:                   Which can impact settlement.

Leh Meriwether:             Exactly. These are all great points. You just want to make sure, what do I need to be prepared? What is in the process? What should I be looking for as an outcome here? Those are three things a lawyer can help work through with you. There's three more things we want to hit. They all surround the courtroom and what happens when you get in the courtroom. Up next, we're going to talk about three hearing situations where you want to meet with a lawyer ahead of time and the mechanics of how to do frequent meetings with lawyers that are very, very productive. Todd, while we're on a break, let's take a moment to speak just with our podcast listeners.

Todd Orston:                   Great idea, Leh. First, thank you for listening. If you're a client of ours, thank you for taking the time to educate yourself. It really helps us help you.

Leh Meriwether:             I wanted to thank those that recently took a moment to review our podcast. We really appreciate it. If you feel like you're gaining a value from this show, please take a moment to post a review. The reviews help others find the show, which allows us to help even more people.

Todd Orston:                   If you're not sure how to post a review, our webmasters put together a simple explanation on our web page. You can find it at MTLawOffice.Com/ReviewIt. That's M as in Mary, T as in Tom, LawOffice.Com/ReviewIt.

Leh Meriwether:             Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on the new talk 106.7. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online AtlantaDivorceTeam.Com. Well, today we've been talking about options for people that can't afford to hire a full-time lawyer and how, at what points, what would that look like? What's that called? There's several names for it. You'd use a consultation basis, an al la carte basis, divorce coaching, unbundled legal services. Those are all kinds of options to search on the web.

Leh Meriwether:             There are lawyers out there in every, well most states that I know of, I don't know every state, who can help people through the process without actually representing them full-time. We were talking about specific, what would that look like in specific circumstances? There was three that we hadn't gotten to yet. I want to touch on them. We see them in most cases. Every state's a little bit different so you want to talk to a lawyer about the process and at what point can you request a hearing on a motion? That's one of them, temporary hearings, and final hearings. Let's dive into that a little bit, but I want to leave some room at the end to talk about the mechanics and some really practical tips on how to communicate with a lawyer maybe long distance.

Todd Orston:                   I'm going to hit it from a general point of view, which is whether you are talking about motions hearings, temporary hearings or a final trial, that's where the proverbial rubber meets the road. That's where you have not been able to reach an agreement. The issue or issues that are still yet to be decided, or agreed upon, you now have to present that issue to the court. Temporary hearing is that you're probably, usually, towards the beginning of a case, sometimes the middle, and you need something to be put in place by the court to get you through the entire process.

Leh Meriwether:             Right because a lot of times these divorces can take a year or two.

Todd Orston:                   Right. Who's going to pay the mortgage while the divorce is pending? Who's going to ...

Leh Meriwether:             Live in the house.

Todd Orston:                   Who's going to live in the house? Who's going to drive which car? Those might be temporary issues. Motions hearings that a motion might be filed that basically ... There are all different types of motions and we'll go into a few of them, but basically where you are looking to the court and you are saying, "Hey, we filed a motion and we need some help on this one particular issue. It's a legal issue, or a factual issue, but it's a legal issue that we need the court to rule upon and that's going to help us either get to an agreement or at least get us through to a trial." Those and then of course a final trial. You need to spend some time with an attorney. I mean, if you said to me, "Todd, I can really only do one consult. That's all I can afford," then you wait until you have one of those three things coming up. If I had to prioritize, I would say if you really know you have enough money for a consult ...

Leh Meriwether:             I would add mediation in there.

Todd Orston:                   You know what, except for the fact that if you said to me, "Todd, I will have enough money for one consult."

Leh Meriwether:             Oh, that's tough.

Todd Orston:                   I know, I know.

Leh Meriwether:             Because you do the mediation, it may settle the case.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, but if you don't then you don't have the help to prepare you for a formal trial.

Leh Meriwether:             My answer would be save up some more money for at least two.

Todd Orston:                   Well, I get that, but that wasn't the hypo.

Leh Meriwether:             I'm changing it.

Todd Orston:                   I mean, my advice would be win the lottery. I mean, come on. If you have enough for one, I would say the final trial. If you have enough for two, it would be mediation and trial. Really, these hearings, that's where the rubber ...

Leh Meriwether:             If you have enough for three, add temporary hearing to that. Probably. Those are probably the priorities.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, probably.

Leh Meriwether:             Final, temporary. Final, mediation and temporary.

Todd Orston:                   Because you can get by in filing a divorce action, you can go online and get enough information to file a petition. Especially in Georgia, it can be very basic. There are other states where it's a notice pleading state, where you have to be very specific. There are states where you have to put everything you're really asking for, property division, custody, everything, you have to be very specific. At that point, if you're in one of those states, absolutely, you need to talk to the attorney because if you don't put what you want into the petition, you may have waived your right to make a claim for whatever that is. Here, it could be very general. Equally or equitably, rather, divide the assets. Custody needs to be dealt with. Yes, this is what I want. It just needs to be pursuant to what is in the best interests of the children. You can keep it very general.

