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Q:  I don't know if I can afford an attorney. How do I start?

An initial consultation needs to be set up by you calling the office. There is a $160 charge
for the consultation. The consultation has no set time limit. This initial consultation is invaluable for a number of reasons. Sometimes you plan on representing yourself and you just want some questions answered. If you are thinking about hiring an attorney, the consultation gives the attorney the opportunity to find out about the complexity of the case and provide you with a quote for how much it would cost to retain her. There is no cookie-cutter approach to any case as they all have different issues. Some need to be litigated and some don't.

In any divorce case, the parties have the option of handling the case through mediation or the collaborative process (see Divorce Options). Furthermore, the consultation gives the attorney the opportunity to meet with you and you the opportunity to meet with the attorney and for each of you to assess whether it is a good fit. The attorney may decide that another attorney has a better set of skills for handling your case and refer you to someone else. You may decide that you have some reservations about this attorney and her approach to your case and prefer to interview more than one attorney. The educational and experiential backgrounds of attorneys vary widely. Don't be afraid to ask the attorney that you are meeting about those subjects.

Q:  What is a retainer?

A retainer is the initial sum that is put in the attorney trust account and from which money is drawn each month for fees incurred and/or costs advanced. The interest earned on all trust account money goes to a California State Bar fund to support a number of programs.

Q:  How can I pay the retainer or the consultation fee?

The attorney accepts all major credit cards as well as checks and cash.

Q:  Will the attorney accept a payment plan?

 Not initially and only to a limited extent later on. If the case is nearly complete and there is some money owed, the attorney may offer a short-term, interest-free payment plan. The fee agreement generally asks for a minimum of $400 to be in the trust account at all times and the attorney may ask for more money in the account if litigation is still pending and no funds remain.

Q:  Why does the amount of the retainer and the final cost vary?

Legal proceedings in family law cases are somewhat unpredictable because the cost is determined to some extent by how cooperative the opposing party (and their attorney) is. If there are businesses and significant properties to be valued and assigned and if there are disputes on how to share the children, considerable court time could be required in addition to the cost of experts. Each case truly is different.

Q:  How long does the divorce process take?

This is another question that is most appropriately answered by "it depends." There is a waiting period in California so the earliest possible date when one can be restored to the status of a single person is six months from the date of service of the Petition on the opposing party. Again, much depends on the extent of the property and the ability of the parties and their attorneys to work out agreements on different issues, as well as the availability of the courts for litigation, if necessary.

Q:  How do I know if this is the best law firm for me to use?

Ms. Guiliani is a lawyer with a history of criminal prosecution and trial work in addition to extensive training and case work in mediation and the collaborative process. When you meet her in the initial consultation, you will have the opportunity to determine whether you believe that her experience, attitude and personality mesh with what you are looking for in an attorney. Protecting the children is her first priority followed closely by minimizing both the emotional and financial cost of being involved in the court process.

Q:  What if I can't afford an attorney?

The consultation may be your only contact with an attorney. Many people are self-represented (as we say, in pro per) right now given the state of the economy. Judges treat people representing themselves with respect. As frightening as the prospect might be, it is not hopeless.

There is document preparation assistance offered daily at the family law courthouse at 540 East Main Street in Stockton. Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. you can meet with an attorney to help you fill out the necessary paperwork at no cost. There is a sign-in sheet and sometimes a long wait, so get there early (the courthouse opens at 7:30 a.m.) Low cost assistance is also available through the Family Law Service Center in Stockton (209) 948-2122. Information regarding child custody and visitation is provided each Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the same courthouse. This is called mediation orientation and attendance is actually mandatory before a court appearance in this county. Even if you don't have a court appearance yet, this session will give you helpful information regarding children and the court process.

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Office: 209-835-6852  Fax: 209-475-9956  Email: info@guilianilaw.com

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