Legal Support When You And Your Family Most Need It

The decisions made during family law proceedings have long-enduring consequences. The amount of access one has to one's children is determined. The basis for one's financial independence is established.

At the Law Offices of David Bliven, we understand exactly what is at stake. For more than 20 years, David has dedicated himself to family law. He offers individuals in Westchester (including White Plains & vicinity) and the Bronx (including Riverdale & vicinity) experienced, effective guidance as they navigate their matters.

A Knowledgeable Attorney Can Be An Important Guide

To the extent possible, it is important to remain objective. Doing so is the surest way to maintain your credibility — and, thereby, protect your interests — as your matter proceeds. To this end, our firm provides sure-handed counsel for a full range of family considerations, including:

  • Divorce matters — We assist clients in the proper appraisal and division of assets, negotiate alimony/maintenance payments, separation agreements & pre-nups - and help them avoid the most common legal missteps.
  • Advocating for your child — Children are the most important concern of any family matter. We make sure their interests are prioritized, and assist in devising support and custody agreements. We are also adept at facilitating an array of adoption and foster care matters.
  • Domestic violence — New York takes domestic violence issues seriously. We can ensure that victims receive adequate protection. We also represent individuals charged with abuse and see that they receive fair treatment in court.
  • We also handle child abuse & neglect matters as well as juvenile delinquency cases.

Our aim is to resolve matters quickly — and cost-effectively. We know the law, we know the local courts, and are skilled at negotiating favorable settlements with the opposing counsel. Yet if no agreement can be reached, we will always be prepared to represent our clients aggressively at trial.

How much will a Contested Custody or Divorce case cost me?

> Contested Custody Costs

Because Family Court custody cases in the Bronx & Westchester can last 1-2 years, attorney's fees may be as little as a few thousand, and as much as $25,000 or more over that period. Thus, broken down, it means an average of about $1-2,000+ per month over the life of the case. Be forewarned, however, that in some cases, there is alot more billing towards the front-end of the case (e.g., when trying to establish interim orders of access, etc.) and towards the back-end of the case (i.e., when the trial starts). Thus, while $1-2,000 per month may be an average, some cases may see billing of $5,000 or more in a month, and then other months have only a few hundred dollars billed to the account.

> Contested Divorce Costs

Contested divorce cases often cost even more than contested custody cases, simply because all the potential issues between the parties are handled in 1 case. Thus, issues of custody & visitation, child support, maintenance (i.e., alimony) and equitable distribution fo marital assets & debts are all done in one case. Moreover, depositions are routinely done in contested divorce cases; they are rarely done in contested Family Court custody cases. A a result, the expected fees on a contested divorce case are roughly double what one could expect to pay for a "mere" Family Court custody case. As such, one may expect to pay as little as a few thousand and as much as $50,000 or more. Indeed, I've handled contested cases with counsel fees as high as $100,000 or more. If the client gets in over their head financially, a number of options are available, including borrowing against assets or retirement (though this may take court permission), payment plans and/or legal financing. It should be noted that, while I do offer payment plans in some cases, I do not offer payment plans to all clients & in all cases. In sum, in a highly contested case, the client should be forewarned about expected costs and should raise any payment concerns with their lawyer as early in the process as possible.

Does it matter if the Attorney is a General Practitioner or concentrates in Family Law?

[From My Blog] First let's define the terms. A general practitioner is an attorney who does several different area of law. For example, s/he does 20% Family Law, 30% property, 20% criminal, 25% civil litigation & 5% landlord/tenant. An attorney who concentrates in an area of law will do that area of law roughly 2/3 of the time (or more).

I'm a firm believer in the adage "a jack of all trades is a master of none." A good analogy is in medicine - if you had a heart problem, would you want to see just a general practitioner or would you want to see a specialist? I'm guessing most people would want to see a cardiac specialist. Same thing in the law.

I'll give you an example from a recent potential client I serviced. She went first to a general practitioner, who told her she would not qualify for maintenance (i.e., alimony) if she was not a housewife. That statement is so far from the truth as to be outright deceiving. While certainly not all non-monied spouses will qualify for maintenance, New York has a maintenance calculator which gives one the presumptive amount one is entitled to: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/divorce/calculator.pdf.

Next, this same general practitioner advised the potential client to handle her child support & child custody issues in Family Court first before filing for divorce. The problem? The parties still reside together - if she had attempted to file either such petition in Family Court, the Judge most likely (though not definitely) would have dismissed the petitions given that they still live together.

