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Category Archives: Blog

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Support HB 2153!

Call your local representative and urge the representative to support HB-2153. This bill is helpful to fathers because it would change the law by making it harder for judges to vary from an equal parenting time plan in contested child custody cases.

Currently, the law says that it is the public policy of Arizona that it is in a child’s best interest to have substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time with both parents and to have both parents participate in the decision-making about the child.

The current law is already an improvement over the prior law, which had left the matter of how to define the “best interest of the child” completely up to the judicial branch of government.

However, even the current law is not strong enough. Based on anecdotal evidence from conversations with other family law attorneys and observation of judicial rulings, it still seems that judges not infrequently tend to err on the side of the mother when all else is equal.

HB-2153 would require that a judge award substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time to both parents and give both parents the right to participate in the decision-making about the child, unless – and here’s the specific language HB-2153 adds to the current law – the judge find that there is “clear and convincing” evidence to the contrary. This is a very high standard for mothers to overcome.

In the law, there are generally three evidentiary burdens of proof. The first is the one many of us are familiar with: “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest evidentiary standard and is the one applied in criminal cases. There must be no reasonable doubt at all. Essentially, this means a judge or jury needs to be 99% certain that the person committed the crime.

Another standard of proof is “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the judge only needs to find that there is a 50.1% chance that the mother is correct regarding why she should have substantially more parenting time than the father. As you can imagine, this easy evidentiary standard makes things very hard for a father in family court. If the judge sides with the mother and gives her the majority of the parenting time, the father’s appeal is likely to be denied, because appellate judges give great deference to the trial judge who heard the testimony and assessed the credibility of each party and that party’s evidence.

HB-2153 would change the standard to a “clear and convincing” standard of proof. To meet this burden, the mother must prove her allegations by a 75% or better standard. (Technically, there is no specific percentage designated; this specific percentage is just being stated to give you an idea of the much greater burden of proof this is than in general civil cases.)

This is “clear and convincing” standard of proof is a much higher standard of proof than the current “preponderance of the evidence” standard, and is likely to result in far few mothers getting the majority of the parenting time in custody trials. And in those cases where the judge still sides with the mother, the father should have an easier time attacking the ruling on appeal.

So, I repeat: Call your local representative and urge the representative to support HB-2153. Then urge your friends and family to do the same. This change in the law would be a great development for fathers.

How Are Parenting Plan Schedules And Details Worked Out?

Who Works Out The Specific Schedule And Details For The Parenting Plan?

If the parents can agree on a parenting time schedule, the judge will usually sign off on it. There are certain things that are required to be in a parenting plan before a judge will approve it. Your attorney will be better able to guide you on this. Judges do have the ability to object to a parenting plan, although that is relatively rare.

In terms of the kinds of parenting plans that are typically seen in family court, one of the most common ones is the 5-2-2-5 equal parenting time schedule. The 5-2-2-5 equal parenting time schedule works like this: one parent has two days that are the same every week. The other parent has two days that are the same every week. The parents then alternate weekends. Typically, parent A has Mondays and Tuesdays, parent B has the children on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and the parents alternate Fridays through Sundays. In this scenario, parent A would have the children Monday and Tuesday in week 1, and Friday through Tuesday in week 2. Parent B would have the children from Wednesday through Sunday on week 1, and on Wednesday and Thursday in week 2. This works out to fifty percent of the parenting time to each parent.

There are other kinds of equal parenting plans as well, although they are less commonly seen, such as the alternating weeks schedule or the 4-3-3-4 schedule. This is a schedule whereby each parent has three days each week that are always the same, and the remaining day is alternated, such that a parent will have four parenting time days in one week and three parenting time days the following week. The patter then repeats itself. There are also many unequal parenting time plans. The plan that works best for the children in light of the parents’ work schedules, the children’s school location, the children’s extracurricular activities, and other factors, is the one that the judge is most likely going to approve. The key is to find parenting plan that is not too confusing for the parents and children and will work well for the children and the parents.

Long distance parenting plans are used when the parents live in different states or different counties. There can be lots of fighting over who should be responsible for the cost of transportation in those long distance parenting situations. Another thing that parenting plans need to address is the holiday parenting schedule and the school break/summer break schedule. Some parenting plans will remain the same in the summer whereas others, especially long distance parenting plans, will change during the summer school break period because the children will have an opportunity to spend more time with a parent that they might not have lots of access to during the school year.

