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2 If you have been served with a divorce complaint or if you are contemplating getting a divorce, selecting a divorce attorney can be one of the most crucial decisions in your life. This is not a dramatic overstatement but more of an unfortunate reality. Your divorce may dictate money to be paid or received, the lifestyle that you enjoy for the next decade, your relationship with your children and your ability to enjoy a standard of living that is comparable or better than the standard of living that you enjoyed when you were married. Everyone one of these above mentioned events will most likely addressed in your divorce. Divorce is also a frightening process that shakes the core of a person involved in the process. The fright stems from the stepping into the abyss that is experienced by 99% of persons going through the divorce. You don't know what to expect, you don't know who to trust, are attorneys paid off, are judges bribed, will my wife's attorney have me arrested, will my husband's attorney take a piece of our estate, can my children be taken away from me, if I leave my home will I be guilty of abandonment?

3 These are some of the many questions that I am asked on a daily basis when I meet with new clients. I will attempt to answer most of these questions. Because the stakes in this contest are so high, I going to review several factors and pitfalls in the selection process to attempt to give you a better understanding and better knowledge of what you need to know before selecting a divorce attorney in the State of New Jersey but I am sure that most of these principals and ideas may also apply to other states as well. I will be using terms such as Family Law, Matrimonial Law or Divorce Law. They are one in the same. A Family Lawyer is a Divorce Lawyer or a Matrimonial Attorney. They are interchangeable.

4 Here is a list of 10 things you ought to know before you make the selection of your divorce attorney. DOES THIS ATTORNEY EXCLUSIVELY PRACTICE IN MATRIMONIAL LAW? One of the most common mistakes people make is to hire an attorney because you know this attorney from a prior case such as real estate or personal injury. Most people feel a certain comfort level in choosing an attorney because that attorney may have done work for the family or for a friend. However, because an attorney did a great job getting you out of that speeding ticket, or negotiating for you when you purchased your home, does not equate to being a good matrimonial attorney; in fact it frequently ends up to be a disastrous situation. Divorce law is extremely specific and is guided by separate rules and distinct guidelines. The law is constantly changing and if you hire someone who is simply not up on the changes, guess who is going to pay in the long run...you! Moreover, in cases involving the support of children, there are specific software programs that calculate child support and project alimony. If this attorney has all the Bankruptcy software but not the child support guidelines, you can be in a position where your child support is incorrectly calculated. Being off the correct amount by even $10.00 to $15.00 per week can mean thousands

5 over the life of the child support payment. Simply knowing the ins and outs of the support guidelines and the Case Information Statement is imperative. The knowledge of the Family Courts is also something that the general practitioner will be learning on your dime. For those of us that are in the Courts several times a week, there is a knowledge of the process, the judges, and the case managers that goes way beyond what the Court Rules or any How To book provides. This is knowledge that takes years to acquire and again, could cost you, the client, if you hire an attorney unfamiliar with the Family Court. And if someone approaches you on a Do it Yourself Divorce.run away! I like hiring people I know. I feel comfortable when the plumber I have been using for eight years is working on my sink or shower. Or the landscaper that has been cutting my lawn since I purchased my home is fertilizing the grass in the spring. However, I would not want the landscaper to do my plumbing nor the plumber to do my landscaping. This is how you must think of attorneys when you are in the process of selecting your divorce attorney. There are many great personal injury attorneys. In fact, I know a few that I would go to if I or one of my family were injured. But I would never want that attorney to represent me if I were to divorce. Hiring an attorney out of his/her specialty would be a crossing of disciplines and in the end would cost big money out of my pocket. Stay with an attorney who does family law day in and day out. Chances are he/she has probably seen more cases and situations that are similar to yours and will know exactly what to do when you present them with your situation.

6 IS THIS ATTORNEY CERTIFIED? You should always strive to select an attorney who is Certified by the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. What does this mean? This means that this attorney had completed a massive application to the New Jersey Supreme Court Certification Committee that documented trials, settlements, motions to the court over the past three years, education, references from the bench (judges) and the bar (other attorneys) and has an unblemished ethics record. After this application is completed and submitted to the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey, it is then decided if your application meets the standards set forth by the Supreme Court Committee on Certification. If your application meets that standard, you are then asked to sit for a test that spans close to eight hours having solely to do with matrimonial law. The test was extremely difficult and if you do not practice family law every day and maintain a working knowledge of the latest decisions from the Courts, I cannot imagine how you can pass the test. So, your Certified Matrimonial Attorneys are a cut above the rest. In New Jersey, out of nearly 90,000 attorneys, there are only 120 who are Certified Matrimonial Law Attorneys. That is less than 1% of all attorneys in that State or of the total amount of attorneys eligible to practice law in the State of New Jersey. That should tell you something right off the bat. Certified attorneys are also required to take a certain amount of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit every year to re-certify. That equates to an attorney who has committed to staying educated on the issues surrounding matrimonial law. That is a

