All posts by Thomas Law Office

Unmarried Fathers And Adoption In Arizona

In July 2021, the Arizona Supreme Court issued a disturbing ruling, although the Arizona Supreme Court understandably had to rule the way it did. Here is what happened. A man (“Father”) was living with a woman (“Mother”). She got pregnant. She moved out. After she moved out, Father wisely hired an attorney and filed a claim of paternity with the putative father’s registry in Arizona. If you are a male and you may have fathered a child, you need to read A.R.S. §8-106.01 and comply with it to preserve your rights to a paternity claim and to prevent an adoption agency from adopting the child without your consent.

Next, Mother decided, on her own and while she was still pregnant, to put the child up for adoption. An adoption agency got involved. The adoption agency was required to notify Father of the intended adoption. There is a specific form of notice that is required to be served on the potential father, which was properly done by the adoption agency. The notice stated that Father had 30 days to file AND serve on Mother a paternity petition and summons. Father was represented at the time. Unfortunately, due to an error by the attorney’s paralegal, the paternity case did not get filed and served before the outrageously short 30-day deadline.

Mother and the adoption agency both filed a motion to dismiss the paternity petition, and the judge ruled in their favor. Father appealed, hoping that an appellate-level court would have some sympathy on him because he was only 16 days late and the untimeliness was due to excusable neglect. The Court of Appeals would not even consider his case. Ultimately, the Arizona Supreme Court accepted review of the dismissal.

But the Arizona Supreme Court, in a 10-page decision, refused to allow Father to proceed with his paternity case. The Arizona Supreme Court noted that “This Court will not recast a statute under the guise of interpreting it to avoid an unpleasant result because such action would do violence to the law itself. If there is a remedy in these circumstances, it lies with the legislature. This Court is bound to apply the law as written and, therefore, we affirm the dismissal of Father’s paternity action.” Wow. This poor guy will never have rights to his own child because of a ridiculously short 30-day deadline. The relevant statute is A.R.S. §8-106(G).

It is outrageous that a Mother in Arizona can place a child for adoption and a Father must scramble within 30 days to not only file, but actually serve, a paternity petition, in order to have a chance at stopping the adoption. What if the father is sick? Too bad. What if the father is disabled? Too bad. What if the father is out of town? Too bad. In this Arizona Supreme Court ruling, the court stated that no matter what the reason is, if the paternity case is not both filed AND served within the 30-day period, the father loses all rights to his child forever.

Let’s compare the short 30-day deadline in adoption scenarios with the collection of child support from a father. If a father does not pay child support, a mother can sue him for up to three years of retroactive support, and in some cases, all the way back to the date the child was born (in theory, 18 years of child support). Mothers are given lots of time to decide whether to pursue a claim for support, far more time than a father is given to stop an adoption that will forever destroy his rights to his own child.

It would be nice if our legislature would give fathers more time than a mere 30 days to prevent their children from being adopted. It is appalling that there is such unequal treatment of the genders in these supposedly progressive times. The adoption industry is powerful and wealthy, and fathers are often viewed with little sympathy, so the odds are low that the law will be changed in the future to give fathers at least 90 days (preferably six months) to file and serve the paternity case in these situations. That little bit of extra time could prevent countless fathers from losing the right to ever see their children.

If you are a potential father, call our office now to find out what you need to do to assert your rights to your child before it is too late.

Grandparent Rights in Arizona

If you are a grandparent, you may be entitled to visitation with your grandchild. The starting point is the United States Constitution. A major case, Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000), requires that the decision of the parent be given “special weight” when it comes to determining whether and when a grandparent is permitted to see their grandchild. However, this right is not absolute, and some Arizona appellate court decisions have clarified what the U.S. Supreme Court case means in practice.

There is a presumption that a fit parent acts in the best interest of his child. But this is a rebuttable presumption. The presumption can be overcome, depending on the specific situation.

Importantly, in recent years the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the argument that for a grandparent to overcome the presumption, the grandparent must show that “substantial harm” to the grandchild would result if there were no visitation or extremely limited visitation. This would have created an extremely high hurdle to overcome, and luckily our Arizona Supreme Court wisely refused to set the bar that high.

The grandparent visitation law in Arizona usually applies only if one of the legal parents is deceased or has been missing for three months; the child was born out of wedlock and the child’s legal parents are not currently married to each other; or the marriage of the parents has been dissolved.