Another important aspect of a parenting plan is telephone or video access to the children. The frequency, duration, and dates of the calls should be carefully considered and detailed in the parenting plan. In a good number of cases, especially if the parents are working well together in their co-parenting relationship, the parents will deviate from the parenting plan from time to time or even indefinitely if they agree that a different plan will work better for them. If any kind of dispute arises later, they can always demand that they go back to the original parenting plan, because unless the parenting plan is modified formally, it is still an order of the court and is enforceable.

However, caution should be exercised, because if a father is given much more parenting time than the parenting plan and court order prescribe, he should receive a reduction in his child support obligation. The only way to do this is to modify parenting time and child support formally. A parent cannot retroactively seek an adjustment in child support in Arizona. So it is important to remember to modify the parenting plan as soon as possible, which can be done by a simple stipulation that is filed with the court, if the new plan is going to be in place for a long time. Keep mind that there are limitations on how frequently a petition to modify parenting time can be filed. The general rule is one year, but there are exceptions, so it is important to obtain legal advice about whether a modification can be requested earlier than one year after the most recent modification order.

There are many other aspects of parenting plan which further need to be considered. The important thing to know is that there are a variety of parenting plans out there and the one that the judge is likely to approve of is the one both parents agree is best, if indeed it is in the children’s best interest.

If you need information on How Parenting Plan Schedules And Details Are Worked Out, call the Thomas Law Office, PLC for a consultationand get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.

Can Someone Lose Their Home If They File For Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

A person can lose their home if they file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. But don’t panic. In Arizona, it is rare to see a person lose his home because he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. This is because the homestead exemption most people in Arizona is $150,000. What this means is if your equity in the property is less than $150,000, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to keep your house. However, if your equity is higher than $150,000, you could lose the house. You must be residing in the house in order to get the homestead protection. If you reside elsewhere or have a second home, you cannot apply the homestead to more than one of the properties.

Another problem arises when a person is behind on payments in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If that happens, the creditor will file what is called a motion to lift the automatic stay. The automatic stay is the protection that automatically goes into effect in Chapter 7 cases when the case is filed. It prevents the creditor from suing the debtor, maintaining an already-filed lawsuit, garnishing wages or bank accounts, foreclosing on real estate, etc. The creditor will ask the judge for permission to pursue a foreclosure action even though the Chapter 7 case has been filed. The judge will almost always say yes.

The creditor will then proceed with a foreclosure or trustee sale, and you will eventually lose your property unless you can negotiate a deal with your lender. The other option in that situation is to convert your case to Chapter 13 if you qualify, and force the lender to accept payments on the arrears (the missed payments) over a period of three to five years. But for the vast majority of people who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in Arizona, they are able to keep their homes (and often their cars, too). You should obtain a consultation from a bankruptcy attorney to make sure that you will not lose your home if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

If you are facing foreclosure before you file for bankruptcy protection, you’ll need to consider a Chapter 13, because that may be the only way you can force your lender to let you make up your missed payments over a three to five year period of time. There is much at risk in bankruptcy cases and you’d be unwise to file your own case. Mr. Thomas has seen people lose homes, inheritances, valuable assets, and large sums of money because they were being penny wise but dollar foolish. Save up your money and have a professional handle it for you.

Does A Person Have Any Options Regarding Liquidation Of Secured Debt In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

One of the decisions you will have to make if you want to file a Chapter 7 case but you know that you will lose certain secured assets if you so, is whether you want to attempt to work out a deal with the unsecured creditors rather than file the Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A common example is a person who owns a home and has equity in that home that is above the exemption amount. For example, if your exemption amount is $150,000, the house is worth $300,000, and the loan balance is $100,000, you will have $50,000 in equity. The bankruptcy trustee in a Chapter 7 case may force the sale of the home, pay the $100,000 loan balance, give you the next $150,000, and distribute the rest of the money to the unsecured creditors.

Rather than losing your home in that manner, you could sell the home and work out deals with your creditors. This is very tricky and could backfire easily. We at Thomas Law Office have lots of experience working out settlements with creditors. However, far more often than not, it will make more sense for a person in this kind of situation to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Another option in this example would be for the client to find a relative or some third party who will give or loan them the funds to “buy back” the unprotected equity ($50,000, or probably less if a deal is negotiated). This would enable the person to avoid a Chapter 13 bankruptcy – which most debtors would prefer to avoid if possible because of the long amount of time, higher cost, and other inconveniences – and still keep the home. Also, it is important to analyze whether the asset really can be seized by the Chapter 7 trustee.