7 substantial cost to the Certified Attorney to stay current with their CLE requirements, but in the end, it keeps us more qualified than the attorney who has not committed to the practice of matrimonial law. That means that your Certified attorneys stay well-versed in the latest case law and trends in the Courts. Again, another crucial factor what will play out during your divorce Is your attorney aware of all the case law necessary to move your case through the Courts and negotiate on your behalf. While it is not required to be a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney to practice matrimonial law, it is a badge of honor to do so with the title Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and a service to the clients they represent. IS THIS ATTORNEY RATED BY OUTSIDE ORGANIZATIONS? There are several outside organizations that rank attorneys by their specialty. Some are marketing agencies and some are not. To be honest, I have found that there is a marketing and advertisement element to these companies, there is some truth in all ranking organizations when I have seen who is ranked amongst my profession. For the most part, attorneys ranked in matrimonial law are the attorneys that are the movers and shakers. The two top ranking firms are Martindale Hubbell and Super Lawyers. While there has been much press about whether this is simply advertising or whether these are true ranking companies should not matter too much when you are looking for an attorney. I will wager a healthy bet that your real estate attorney will not be Peer Review Rated by Martindate Hubbell. I also predict that the guy who did your Will is probably not considered a Super Lawyer in Family Law. While it is no guaranty

8 on service, it is yet another indicator you should look for when selecting your attorney for divorce. DOES THIS ATTORNEY PARTICIPATE IN COURT SPONSORED PROGRAMS HAVING TO DO WITH DIVORCE? In order for the Courts to move their dockets, they elicit volunteer help from the attorneys who frequent their courts day after day. Court may ask attorneys to mediate cases that they want settled, sit on a panel to evaluate a case or even assign the case to a recommended arbitrator. In New Jersey every case must go before a Matrimonial Early Settlement Panel (MESP). This is a group of attorneys that are selected and approved by the Presiding Judge (PJ) of the Superior Court, Family Law Part. Many counties require not only a term of years of practice, but also that a person must be Certified Matrimonial Law Attorneys. A panelist will then sit as a judge to evaluate between 3-7 cases per month rendering their recommendations to settle or to try a case to conclusion. The panelist is confronted with hundreds of different fact patterns and has to decide how to resolve the case and offer good advice to get litigants to the settlement table versus going to trial. The Judges love the panelists because if every litigant decided that they wanted a trial, the court would literally shut down and the judges know that. Right now, there is less than 1% of all matrimonial cases go to a full blown trial. An even with that 1% of cases that go to trial, the courts are backlogged. So, the Panelist plays an important role is assisting the bench with the adjudication of the caseload.

9 Again, while not demeaning my brothers and sisters in the different disciplines, you will not find the municipal court attorney as a panelist nor would a Judge approve an attorney as a panelist who does strictly Commercial Law. Why? Because, they simply do not practice enough matrimonial law to assist with the settlement process. IN WHAT LEGAL AFFILIATIONS DOES THIS ATTORNEY PARTICIPATE? Freedom of association! Right? Wrong. Associations and affiliations the attorney participates in is just another piece of the puzzle on the selection of the right attorney.

10 There are several organizations for divorce lawyers that are specifically organized around the practice of divorce law. The Family Law Inns of Court, for example, is an organization that is modeled after the English system of Inns with barristers, judges, and associates. It is an organization that strives on continuing legal education in matrimonial law, civility, and camaraderie between lawyers and judges. You can only imagine how crucial an organization like this becomes when you are having dinner with judges that you appear in front of all week long. If you can't imagine how this plays a role in the practice, then you have no imagination. The State and County Bars are another source of affiliation that the divorce lawyer should be a member. The family law sections in these groups are usually packed with the top professionals in the State committed to making the practice of law and the service provided better for all. Being a member of the trial organization is yet another source of affiliation that seeks to sharpen the skills of the family lawyer. Overall, Divorce Law is not the type of profession that you hide out in a cave. Being a family law attorney means that you are committed to making the practice more efficient thus creating a better representation for clients that retain. HOW IS THIS ATTORNEY COMPENSATED? Okay, this is a tell tale sign. If you go to an attorney, and the attorney offers a flat fee (I'll do your divorce for $1,500.00) run! Run Forest Run! While the flat fee is economical and music to your ears, you will get the short end of the stick when the attorney is not picking up your phone calls or fails to file the appropriate motion for