After one of the above conditions has been met, you will then turn to the issue of whether grandparent visitation should be awarded and to what extent. An argument can be made under the law that the grandparent is absolutely entitled to visitation if logistically possible, appropriate, and the child is residing with the parent through whom the grandparent claims a right of access to the child.

In case the court rejects the argument of an automatic entitlement to grandparent visitation (this argument has not, as of early 2021, been addressed by the Arizona appellate courts), the grandparent should also show that grandparent visitation (or even great-grandparent visitation) should be ordered even under the stricter permissive standard because the statutory factors have been satisfied.

The judge is supposed to look at all relevant factors, but some of the required factors are the historical relationship between the child and the grandparent; the motivation of the grandparent in seeking visitation; the motivation of the parent objecting to visitation; the quantity of visitation time requested and the potential adverse impact it could have; and the benefit of maintaining a relationship with the deceased parent’s extended family (obviously, only if that parent is deceased).

It is also important to keep in mind that if you are a grandparent you must file your request for visitation in the same court case that the grandchild’s parents got divorced in if the parents are divorced.

Finally – and this is very important – you will have a major advantage if both parents are alive and one of them sides with you. In that case, the presumption discussed above – that a fit parent acts in his child’s best interest – may not apply (because it has been “canceled out”), and it should then become much easier to obtain visitation with your grandchild.

Grandparent cases, although notoriously difficult and uncertain, are becoming increasingly common, and it is important to know how to navigate them properly.

Please contact Thomas Law Office if you would like to explore whether you have a good case for grandparent visitation.

My Client Service Approach – Low Volume, No Chatbots, No Gatekeepers

There is a trend in the legal profession right now to embrace technology to the greatest extent possible. This is a good trend generally. Using technology to increase efficiency often results in lower legal bills to clients, faster preparation of documents, and reduced rates of typographical errors. I employ appropriate technology for these very reasons. I have efficient systems in place, which free me to provide better client service.

However, as with most things in life, too much technology can be a bad thing. I noticed that law offices are increasingly putting chatbots or live chat options on their websites and/or use automated follow-up texting and email systems for prospective and even actual clients. I find this trend to be troubling, because it frees up attorneys to take on even more cases, which probably means their energy and attention is spread more thinly than before. I have noticed this in the past with firms that employ a large staff. The staff often handles as much as it can, and the assigned attorney reviews and signs off on documents and other work performed by assistants, paralegals, and associate attorneys.

My approach is different. I maintain a lower caseload, and as a result I believe I am more accessible to my clients. The number one complaint clients have about their attorneys is the attorney’s failure to return their calls or emails in a timely fashion. It appears that this poor communication occurs primarily because many attorneys are overworked, jumping from one case to the other, making as much money as possible in the most efficient way using staff and fancy technology. They get bombarded with calls and try to get their staff to handle as much of the communications as possible. When you retain the services of a specific attorney, you probably want that attorney to be doing most of the work on your case and be intimately knowledgeable with your case.  

I choose to have a smaller caseload than many attorneys. I have been told that some family law attorneys have caseloads of up to 100 clients at a time. Many have 50 or more. My caseload is always far lower than that. By maintaining a smaller caseload, I am able to earn a respectable living while at the same time provide excellent client service. I do not have to pay several staff members a total of $200,000 or more, nor the expensive office and furniture that goes with it. I keep my expenses to a minimum, so that I won’t need dozens of cases just to pay overhead. Also, I set aside sufficient time for my personal life so that I can recharge and be ready to devote the necessary energy to my client’s cases when I get back to the office. And I am easy to reach. My policy is to return calls and emails within one business day, usually the same day. I have heard of clients waiting more than a week for a return call or email from their attorney.

Although it might be convenient to visit a website at 8:00 p.m. and instantly chat with a website robot (“bot”) or call center employee about your case, there is no substitute for having a full discussion with the attorney you are interested in. You may be in a rush to find an attorney immediately. But unless you are up against a firm deadline, you may have more time than you think. Use that time to find an attorney whom you feel is a good fit for your case. Ask yourself if this person is likely to be easily accessible after you pay the large retainer, or whether you are going to be encouraged or even required to interface with bots, client portals, secretaries, assistants, paralegals, law clerks, interns, or others. Does the office seem busy? Did the attorney seem distracted or rushed? It is important to find an attorney who will not only advocate in an effective way for your interests, but someone who is responsive and will take the time to explain things to you as you move through the highly emotional and adversarial litigation process.

Please call my office for a consultation to discuss your situation in detail. I promise you that you will work closely with me, your attorney. I will not hand you off to others and then see you at the courthouse when it is time for trial.