There can sometimes be legal or practical obstacles that would significantly reduce the likelihood that the trustee will actually pursue the asset. Because the trustee is paid on a sliding scale percentage basis for assets he can take from you and distribute to your unsecured creditors, he has an incentive to try to bluff you into believing that he will seize and sell the asset unless you agree to pay a large sum of money to keep it. An example that comes to mind is a case we had many years ago. The client owned a bakery. The Chapter 7 trustee send a very threatening letter indicating that he would be seizing and selling the bakery. After a careful analysis by our office, we determined, with the help with a business valuation expert, that the bakery would be very hard to sell for at least a year or two because of major road construction and a mass transit system that would be installed.

The result would be much less foot traffic and significantly reduced sales. The trustee was very aggressive and did not care what we said to him. So we elected to call his bluff and sat back to see if he actually followed through. He didn’t. Our client got to keep the bakery without having to spend a single penny to the trustee or the bankruptcy court. It is vital that you have an attorney on your side when you undertake a major legal and financial step such as the filing of a bankruptcy case. There are traps for the unwary, and there are ways of protecting assets in a legal way that would probably never occur to you if you don’t have a deep understanding of the bankruptcy code, a knowledge of the cases interpreting the code, and the experience of having seen many situations in real life that enable you to accurately predict what is likely to happen with regard to various issues in your case.

For more information on Losing Your Home In A Chapter 7, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by callingtoday.

Why is The Hearing Held In Front Of A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee?

There is a hearing in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. It is referred to as the “Meeting of Creditors.” The name of this hearing makes it sound worse than it is. It is actually a very easy process. Creditors rarely show up at the Meeting of Creditors. Sometimes, the creditors who show up are small-time creditors who think they are required to show up because they received notice of the Meeting of Creditors. In such situations, the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee will ask these well-meaning but uninformed creditors if they have any questions for the Chapter 7 debtor. They virtually always say no, and the trustee thanks them for attending and tells them they are free to leave when they are ready to do so.

On the other hand, a creditor is likely to appear at the Meeting of Creditors if that creditor believes you attempted to defraud that creditor or if that creditor has specific information that is needed from you, such as the location of secured property or other assets, information regarding the condition of various assets or secured property, the financial circumstances of the debtor at the time any application for credit was signed, etc. In business bankruptcies, it is quite normal for at least some creditors to appear for the Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors. Sometimes, if the trustee is seeking to pursue claims against the Chapter 7 debtor, the trustee’s attorney may show up and ask questions of the debtor.

This is just one example of why it is critical to have representation at every phase of your bankruptcy case, because there may be traps that you can easily avoid with proper legal advice. With an advocate sitting by your side, it is unlikely that the trustee’s attorney is going to overstep the normal bounds of questioning. There is no judge present at the Chapter 7 Meeting of Creditors, so it is important to have an advocate by your side to protect you if the questioning goes too far. For most people, though, the Meeting of Creditors in a chapter 7 case goes smoothly and quickly.

The hearings usually are set every half hour, and during the half hour session, anywhere from six to ten Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtors will be questioned. The trustee will make the debtor take an oath to tell the truth, under penalty of perjury. The trustee will also verify the identity of the debtor, usually by examining the driver’s license and comparing it to the social security card. Most trustees will also administer a series of instructions at the beginning of the session that the debtors must follow. These include things like being truthful, making sure that the financial management course is completed in a timely fashion, having ID ready when the approach the trustee’s table for questioning, turning over tax returns when the next tax returns are filed, turning over tax refunds the next time they are received, etc. The trustee in Arizona Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases is the person who will ask questions of the debtor. A decade or two ago, it was common for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy client’s attorney to ask the questions of the Chapter 7 debtor. But now it is the trustee who controls the questioning.

The questions are usually the same for everybody, as well as some specific questions that are particular to that person’s case. The standard questions pertain to whether the Chapter 7 debtor took the oath to tell the truth; whether the Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtor reviewed and signed all the documents that were filed; whether the Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtor admits that all information in the petitions and schedules are true and accurate; whether the Chapter 7 filer has any changes that need to be made; whether any amounts of money are due to the Chapter 7 debtor; whether the Chapter 7 debtor has resided in Arizona for the requisite jurisdictional period; etc.