11 support because you paid him a year ago and he is losing money every time he picks up your file. The standard in the matrimonial law field is the hourly rate. Your veteran experienced attorneys in New Jersey bill anywhere from $ per hour to as high as $ per hour. There may be some attorneys that charge more, I am just not familiar with them or they are from New York. The average retainer can vary from $5, to a high of $25, depending on the complexities of your case. Your standard retainer is the $5, range assuming there are no crazy set of facts or a trial waiting in the wings. If you are quoted something less than what I am telling you about, you have not got a deal, you have a cheaper attorney with your life in their hands. I am always reminded of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice line of "being penny wise and pound foolish". I am not going to address these outfits that promise $ for a divorce because if that is what you are in the market for, you need to stop reading this article, this advice is not for you. Those companies are forbidden to give any legal advice as it is against the law and an actual crime to practice law without a license and will merely give you forms to fill out and tell you where to file the same. Is that what you want for your Divorce? I don t think so!

12 You are on your own once you get to court. There are some people with whom this service is acceptable, but for the other 99% of people seeking a dissolution of their marriage, beware of these storefronts. You will not find any representation whatsoever and may find yourself getting serious and permanently financially hurt. HAS THIS ATTORNEY BEEN CHARGED WITH ETHICS VIOLATIONS? This is mostly self explanatory. You don't want an attorney with a blemished history. Many times your attorney may be entrusted to hold money, deeds, jewelry or other items that require a pristine fiduciary relationship. You want to be able to trust fully that attorney. Therefore, that is a question that should be asked or a call to the Supreme Court in Trenton who will relay whether or not the attorney is an attorney in good standing. Again, this is your life and future you are putting in their hands...just make sure the hands are clean hands. DOES THIS ATTORNEY HAVE ANY TRIAL EXPERIENCE? I call this talking the talk and walking the walk. That means that there are attorneys that talk about going to trial but never in fact, tried a case to conclusion. If the attorney is certified, then you will know that the attorney has tried at least five (5) cases in his/her lifetime. However, for those of us in the mix every day, there are years that we try over five (5) cases every year. In the area of divorce, that's a lot. As I said above, less than 1% of all divorce cases go to a full trial so trying these cases are rare. There is

13 also an extreme amount of work that goes into every case being prepped for trial. Your attorney should know how to prep a case for trial. I always say that if you want to settle a case (we all do) then prep in for trial and if you want to try a case, the prep the case for appeal. In order to settle your case, you must know how to prepare a case to be tried if you reach an impasse in negotiations. To use the cross discipline case of the real estate attorney who is friends with your brother's employer's wife, chances are that person hardly ever goes to court at all. Now this attorney who does not go to court (real estate attorneys rarely if ever go to court) has to prepare your case, or cut a deal so it doesn't go to trial. I pity to fool in that situation. And to be frank, as a veteran certified matrimonial attorney, if I see the other is not prepared on trial day or has the look of fear on their face, I'm going to keep pressing that button and get the best deal knowing that my adversary is petrified about going to trial. Don't be the client that gets sold down the river. HOW LONG HAS THIS ATTORNEY BEEN PRACTICING? While this is not a full proof indication on qualifications or ability, it is another piece of information that will complete the puzzle. If you have two attorneys that are equal on every level but the difference is that one attorney is out 15 years and one attorney is out 3 years, that may be a factor for you to consider. Experiences equal to knowing what the solution is and how to solve the same. You may not find that same level of representation with a lawyer who is fresh out of law school compared to the lawyer who has been practicing for a few decades.

14 WHAT IS THIS ATTORNEYS STRATEGY MOVING FORWARD? A divorce case is like a high stakes chess match. Every move is just as important as the last move. As an experienced chess player, you just don't go into a game without a plan. Likewise, in a divorce, there should be a roadmap on what the next step should be and how you are going to get there. As with all the factors I have discussed, experience, commitment to the practice of matrimonial law, affiliations, Certification all play a role in whether or not you are presented with a game plan or whether you will play as you go. I have always found that anxieties are alleviated when clients know where they are going and every step along the way is explained and justified. You should expect nothing less. CONCLUSION I gave a ton of information and my only hope is that I did not overwhelm with the details. Walking into the abyss is never something we look forward to but following these recommendations will absolutely shed some light on what may be some of the darkest day of your life.

15 Remember, while it may not seem like the pain and anxiety will ever go away; it will. There is life after divorce and I know scores of men and women who are happier than ever with their new lives and new families. You Will Be One Of Them If You Follow My Recommendations! Let Me Know How I Can Help! John A. Patti Call for an Appointment Today at or

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