Starting a Private Family Law Firm
I was asked by Lionel Halsey to write an article about opening a law firm. I was honored that Lionel asked me to participate by writing an article for the North County lawyer.
The first step in my evolution of opening my own firm was when I left the County of San Diego Department of Child Support Services after working there for six years and joining a large family law firm in Encinitas, California.
Working at the law firm of Edmunds and Claery gave me the opportunity to gain a great deal of experience working on a large caseload and making courtroom appearances throughout San Diego County.
While working at the law firm of Edmunds and Claery not only did I get to chance to appear in front of most of the judicial officers but the caseload also allowed me to form relationships with members of the bar and specifically members of the Family Bar in North County. I found many of members of the family Bar North County extremely cordial and friendly and we’re happy to work together to resolve cases that can often be quite emotional for the participants.
During my tenure at Edmunds and Claery, one of the attorneys who appeared on dissolution matter, representing the other spouse was attorney Michael Fischer. Michael Fischer was a young attorney who had his own practice. We formed a good working relationship while representing our clients and Michael informed me that he had just taken over some of Roger Thomson’s cases as Roger Thomson was retiring. His practice was growing quickly and we worked so well together he was interested in forming a partnership with me. One of the reasons Michael stated he thought we worked well together is because we were not only interested in representing our clients zealously but also interested in helping them navigate through the emotional and legal issues that arise in family law and bring their case to a swift, just but cost effective conclusion so that they could go on with their lives. At the same time Michael and I both recognized we wanted to have the opportunity to spend some time with our individual families to insure we still had personal lives as well.
I was flattered by Michael Fisher’s proposal and gave it a great deal of thought. My wife, Elizabeth is extremely financially conservative and is also a member of the bar, who works as an alternate public defender in the juvenile dependency system. She was less than excited about me starting my own firm, but when I spoke with her about partnering with Michael Fisher, she was much more supportive and excited about the prospect of partnering with a like-minded individual who had experience in making small businesses work After working for two years at Edmunds and Clary I decided to take Michael Fisher up on his offer. To ensure that our initial analysis was correct and that we would have a harmonious relationship as partners, we worked together for four months before formalizing our relationship. During the first four months, we were sharing an office space with other attorneys including Michael Fisher’s brother-in-law Michael McColloch of McColloch and Campitiello. I really enjoyed working at their Carlsbad office especially when the other attorney complained that I was overdressed. It was very refreshing to see attorneys working in a relaxed atmosphere, but still providing quality representation for their clients.
Four months later, not only did Michael and I decide to formalize our relationship as partners, an opportunity presented itself when a real estate business quickly vacated their office in Oceanside, leaving behind some of their office furniture.
Both Michael and I were a little disappointed to leave behind our office mates at McColloch and Campitiello but we vowed to bring the same relaxed but professional atmosphere to new office.
It was a little stressful moving our office on the Thanksgiving weekend. However, all of our clients seemed quite impressed with the new office space. In order to ensure that we could cover larger overhead that our new office brought, we immediately put ourselves on referral lists for the San Diego County Bar Association. This not only included referrals for family law but also from the referral list for modest means clients. It was nice to provide representation for clients who needed help but could not come up with the usual large retainers, that are required when seeking a professional attorney.
Michael and I also spent a great deal time discussing the development of our firm’s website and how to maximize our results in advertising on the Web. We both agreed that based on the feedback we received from potential clients, Web advertising seems to be one of the best ways to get our name out to the general public. We even had Michael’s wife, Catherine, a professional photographer, do a photo shoot to place our photos on the firm’s website. We have placed a great deal of emphasis on web development and search engine development. We decided to place our advertising money in visibility via the internet and sought out a high end web designer and search engine optimization company. We were very lucky in finding the Search Engine Guys out of Austin Texas to do our search engine optimization for us. We found that you get what you pay for; although more expensive on paper than other companies we researched, they have done a great job of developing our site and getting us very good placement on the internet in a relatively minimal amount of time and cost.