The standard questions typically only last about five minutes. If there is a joint-debtor in the Arizona Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the trustee will next turn to that person and ask if his/her answers would be the same as the ones just given by his/her spouse. The trustee then may ask a few specific questions that only the debtor would know the answer to. The Meeting of Creditors is then concluded. The next step is for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy client to wait another 60 to 120 days for the discharge notice to be issued. The discharge notice is the document that tells the debtor and creditors that all debt that is able to be erased in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy has been erased. It’s a great feeling to get that notice in the mail!

When And Where Does The Hearing With The Chapter 7 Trustee Take Place?

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, a hearing is held. That hearing is known as the “Meeting of Creditors.” Rarely to creditors actually show up at these hearings, but they are permitted to if they so desire. Often, the only creditors who show up are small business owners who think they are required to show up because they received a hearing notice in the mail. What they don’t realize is that the hearing notice they received in the mail is merely informational. They may attend the Meeting of Creditors if they so desire, but they usually will only be wasting their time unless they have important questions for the debtor or if they have reason to believe the creditor may have defrauded them or omitted material information in the bankruptcy petition, schedules, and/or statement of financial affairs.

The Meeting of Creditors usually takes place approximately 30 days from the date the bankruptcy case is filed – at least in the Phoenix area. Other locations may have different timeframes. But any chapter 7 case filed in Maricopa County is virtually always going to result in a Meeting of Creditors at the Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix, which is located at 230 N. First Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona. When you arrive at the courthouse, you will need to bring two forms of ID with you. There are two lists from which you must choose. You must choose one form of ID from one column, and another form of ID from the other column. Most people choose to take their driver’s license and Social Security Card to the Meeting of Creditors. The Meeting of Creditors usually takes only a few minutes, but you could be waiting a long time if the trustee is running behind schedule.

The Meeting of Creditors will take place in a hearing room, not in a courtroom even though the location is at the Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix. Cases filed in which debtors live in Pinal County are usually held in Florence. Cases filed in which debtors live in Yavapai County are usually held in Prescott. Cases filed in which debtors live in Coconino County are usually held in Flagstaff. Other hearings are held in other locations, based on the county the debtor resides in, such as Yuma.

For more information on Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee Hearing, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by callingtoday.

What Kind Of Debt Gets Wiped Out In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

Most debt can be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The standard kinds of debts that are erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy include credit card debt, medical debt, personal loans, auto repossession debt, real estate deficiency debt, most “old” tax debts, payday loan debts, debts owed to former friends, auto accident debts, debts related to many kinds of lawsuits such as breach of contract, sexual harassment, discrimination, homeowners association debts that predate the bankruptcy, and various other types of debts. There are various debts that cannot be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. These are covered elsewhere on this website.

But the most common kinds of debts are usually ones that can be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. During your initial consultation, the attorney will screen your situation for the various kinds of debts you have, and assess whether any of them could be ones that cannot be erased in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A common question that comes up in consultations is whether in a Chapter 7 case there is a minimum or maximum amount of debt that applies. In other words, potential bankruptcy filers often wonder whether they have too little or too much debt to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Almost always, the answer is no. There is no specific minimum or maximum that applies.

The trustee will examine your case to see if you are abusing the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process. For example, if your income is $100,000 per year and you have only $10,000 in debt, you are likely going to have a problem if you try to get a Chapter 7 bankruptcy past the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee, because with that level of income, unless extraordinary circumstances apply, you should be able to pay off that amount of debt in a relatively short period of time without needing to invoke Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection. It is even rarer for someone to have too much debt in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. We have not seen one at our office and Mr. Thomas has been practicing bankruptcy law for over twenty years.

What Kind Of Debt Is NOT Forgiven In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

People sometimes have the misconception that all debts can be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there are certain debts that cannot be forgiven. Some of the more common debts that cannot be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy are child support debts, alimony debts (more often referred to as alimony or spousal support), many tax debts, many government fines, many student loan debts, overpayments of government benefits (such as unemployment benefits, social security, welfare, etc.), marital property settlements, federal criminal restitution debts, etc. There are other debts that cannot be forgiven but these are less often seen and will not be addressed here.

It is of utmost importance to seek advice from a competent bankruptcy attorney before filing your case because there are exceptions to the exceptions that may apply in your situation. For example, although most student loan debts are not dischargeable, some of them indeed can be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A very easy example is a person who is permanently disabled and cannot afford to repay the loan. A bankruptcy judge would very likely permit that student loan debt to be discharged. But action must be taken. If you do nothing in the example just provided, the debt will outlive the bankruptcy case (although you may be able to reopen the bankruptcy if you happen to realize this possibility after the fact).