My Spouse Filed for Divorce. What Can I Do to Stop the Divorce?

I want to try to stop my divorce. What can I do?

In Arizona, either spouse can obtain a divorce for any reason – unless the spouses have a covenant marriage, but less than one percent of couples in Arizona have a covenant marriage. One option is to try to convince your spouse to not file a case and opt instead for marriage counseling. If the case has already been filed, you can ask your spouse to dismiss the case and try marriage counseling. A divorce case can be refiled many times. I once had a client whose wife had filed six times to divorce him, and every single time she dismissed the case and they remained married until he died.

Another option to try is to ask your spouse to file (or convert an existing divorce case to) a legal separation case. Legal separation works in much the same way as a divorce, because all of the same issues are addressed, such as division of assts and debts, spousal maintenance, custody and parenting time, child support, etc., but at the end of the case the parties are still technically married. If the parties later choose to undo the legal separation case, they can file the proper paperwork with the court and resume their relationship as if nothing had every legally happened.

If your spouse, like most who file for divorce, seems obstinately fixed on ending the marriage, one desperate attempt you could make would be to file a conciliation petition. In Arizona, you can file a petition for conciliation if it has not been more than 60 days since the divorce petition was served on you. Exceptions apply, and the topic of conciliation court will be addressed in a separate post. For now, what you need to know is that if you timely file a petition for conciliation in your case, a “freeze” goes into effect and the parties are required to participate in marriage counseling. Again, this can get tricky so refer to the future post on conciliation services and read the relevant statutes (starting at A.R.S. §25-381.01) before embarking on this course of action. Obviously, if you have our office on your side, we will take care of all the conciliation petition and other legal filings and make sure that things are done correctly so that you can focus on potentially healing your marriage rather than complying with legal requirements.

Even if you’ve tried everything, including conciliation services, and your spouse is still demanding a divorce, you can make one last effort to save the marriage by demanding a trial on the issue of whether the marriage is really irretrievably broken. A.R.S. §25-316 requires a judge to hold a trial and make a finding on this issue. If you believe in your marriage, you do not have to concede or untruthfully state that you believe it is irretrievably broken. Make the judge do his or her job of making a formal finding that the marriage is broken and issue a divorce over your objection. You will then have a clear conscience that you have done everything legally possible to save your marriage. This can be particularly important to Christians or people of a few other religions that prohibit or strongly discourage divorce. The bad news, unfortunately, is that if the other spouse wants a divorce there will be no way to escape it in the long run. Eventually, a judge will let them out of the marriage. The laws were changed in the 1970s across our country to encourage a wave of divorces. The 1960s and 1970s were a time when much was done by our ruling elites to break apart families and encourage loose morals. We must now deal with the fallout of those who betrayed our once stable and orderly society. Having Ron on your side will help you navigate through the mess. Even if you cannot obtain success in terms of maintaining your marriage, at least you’ll be maximizing your odds of a favorable legal outcome. Call use today for a consultation to discuss your marriage and the legal options available to you. We also can refer you to excellent therapists who do not push divorce down the throats of their often naively trusting patients, which many therapists and counselors have a reputation for doing.

A Phoenix Custody Attorney Defines Custody

phoenix custody attorneyLegal terminology, by its very nature, is precise and can be complex. A Phoenix custody attorney addresses the terms specific to child custody cases in the paragraphs below.

Types Of Custody

There are a number of ways in which parents may have custody of their child or children. How these terms are used and the terms which are chosen have direct bearing on the lives of both the divorcing parents and the children involved.

These terms are:

  • Physical custody: If the child lives primarily in your home, then you have physical custody. Like legal custody, it can be awarded jointly or solely depending upon the circumstances.
  • Legal custody: If you are empowered to choose how and where the child goes to school, medical and dental practitioners and procedures, what the child’s religious affiliation will be and other such matters, then you have legal custody.
  • Joint legal custody: In cases of joint custody, both parents share legal custody of the child or children to some degree. Parents who, despite whatever differences led to the divorce, can set these differences aside and work together to make decisions on their children’s behalf are usually awarded joint custody. If there is extreme dissension or hostility between the parents, the judge is more likely to place custody solely in the hands of one or the other. Usually a judge will assign visitation rights to a non-custodial parent, enabling the parent to spend time with the child in scheduled visits.
  • Sole legal custody: Sole custody places legal custody in the hands of one parent only, giving this parent the right to make decisions concerning the child’s life and welfare. Decisions made by a non-custodial parent can be countermanded by a parent with legal custody.