Three months into our now formalized partnership, our firm seems to be growing. We seem to have enough work to keep both of our paralegals busy. Also, we were able to further reduce our overhead by moving to a much better space in the same building. We even offered office space to our colleague/mentor Roger Thomson, who decided he was not yet ready for retirement.
One of the most rewarding aspects of starting my own firm with Michael Fischer was the feedback I have received from my fellow North County Family Bar members. You have all wished me well in my endeavors and given nothing but supportive suggestions. Your well wishes confirmed to me that indeed this is a profession that I want to be part of. I have also especially appreciated the kind words and suggestions from Steve Medaris and James Ratzer. I look forward to continue working with all the members of the North County Bar, while the Law Practice of Fischer and Van Thiel continues to grow.
Mike's Top FAQs About Family Law401K plans and divorce
401K plans and divorce
If my spouse waives his right to my 401k plan, is there any circumstance that the court will still award him half or a portion of my 401k plan?
It is theoretically possible that a court can disturb an agreement to waive rights to property, but it is unlikely. Courts will generally treat agreements as contracts, and thus are likely to strike an agreement only if it is unconscionable, induced by fraud, undue influence, duress or is against public policy. The judge cannot “reject,” nullify, or modify the provisions of an agreement merely because of his or her personal belief that a different arrangement should be made.
A marital settlement agreement, or MSA, can be used as a contract between spouses regarding the division of property that would otherwise be subject to community property laws. An MSA is subject to general contract laws, meaning that it can be found invalid if terms are against public policy (which includes, but is not limited to, (a) abrogating the statutory child support duty or impinging on the court’s jurisdiction to award child support, (b) limiting the court’s exercise of child custody jurisdiction, (c) “altering legal relations,” (d) “promoting dissolution,” and (e) providing for “fault”-based penalties at marriage dissolution) . The MSA can also be found invalid if entered into as a result of fraud, duress, menace, undue influence, or other factors which may make the agreement void or invalid. Generally, an agreement such as the MSA is favored. Hence, if there are no legal or equitable grounds for rescission or reformation it is binding on the parties and the court without express approval.
Can I get child support in California if I am not getting a divorce?
I have been separated for two years from my wife, and my kids live with me. Can I get support without filing for divorce in California? We have not been living together since our separation, and even file taxes separately.
You do not need to file for divorce in order to get support. You will need to go through the court to obtain a child support order so you will have to file something. You can contact your local Department of Child support services office and they can help you get started. So while you do not have to file for divorce, you can file for a legal separation. The court needs to know that you two have in fact separated and there is one parent who is the full time provides and therefore in need of support.
Can I move out with my daughter before the divorce in California?
My wife and I are going to divorce, but we have not filed yet. We are always fighting, and my daughter, who is 7, is very stressed with the way we are living. Can I move out with her, if I do not move far away and let him see her all the time? He is not happy with my choice. Is this legal?
Yes, you can move out with your daughter, assuming there are no court orders already in place regarding custody and visitation. It is important to maintain frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent. When the court makes custody and visitation orders they will look highly upon the parent who facilitated contact with the child and the other parent. It is important to make the transition as easy as possible for the child.
Question: Is there a statute of limitations on owed child support?
An ex lover of mine (20 years ago) just approached me out of nowhere about getting tested to see if her son is my child. He is 20 and I live in California. I am trying to find the statue of limitations for child support if indeed I take the test and the child turns out to be mine.
Unless the mother has made a claim for child support with the welfare office or her local Department of child support services office, they cannot now collect from you on child support. Since he is no longer a minor child now that he is emancipated, there are no obligations for child support. You can get tested to see if you are the father, but you do not have to.
If the state has paid out welfare for the child, and it turns out that you are the Father, there can be some potential liability there with having to pay back the state the money they paid out. If this is not an issue, then they cannot now ask you to pay for child support.
Is the opinion of the child ever taken into consideration in a divorce?
Typically the Courts will take the child’s opinion into consideration at the age of 12. There is no set age, it depends on the maturity level of the child. If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to form an intelligent preference to custody the court can take it into consideration. It is important to note that all judges will rule for what is in the child’s best interests whether it be for the mother or the father.