You will need to file an “adversary proceeding,” which is like a mini lawsuit within your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. The student loan lender would need to be sued, and if the student loan lender objects to the discharge of that student loan debt – which is likely to be the case, since most lenders have massive financial firepower and will use it against you to deter other debtors for daring to fight them – you will need to present your case to the bankruptcy judge, who will make specific findings as to whether the student loan debt can be erased in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Another example of a debt that is often one that cannot be erased in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a tax debt.

However, some tax debts can be wiped out in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case. The very general rule – and this is a general rule so be careful about the exceptions – is that the tax debt is not dischargeable if it is less than three years old (the calculation of the age of the tax debt itself is a tricky thing to do), the return for that tax debt was filed less than two years ago, or the tax debt was assessed less than 240 days before the Chapter 7 bankruptcy case is filed. But if, for example, it is a very old debt – let’s say 5 years – and you filed your return on time and you did not attempt to evade the debt and none of the other factors (that have not been listed here because they are too numerous) are present, you should be able to wipe out that tax debt in your chapter 7 case.

However, it is often wise to contact the Internal Revenue Service to make sure they agree that it is discharged in the Chapter 7 case, because if they refused to admit that it has been discharged, it is often a good idea to file an adversary proceeding to eliminate any doubt. What you want to avoid is a situation where you file your bankruptcy on an old tax debt, assume it has been wiped out, and then years later the Internal Revenue Service comes after you hard for that tax debt. You will then have to fight with the Internal Revenue Service at an unexpected time, and that time may not be very convenient for you.

For more information on Debts Forgiven In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by callingtoday.

Can I Get Divorced In Arizona If I Got Married Elsewhere In The U.S.?

Even if you did not get married in Arizona, you can get divorced in Arizona if you are a resident of Arizona. However, the divorce judge may not have jurisdiction over all the issues in your case. For example, if your spouse resides in a different state with the children, and that spouse has resided with the children in that state for at least six consecutive months, the other state is the state that has jurisdiction over the child-related matters. Even if your spouse does not reside in the other state with the children — i.e. if the children reside here in Arizona with you, but the other spouse resides elsewhere and if that spouse has never resided in Arizona, the Arizona court may not have jurisdiction over the other spouse with regard to child support.

These situations need to be analyzed carefully because there are exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions, but if you, your spouse and your children all reside here and you have all resided here for the past six months, then Arizona is probably going to be the location of your divorce case even if you got married elsewhere. If there are no children in common between the spouses, the filing spouse must have resided in Arizona for ninety-one consecutive days before filing for divorce in an Arizona court.

If the parties have no children in common, but one spouse is an Arizona resident and the other spouse is a resident of another state, Arizona may not have personal jurisdiction over the nonresident spouse except the Arizona court always has the jurisdiction to sever the marriage on behalf of the spouse who is an Arizona resident, even if the Arizona court does not have jurisdiction to decide property and spousal maintenance issues.

Again, these are complicated scenarios so these general rules should not be relied upon in the absence of a consultation with an experienced Arizona divorce attorney. But as a general rule, if you and your spouse are residents of Arizona, and your spouse then leaves the state with the children, you must act quickly in order to increase the odds that your case will be under the jurisdiction of the Arizona courts, unless the state to which your spouse moves is much more favorable to you on issues that are in your best interest, in which case your attorney may advise you to wait until that state obtains jurisdiction. That is why it is often a good idea to consult with an Arizona attorney and an attorney in the other state, so that you can analyze the pros and cons of each jurisdiction. Often, the two attorneys will briefly discuss your situation between themselves and reach a unified opinion on which state your case should be filed in.

Regardless, if you have children and you do not want to move to the other state, and if you want lots of parenting time with your children, ordinarily you should move swiftly to file a case in Arizona so that you will increase the chance that the judge will order your spouse to return the children to Arizona. The longer you wait, the more established your spouse and children will become in the new state, and the less likely the judge will be willing disturb their routine.

Can I Get Divorced In Arizona If I Got Married Outside Of The United States?

Even if you did not get married in the United States, you can still get divorced in Arizona if you are an Arizona resident. However, the court may only have jurisdiction to sever the marital ties. The court may not have jurisdiction over the other spouse and the court definitely will not have jurisdiction over property that is located in the other country. International divorce cases are complicated. Figuring out the best way to proceed turns on a variety of factors and it is highly advisable to obtain a consultation with an experienced international divorce attorney in order to determine which jurisdiction would be the correct one in which to file your case.