“Parenting Time” v. “Visitation”

Since non-custodial parents have begun recently to object to the idea of “visiting” their children, the term “parenting time” has begun to gain popularity as a reasonable and understandable alternative to “visitation.” Parenting duties are performed by the non-custodial parent during these times just as they would have been had no divorce taken place. The couple may have divorced each other, but they did not divorce their children. They are still a family, so the term “parenting time” makes sense.

Contact a Phoenix Custody Lawyer

If you are involved in divorce procedures with have children, seek a Phoenix custody attorney. Call the Thomas Law Office, PLC at (602) 788-1395.

Scottsdale Father’s Rights Attorney on Father’s Rights in Arizona

Scottsdale father's rights attorneyAs a Scottsdale father’s rights attorney will tell you, fathers are given the same consideration as mothers when it comes to custody decisions made in Arizona courts. Determining what is in the best interest of the children is the primary concern for family court judges. It is widely known that, in most circumstances, children whose parents are divorced benefit the most when they can spend quality time with both of their parents. In preparation for mediation or a custody hearing, fathers should consider these options.

Joint Legal Custody

Parents who share legal custody are responsible for making decisions together regarding their children’s education, medical care, welfare and safety. Joint legal custody provides a way for both parents to have a voice in how their children will be raised.

Joint legal custody is awarded in most cases, except in situations that involve serious issues such as parental conflict, an inability to co-parent, substance abuse, child abuse or domestic violence.

Physical Custody

When considering the possibility of shared physical custody, a Scottsdale father’s rights attorney will ask you how much time you have to devote to your children’s care. The answer will depend on both your work schedule and the age of your children. For instance, young children require direct care and supervision, while older children can take care of themselves in the hours between the end of the school-day and when you come home from work.

Dealing with False Allegations

One of the greatest risks to a father’s rights is false allegations made by the children’s mother. However, the court takes the matter of false allegations of child abuse and domestic violence very seriously. If your children’s mother is alienating your children or making false accusations, you may want to consider a modification of an existing custody arrangement.

Legal Counsel from a Scottsdale Father’s Rights Lawyer

If you wish to speak with an attorney regarding a custody matter, please call the office of Thomas Law Office, PLC, at (602) 788-1395.

Phoenix Bankruptcy Attorneys Describe How Bankruptcy Works

Phoenix bankruptcy attorneys Being unemployed, suffering from a serious medical condition, making a bad investment or going through a divorce can cause a major upheaval in your financial circumstances. When you aren’t able to pay your bills, you may find yourself drowning in debt. Bankruptcy was created to give people a fresh start. Phoenix bankruptcy attorneys can explain your rights and help you figure out if bankruptcy is the right solution for you.

Filing for Bankruptcy

One of the major benefits of filing for bankruptcy is that an automatic stay provision protects debtors from creditors. According to the automatic stay, creditors must stop foreclosure proceedings, property repossession, lawsuits, phone calls, wage garnishment and other attempts to collect payment of debts. If creditors violate this provision, the Phoenix bankruptcy attorneys representing you can request that the creditors be sanctioned by the court.

Debts Eligible for Discharge

When the bankruptcy court discharges a debt, you are no longer required to pay it. Creditors are permanently prohibited from demanding payment for discharged debts. Debts that are often discharged in a bankruptcy case are unsecured debts such as credit cards, medical bills, personal loans, deficiency balances for repossessed property and certain civil court judgments.

Non-dischargeable Debts

Individuals remain responsible for debts that aren’t discharged by the court. Non-dischargeable debts in a bankruptcy case may include child support, alimony, court fines, debts incurred through fraud, personal injury judgments related to drunk driving, student loans (unless it imposes severe undue hardship) and debts not listed in the bankruptcy petition.

Contact Phoenix Bankruptcy Lawyers for Legal Advice

Dealing with an overwhelming amount of debt can be stressful and may jeopardize the financial future of you and your family. The attorneys at Thomas Law Office, PLC, use their expertise to assist clients with their debt problems and guide them through the bankruptcy process. Call us at (602) 788-1395 to schedule a private consultation.