Leh Meriwether:             Let's talk about why the final hearing is the most crucial part, if you can't settle along the way. Because you're going to need help, when you go to that final hearing. I'm just going to hit just a few high points because we only have a few moments left. One is just help with your, what's called direct examination, where you may be asking ... You may be giving your side of the story, or asking your witnesses on the stand, cross-examination. What can you ask your spouse from the stand? How to prepare for that. How to get witnesses to court, how to subpoena witnesses. A lawyer can help explain that to you.

Leh Meriwether:             Preparing your final judgment. What's very helpful in communicating with the court is telling the court, "Judge, at the end of the evidence, here's what I would like you to do," and then in preparing a proposed final judgment, a proposed parenting plan, propose child support payment, those things will help you explain your case to the judge. It's very powerful to walk into court with those things prepared and a lawyer can help you with them. I will say also, if you have more than just one consultation, plan on having multiple consultations around a final hearing because from a standpoint of lawyers, that's the single most expensive event in the whole divorce.

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, absolutely. On top of that, you're not going to, from a single one to one a half, maybe even two hour consult, you're not going to be able to fully prepare yourself for ...

Leh Meriwether:             Depending on the complexity of the case.

Todd Orston:                   Absolutely. If it's a very non-complex case, absolutely, I agree with you. But if there are some complexities, if you're dealing with custody and parenting time and child support and alimony and division of property, basically what we call the four core areas of divorce, then one single meeting may not be, or probably will not be enough. You may want to have a meeting with the attorney to just wrap your arms around okay, what's the trial going to look like? What are the issues? What does it mean when I cross-examine, direct examine, a witness? What are leading questions? What are direct questions? All those types of things. What's heresy? That comes up a lot when we watch pro se litigants trying to do it on their ... "Bobby's dog's uncle said ..."

Leh Meriwether:             Then the judge will say, "You can't explain that."

Todd Orston:                   Yeah, you can't go into what they said. If they're not here, then it's heresy.

Leh Meriwether:             A good point about that is because sometimes think they can say that in the courtroom and they think it's going to make their case, then as soon as they realize, "Oh, I can't say that?" No. They're like, "Well, maybe I need to settle."

Todd Orston:                   On top of that, they've prepared their entire case based on, "Well, I can bring up what Bobby said and I can bring up what my uncle said. And I can bring up what bah, bah, bah, bah, bah." They go in and they're shut down, shut down, shut down. They're sitting there and they don't know what to do.

Leh Meriwether:             They have no case.

Todd Orston:                   They have no case.

Leh Meriwether:             Those things are critical for meeting with a lawyer. All right, well let's talk about mechanics just for a second. There are situations where you may live in one state but you have your case in another state. We've seen situations where what you do is ... We're going to get a little technical here. You set up like a Zoom ... It could be a telephone conference, but you create a Google doc, document. You can actually share that link. If you want to learn how, you can just Google this and YouTube. I'm sure there's a video out there for it. What you do is you send the lawyer the link to your Google doc. The lawyer opens it up. The lawyer's actually looking at the same screen you are.

Leh Meriwether:             As you're talking with the lawyer, the lawyer says, "All right. Here's how you want to present your case. You probably want to reference this case or this statute." You're typing it out as the lawyer's communicating it with you because sometimes lawyer's they can say, "Here are the talking points you want to stick with in this hearing. Don't go beyond it because you're just going to make the judge mad." But, but ... No, don't go beyond it. You write out these things. Before you get off the phone with the lawyer, you say, "Okay. Mr ..."

Todd Orston:                   Here are my notes. You've seen me write them.

Leh Meriwether:             Am I missing anything? You know what? I would change that intro paragraph to say, "X, Y and Z." That is so powerful because the lawyer can change it on the fly. The lawyer can actually get access to the Google doc and make the changes him or herself.

Todd Orston:                   That's right.

Leh Meriwether:             It may sound simple, but it's a tool that a lot of people don't know about. You can do that. Now, there's the software out there, it's Zoom, I think is what it's called. I think if you go to Zoom.US you can set up a face to face with a webcam meeting with a lawyer. Let's say your case is in Alabama and you live in Georgia. Your limited funds, you can't drive out there and you need help preparing. Some lawyers, especially if you prepay, they will have meetings with you by Zoom or telephone conferences. You can get a lot of information that way. If your case is in Georgia, unless your lawyer in ... If I say your case is in Alabama, unless your lawyer here in Georgia is also licensed in Alabama, they can't give legal advice.

Todd Orston:                   The bottom line is there are options. Just like there are options to whether or not you retain, or if you can't afford, there are options and you can just have consultations on bundled services. There are options. Your attorney, the attorney that you're going to talk with, may not understand Zoom, may not understand how to do what you're talking about. Educate yourself. Go online. Look at the company, Zoom, whatever tool it is. Figure out how to use it and then when you call, you say, "I'd like to use this tool."

Leh Meriwether:             Hey, you know what, unfortunately we are just about out of time.

Todd Orston:                   That's unacceptable. Unacceptable.

Leh Meriwether:             I did want to tease this. We are, at Meriwether and Tharp, working on an online divorce coach system that we hope to launch at the end of the year to help this group of people that we can't always help because of all kinds of financial reasons, or just limitations in time. Hey everyone, we hope to get that out soon and thanks so much for listening.

Speaker 3:                        This audio program does not establish an attorney client relationship with Meriwether and Tharp.