But if you and your spouse both reside in Arizona, the fact that you got married in the other country makes no difference. You are still entitled to a divorce in Arizona. Whether the other country will recognize the divorce is a different question, and one that must be analyzed carefully with an international divorce attorney if you have plans to move back to that country in the future. Also, if you have children in the other country, you may or may not be able to have custody issues decided in an Arizona court.

Usually the Arizona court will defer to the other country’s court, but there are exceptions that are beyond the scope of this general informational material. If your spouse leaves Arizona and moves to another country with your children, you must immediately obtain a consultation with an experienced international child custody attorney. Time is of the essence in such cases. If too much time passes, you will be forced to litigate in the other country, which could be far more costly, time consuming, biased, and frustrating that anything you would experience in an Arizona court, depending on which country your spouse has moved to.

For more information on Getting Divorced In Arizona, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by callingtoday.

Do Children Have Any Say In Custody Matters?

In Arizona, At What Age Does A Child’s Preference Factor In To The Custody Decision?

In Arizona, either parent can request that the child be interviewed, or the judge can order that the child be interviewed. The child most likely will not be interviewed by the judge. Instead, if an interview is even appropriate in a particular case, the child is likely to be interviewed by what is called a Court Appointed Advisor or a Best Interest Attorney.

Court Appointed Advisors and/or Best Interest Attorneys are appointed in cases where either or both parents are alleged to be unfit or unstable, or if there are significant questions about the safety of the environment in which the child is living. The Court Appointed Advisor or Best Interest Attorney will ask the child questions that are geared toward determining how well-adjusted the child is to each parent, how much time the child wants to spend with each parent, and other factors that are important to the issue of which parent the child should be spending the majority of time with. A Best Interest Attorney is always an attorney and cannot be called as a witness in the case, whereas a Court Appointed Advisor is usually a psychologist and can be called as witness in the case. The job of a Best Interest Attorney is to advocate to the judge what is best for the child, even if that position is not good for either or both parents. It is far more common for a Court Appointed Advisor to be the appointed; Best Interest Attorneys are usually appointed only in the most severe cases of allegations of unfitness.

When it comes to the minimum age a child can be in order to be interviewed, the very general rule is that the child needs to be at least 12 years old. However, if good reasons exist, they can be much younger than that when they are interviewed. The more severe the allegations, the more likely the judge will order that a child under age 12 be interviewed if an interview would make sense in that case.

Court Appointed Advisors are often trained in the mental health fields. Many, if not most, are psychologists or social workers. The other context in which a child may be interviewed is a parenting conference. In Arizona, a judge can order the parents to attend a parenting conference. A parenting conference is held with a mental health professional who will meet with both parents, and usually interview the children as well if they are teenagers.

As of 2016, the cost of a parenting conference is $300 per side, although the judge can permit that amount to be paid in installments if appropriate. Something else to know is that older teenagers, ages 16 and 17, generally have a very big say in which parent they want to live with primarily. At that age, it is possible that the judge may actually conduct the interview himself or herself.

Finally, something to be on the lookout for, especially with younger children, is coaching by the other parent. It is relatively common for parents to try to influence what the child says when the child is interviewed. An experienced and skilled mental health professional sometimes will pick up on this and put that information in the report that is required to be submitted to the court. However, many times, this kind of sinister coaching is overlooked. But there are techniques that can be employed to minimize the likelihood of coaching and to expose it if it has been done. Also, independent experts on parental alienation may be needed to demonstrate to the court the degree of psychological influence one parent is exerting on the child in order to get the child to defy the other parent.

It is important for the parent whose child is about to be interviewed to be prepared for how to properly inform the child of the interview and to not discuss the case with the child. Judges get upset when a parent talks to the child about the custody case. Children should not be burdened with such matters. They should be free to live their lives as children and without the emotional turmoil of having to concern themselves about what is going on with the fight between their parents.

If you are not sure whether Children Have A Say In Custody Matters, call Thomas Law Office, PLC for a consultationand get the information and legal answers you’re seeking.

Which Court Will My Divorce Case Be Filed In Arizona?

In an Arizona divorce case where the parties both reside in this state, the divorce case will usually be filed in the county of the filing party’s residence. The case could be filed in the other party’s residence. But if there are children involved, the proper county is usually the county where the children spend most of their time. If the spouses both reside in Arizona and in the same county, then it usually does not matter which court location the case will be filed in.