A Scottsdale Divorce Lawyer Explains Why You Should Mediate Your Child Custody Disputes

Scottsdale divorce lawyerIn any divorce involving children, the matter of child custody will be one of the most important and contentious issues in the process. If both spouses cannot work together to reach an acceptable child custody agreement, the matter will go to family court where it will be decided in a trial. This is the worst possible outcome, however, and any Scottsdale divorce lawyer will advise you to do what you can to avoid it.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

There are several alternate dispute resolution avenues available to you that you might want to consider instead. Virtually anything is better than having a judge, who does not know either you or your children, decide the fate of your children for the next several years based on a few hours of testimony. It is highly recommended that you consider mediation in order to resolve any disputes you have with your spouse; studies show that people are far more likely to comply with an agreement that they had a hand in developing than one that was unilaterally handed down by a judge with almost no input from them.

Mediation as a Potential Option

Mediation is rapidly gaining broad support as a method of alternate dispute resolution. Your Scottsdale divorce lawyer will likely be able to recommend some they have worked with before. The typical mediator has taken extensive mediation training and has a good deal of expertise in the family law field. The only people involved in the discussions are usually the mediator and both spouses.

Settle the Dispute with an Attorney’s Help

For more information on methods of alternate dispute resolution, consider talking to a Scottsdale divorce attorney at Thomas Law Office, PLC, at (602) 788-1395.

Outline of the Different Types of Bankruptcy Cases

Scottsdale bankruptcy attorneyIf you are not able to pay your debts, you risk losing your property or business, and you may even face harassment by debtors. Consult with a Scottsdale bankruptcy attorney to see if filing for bankruptcy can discharge your debts and give you a fresh start.

The two basic types of bankruptcy proceedings are “core” and “noncore.”

Core Proceedings

Core proceedings concern issues that are entirely related to a bankruptcy case and arise under the Bankruptcy Code:

  • Issues concerning estate administration;
  • Claiming allowance or disallowance;
  • Matters regarding usage and sale of estate property;
  • Preference litigation to determine, avoid or recover preferences;
  • Automatic stay litigation motion to change, end or annul automatic stay;
  • Fraudulent conveyance litigation; and
  • Confirmation of bankruptcy plans.

A bankruptcy judge presides over core proceedings and may render the final orders.

Noncore Proceedings

Noncore proceedings also concern matters related to the bankruptcy case, but they do not arise directly under bankruptcy code. Examples of noncore proceedings include personal injury or wrongful death claims of the debtor.

A Scottsdale Bankruptcy Lawyer Explains the Different Types of Bankruptcy Cases

The following are the six types of bankruptcy cases:

  • Chapter 7 – Liquidation or “Straight” Bankruptcy;
  • Chapter 9 – Adjustment of Municipality debts;
  • Chapter 11 – Reorganization;
  • Chapter 12 – Adjustment of Debts for Farmers or Fishermen;
  • Chapter 13 – Wage Earner’s Adjustment of Debts; and
  • Chapter 15 – Ancillary and Other Cross Border Cases.

A Bankruptcy Lawyer Can Help You Achieve Financial Relief

If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy, please contact the Thomas Law Office, PLC, at (602) 788-1395 for legal assistance. Our experienced Scottsdale bankruptcy attorney will help you manage your debt and provide a caring voice in addressing any difficult financial issues. The initial consultation is free.

What Should You Do With the Household Furnishings in a Divorce?

Phoenix divorce attorney When preparing to separate their shared property during a divorce, most married couples think about how to split up the big-ticket items such as the cars, the valuables, etc. While these are important to consider, many couples forget about the items that may seem less important, such as the decorations, linens and basic household tools that they have accumulated. It may seem strange, but a Phoenix divorce attorney knows that considering how to divide the household furnishings is an important but often overlooked step in the separation process.

Different Standards of Value

The issue is that most low-value household tools such as kitchen utensils and small furniture are not worth very much on the market yet would be considerably expensive to replace. Think about what’s in your kitchen drawers: the total resale value of all your spatulas, tongs and wooden spoons would probably not exceed $10 if you sold them at a garage sale. However, buying a new set of utensils from scratch would probably cost someone more than a hundred dollars.

Property in a divorce is typically valued according to its fair market value, and failing to stick to this standard might cause your divorce negotiations to fail, as your Phoenix divorce attorney might warn you. However, there are alternate standards of value that might be more useful. The parties can try to research current prices for goods or have them appraised by a neutral third party, but these steps are time-consuming and often not worth the effort.

Rather, it might be better to divide the household goods by utility, such that one person takes one set of linens and the other takes the other or having one party take the daily dishes while the other takes the special occasion dishware. Compromises such as this can make the divorce more amenable and efficient.

Getting Help from a Divorce Lawyer

For more information on the most efficient way to divide your marital estate, consider talking to a Phoenix divorce lawyer at Thomas Law Office, PLC, at (602) 788-1395.