In sum, as a general rule, it's better to go to a specialist - whether one is dealing with the medical field or the legal one.

Factors in choosing a Divorce & Family Law Attorney

There are many considerations to take into account when choosing a lawyer.

Price is certainly one consideration, but should only be one of many. For instance, if a lawyer is quoting you a very high fee, is s/he worth the extra amount as compared to another attorney who may have slightly less overall experience - but whose intellect and diligence level compares favorably to the more expensive attorney.

There are also attorneys out there who charge very low fees or charge clients a fixed fee only when they appear in court. A potential client should consider whether the attorney charging such fees is very inexperienced compared to other attorneys, or is "running a mill" - in other words, has a caseload so high (100+) that there's little chance s/he can devote quality time to your case. There have been studies done which say family law attorneys should not have more than about 70 cases at a time. Thus, ask your prospective attorney how many cases s/he has - if s/he doesn't know or can't answer that question, good chance the caseload is so high s/he lost count.

Then there are attorneys who charge a fixed fee when they show up (say $500-750 per court date). Here's the problem: if a lawyer makes his/her money only by showing up to court, what's the incentive to actually prepare for court? Obviously preparation depends on the complexity of the case, but I often tell potential clients that for contested custody or divorce cases, I often spend at least 1-2 out-of-court hours for every in-court hour (sometimes far more than that). Thus, unless your case is extremely simple (and if it's in-court already, it probably isn't), then having a lawyer charge you a fixed-fee is probably doing little more than ensuring you have a warm body next to you in court.

Next consideration is experience. On the surface, one can say having a lawyer with 30 years experience is better than having a lawyer with 10-20 years experience. And while as a very general rule that's true (wisdom does count for something, after all), it is also good to get beneath the surface. For instance, if one lawyer has 30-40 years experience, but only devotes 40% or less of his/her practice to divorce/family law, and another lawyer has only 20 years experience but devotes 100% of his/her practice to divorce/family law, then one can make a good argument that the latter has more relevant experience than the former.

Furthermore, what constitutes the experience? For instance, perhaps an attorney who has 25-30 years experience currently devotes the majority of his/her practice to divorce/family law - but has it always been that way? In other words, the attorney can say "2/3's of my cases are divorce/family law cases." But the attorney could have shifted his/her practice areas just in the last few years (for example, having done mostly property transactions or estate work up until recently).

Moreover, if your case involves contested custody issues, ask how many custody cases the attorney has actually handled. Many potential clients are not aware that some family law attorneys concentrate in doing mostly divorce cases (and thus very few family court cases), or mostly family court cases (thus doing very few divorce cases). It is often best to have an attorney who has experience, but more importantly relevant experience to your case.

Likewise, if your case looks like is may result in a trial, ask how much trial experience the attorney has. Some attorneys in the family law field concentrate on out-of-court settlements and thus shy away from complex litigation. If one attorney was a former D.A. or prosecutor & thus handled numerous trials - versus another who sat in a cubicle in the many years after law school watching the senior partner going off to court - then that's something you should know about.

One factor potential clients may wish to ask about is what law school the attorney attended as well as his/her graduation rank. For example, if an attorney graduated from a poorly-ranked law school (rankings can be verified on U.S. News & World Report - but be sure to look at where the school was ranked when the attorney actually attended the school) that may be one factor considered. Also, if an attorney graduated at the bottom of his/her class, again this is something to factor into the overall analysis.

One can ask: how on earth is law school stuff relevant anymore for an attorney who graduated 20-30 years ago? The way I look at it, if s/he graduated towards the bottom of his/her class, this may be indicative of laziness or lack of (relative) intellect. While it's certainly possible things have improved with age, my gut says "old habits die hard" and such factors should be considered (even if they are given less weight than other factors).

Finally, assess how the initial consultation is conducted. Does the attorney seem too busy to give your case adequate attention? Does the attorney seem friendly or unfriendly? Did the attorney just charge you for the pleasure of meeting with him/her for the first time - or if they did charge, did you leave with some good information/advice?  Establishing a good connection with your attorney is important as you must see this as forming a relationship, not just signing a contract.

While there are other factors which may be taken into consideration, asking the questions outlined herein will certainly get you off to a great start.

Protecting Your Interests

To learn more about how the Law Offices of David Bliven can assist, or to speak with a lawyer, reach out to us. You can call our office at 914-368-7580 or schedule an appointment online. We offer free initial assessments and can arrange a full consultation at your convenience when the situation warrants it.