For example, in Maricopa County, the case can be filed at any of the court’s four main locations: downtown Phoenix, Northeast Phoenix, Mesa, or Surprise. But the case will be assigned to the court where the filing party or the filing party’s attorney (if the party is represented) is located. This is an important decision to make. The court bases the courthouse to which it assigns the case on the relevant zip code. For example, if you reside in central Phoenix but your attorney has an office in Mesa, your attorney may prefer that you file your case downtown in your own name if your attorney believes that in your particular case you would be better off with one of the downtown judges.

The attorney would then enter a notice of appearance in the case after the case has been assigned to the strategically determined courthouse. Regardless of which Arizona County you or the other party resides in, the case must be filed in the Superior Court. Justice Courts do not have the authority to hear family law cases in Arizona. Nor do Municipal Courts have the legal authority to hear family law cases in Arizona. One notable exception is Orders of Protection. Orders of Protection are known as “restraining orders” in many other states. These restraining orders can be filed in virtually any court in Arizona, Superior, Justice, or Municipal. But if you are filing the case to address custody, parenting time, division of assets, debts, or other such issues, you must file in the Superior Court of the proper county in Arizona.

Is A Jury Trial Permitted For A Divorce Case In Arizona?

A jury trial is not permitted in Arizona divorce and custody trials. The judge will alone decide the issues in your Arizona divorce or custody case. There are a minority of jurisdictions that allow jury trials in divorce custody cases, but most states do not permit juries to get involved in these kinds of decisions. That is unfortunate. Especially in contentious child custody cases, it may be advantageous to one or both parties to have a jury of their peers decide who the better parent is in order to have the majority of the time with the child and the right to make important decisions pertaining to that child.

In Arizona, judges often rotate between the different Superior Court divisions, family, civil, criminal, juvenile, and probate. They do this in part because they can get emotionally drained from presiding over acrimonious custody and child support cases. But by rotating between different divisions, they can become rusty on the laws, rules, and standards that pertain to family law cases. Permitting jury trials would relieve them of much of the burden of making these often difficult decisions, enabling them to remain on the family court bench longer so that their expertise can be used to handle procedural and technical issues that are outside the scope of a jury’s authority.

Juries in Arizona usually consist of at least six people. These people are more likely to give your case a fresh look than a burned-out judge who is jaded and tired of all the bickering and fighting that goes on in family court. They will go to the jury room after the trial and debate among themselves what the best solution is. This committee style decision is often a better process than having one single, albeit learned, individual make all the decisions that will affect your life. But do not be alarmed. Most family court judges in Arizona try their best to make the best possible decisions no matter how sick and tired they may be of having to preside over family court cases.

For more information on Filing A Divorce Case, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling.

What Are The Duties Of A Trustee In A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case?

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, the trustee has a multitude of duties. The first duty is to verify whether the Chapter 7 bankruptcy debtor qualifies for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The trustee will examine the statements and schedules filed by the debtor’s attorney to see if the debtor satisfies the basic eligibility requirements. For example, the debtor’s income to expense ratio will be reviewed to ensure that it is where it should be; the debtor’s assets and claimed exemptions will be examined to see if anything can be seized from the debtor and distributed to the creditors in that case; the debtor’s answers on the Statement of Financial Affairs will be closely examined for improper transfers, questionable positions, and other suspicious behavior.

The Means Test will be examined – if it was filed (not all Chapter 7 debtors need to prepare and file a Means Test) – to see if the there is a presumption of abuse of Chapter 7 by the filing debtor; etc. The bankruptcy trustee also will contact the debtor and request verification of various assets and debts. The Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee will review bank statements, pay stubs, business records, tax returns, and other documents to screen for issues that can be pursued against the debtor. The debtor should realize that the trustee is NOT the debtor’s friend. The trustee’s duty is to the creditors as a whole. It is the trustee’s job to make sure that the debtor qualifies for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and then to seize any assets and/or pursue any claims against the debtor that would benefit the creditors.

The trustee will also verify the identity of the debtor by comparing the debtor’s identification (typically a driver’s license) to the debtor’s social security card. The trustee presides over the Meeting of Creditors. The judge will not attend the Meeting of Creditors. Rather, it is the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee who will probe the debtor about the information listed in the bankruptcy documents and about other matters obtained from reviewing financial paperwork provided by the debtor or independently obtained by the trustee. The trustee can be sued by creditors if the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee does not properly carry out his or her duties. Some trustees are easier to work with than others. Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustees tend to come in two flavors – attorneys and CPAs.

Usually, it is easier to work with an attorney-trustee. This is because the attorney-trustee is more likely to not pursue relatively small claims against the debtor, whereas it is more likely that a CPA will take a hard line and pursue all claims both large and small. But there are exceptions to this generalization, of course. In Arizona, there are under 20 Chapter 7 trustees in the Maricopa County area. Many have been trustees for a long time and are very good at what they do. Sometimes, a trustee, even if he/she is an attorney, will need to hire an attorney to represent the trustee in claims against the debtor, third parties, and/or creditors.

An example of this is if an asset was transferred to a third party within two years of the bankruptcy filing. The bankruptcy trustee will likely file a lawsuit against that third party for the turnover of that asset. The trustee will not do this himself. Rather, he will hire another attorney to do this for him. And that attorney will get paid from the sale proceeds of the asset that is recovered. This is just one example of a situation where a Chapter 7 trustee will hire counsel to pursue claims on behalf of the creditors as a whole. Trustees also examine creditor’s claims to proceeds.

For example, if assets are recovered against the debtor or a third party, the trustee will sell the asset and then distribute the money to the creditors in that Chapter 7 case. Before doing so, the trustee will require that any creditor who wants a piece of the proceeds file what is called a “proof of claim” form, with supporting documentation such as statements, invoices, contracts, and other proof of exactly how much money is due. The trustee will then pay each creditor a portion of the proceeds.

How Much Does A Person’s Downward Financial Spiral Impact A Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Case?

Typically, the bankruptcy judge and bankruptcy trustee will not be interested in the reason why you need to file for bankruptcy protection. The analysis is just a cold, hard look at your financials to see if you qualify and if so, whether any property can be seized from you or any third parties you have dealt with in the past. Sometimes, the reason for filing will matter greatly, but this is mostly limited to business bankruptcies. For example, in Chapter 11 bankruptcies, the creditors and judge will want to know what caused your business to need bankruptcy protection and how things will be different in the future that will make your reorganization plan feasible.

For most individuals, it really doesn’t matter why you filed for bankruptcy protection, at least in Arizona. As you should know by now, there are often exceptions to general rules. One of the exceptions to the general disinterest in why you are seeking bankruptcy protection is if you are filing serial cases. Sometimes a person will file a case and it will be dismissed for various reasons. If you file again – and especially if your case has been dismissed multiple times in the recent past – you will probably have some explaining to do. It is hard to provide an example that will apply broadly, so this is a situation that especially must be carefully analyzed by your Arizona bankruptcy attorney.

Clients, on the other hand, often feel very bad about having to file for bankruptcy protection. They will want to explain their reasons, in order to demonstrate that they are not bad people and they were in over their heads for reasons beyond their control. Indeed, virtually every person Mr. Thomas has talked to was not gaming the system. They often were doing fine for many years but then something major happened that set them back, such as a major illness (and associated medical debt and/or loss of income), loss of a job, a business that could not survive, a bad experience in the real estate downturn a decade ago, or other reasons that resulted in debt so massive that they just cannot reasonably expect to pay it all off in the next several years or beyond.

Mr. Thomas does not judge any client. He is here to help people obtain the financial freedom so that they can better take care of themselves and their families. The stigma of bankruptcy has eroded greatly over the past few decades. Over a million people file for bankruptcy protection each year. You should not beat yourself up because you need some financial relief. Corporations will use bankruptcy if it best serves their interests. If these non-living entities are allowed protections under the law, you surely should at least receive the same benefit. Please call our office for help. Mr. Thomas is easy to talk to and will calmly walk you through the process toward a better financial future.

For more information on Role Of A Trustee In A Chapter 7, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling today.

How many cases do you handle at any given time?

I don’t put an arbitrary limit on the number of cases we handle at any particular point. It depends on the number of cases, the anticipated amount of work that needs to be done in those cases, the combination of cases (generally one moderately complicated divorce case takes as much time as up to a dozen bankruptcy cases), the type of client (some require more regular contact with our office or need us to assist with things other clients do on their own), and many other factors. Over my almost two decades in practice, I have learned how to keep a proper balance of cases. I would describe my practice as a low-volume practice. Rather than charging low fees and making up the differnce in volume (and lower service), I charge a moderate fee and keep my case-load low enough so that every client has easy access to me and quality representation. When I see that we are reaching our limit, we either decline cases or bring in additional staff to handle the extra workload, depending on the needs of the potential incoming cases.

Mr. Thomas has been fighting hard for clients since 1996. He looks forward to fighting hard for you, too - Contact us TODAY!
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