What Will Happen at the Consultation?
An initial consultation is a time for you and a managing partner at our firm to get to know one another and discuss your case. A consultation is your opportunity to learn about the process and discuss strategy related to your specific situation. You will also discuss or address:
- Background information about the firm and our experience;
- Your background (i.e., where you work, how many children you have, employment history, etc.);
- Recommendations on strategy for your case;
- Information regarding how the firm handles cases similar to yours;
- The employment contract between you and the firm;
- Hourly rates, retainers and fees for the firm’s services; and
- Questions that you have regarding the process.
May I Bring My Children to the Consultation?
Children should not be present at consultations. This is a time for you and an attorney to speak about serious matters, and you should be able to dedicate your full attention to the meeting. Moreover, it may be harmful for them to be in the room or even in the office. Courts typically discourage children from being involved with the specifics of the lawsuit. If you are unable to attend your consultation without your children, please discuss appropriate options when you schedule your consultation. Exceptions can be made based on the following:
- Express permission from the attorney beforehand;
- The age of the children;
- The maturity of the children;
- Your ability to bring an adult to supervise the children during the meeting; and
- Whether or not the children will wait in the waiting area while you are in the consultation meeting.
May I Bring Friends or Family to the Consultation?
Exceptions can be made for friends or family members to accompany you, but it will depend on whether or not:
- You obtained express permission from the attorney to bring them with you beforehand;
- Their attendance is necessary due to a language or communication barrier; or
- You agree to have the person attend the meeting, in writing, before the meeting.
Be careful—allowing a friend or family member to join in your consultation may waive your right to privacy through attorney-client privilege. Consult with your lawyer before allowing additional parties to be present.
What Should I Bring With Me?
Bring any information that may be helpful to your case or help us to answer your questions. You might find it helpful to jot down questions you don’t want to forget to ask. Here are some documents that you should bring with you as well as some of the information you should be prepared to provide:
- Photo identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.);
- A copy of the health insurance card for your children.;
- Paper/tablet to take notes;
- A copy of your prior order if this is a modification or enforcement;
- Your date of marriage and separation (if divorcing);
- The address where the other party can be served;
- A form of payment for the retainer if you desire to hire our firm at the consultation.
Can I Reschedule or Cancel the Appointment?
You may reschedule your appointment at any time prior to your scheduled meeting. We will try to accommodate your schedule as much as possible when rescheduling your appointment. Typically if you need to reschedule due to an emergency, we will try to reschedule you for the soonest available time that works for you and the attorney. Your consultation fee will not be refunded in the event of a canceled appointment.
You can cancel your appointment any time prior to your scheduled meeting. However, please be aware that cancellations made within four hours of your scheduled meeting will result in a forfeiture of your consultation fee.
You can view available appointment times by following the instruction on the Schedule a Consultation page.
What Should I Expect on My Bill?
We bill hourly like all attorneys, but approach our billing in a way that is more transparent, honest and fair. We don’t play games or hide the ball. We have an open and honest dialogue about costs. We publish our hourly rates and estimated retainer fees online. Try to find another law firm that discloses this information.
To see more details about our billing process and fees, visit our Attorney Fees and Billing page
How Much Will My Case Cost?
At Walters Gilbreath, PLLC we believe in fair fees and efficiency. Check out our Attorney Fees and Billing page for a breakdown of how our billing works and what to expect when hiring our team.
What is a Retainer Fee?
A Retainer Fee is a deposit paid by a new client at the time they hire our firm. A client is required to keep refreshing that deposit so that there is always a positive balance. Once the case is completed, the balance is refunded to the client.
Learn more about how retainer fees are collected in our blog, Understanding Retainer Fees
Divorce & Property Division
How Will My Personal Property Be Divided in My Divorce?
In a divorce, debts and assets are categorized as either community property or separate property. Community property is any asset to which both spouses have a claim to ownership. Typically, any property obtained by either spouse during the marriage (regardless of which spouse’s name the property is in) is community property, and community property is divided between the spouses. Even if only one spouse bought a house, the other spouse would still have a claim to the equity in the home. In this characterization process, both parties will make a detailed inventory of their personal property, and they will either agree on the division of property or submit to the court.
Assets are not always divided into two equal parts. For example, if property was registered under one name, but purchased with community property, it may be characterized as community property. To learn more about factors that can affect the way in which your assets are distributed, click here.
Is My Spouse Entitled to Half My Retirement?
Your spouse may be entitled to a portion of your retirement. Any portion of your retirement earned during the marriage (and before your date of divorce) will be considered community property. In a divorce, community property is divided between the spouses, but individual assets are not necessarily shared equally. For example, you could keep your retirement and give more equity in the home to your spouse to accomplish an even division of the property.
To determine the characterization of your current portfolio, you will want to gather information/documentation regarding your stock plan such as contact information for the plan administrator. A full list of recommended materials can be found here.
Can My Spouse Get Property That Is Only in My Name in the Divorce?
It is a common misconception that an asset that is solely titled in your name cannot be awarded to your spouse; this is not true. For example, a retirement account is typically only in the name of one party, but it is community property if the funds contributed were done so during the marriage.
How Are Debts Divided in a Divorce?
Debts and liabilities acquired during the marriage, like assets, will be divided between the spouses. This division is either done by splitting each liability, or by awarding each party several liabilities (such that the overall property division is fair and equitable).
Possession, Custody, & Conservatorship
What is Custody?
Courts allocate a variety of rights and duties between the parents. What most people mean when they refer to ‘custody’ is the right to designate the primary residence of the child. The amount of time each parent spends with the child and what the schedule looks like is called ‘Possession and Access’. The right to make medical, educational, and other decisions, and how other decisions are made on behalf of the child is called conservatorship. Lastly, one parent will collect child support from the other parent.
Are Mothers Given Preference Over Fathers in Custody Cases?
In Texas, the law explicitly states that no preference may be given to either males or females. Instead, the courts look to see who has historically been the primary caretaker, who prioritizes the kids’ needs, and the parents’ abilities to co-parent when making decisions regarding the children.
What are Bad Facts?
“Bad facts” are factors that reflect negatively on a party’s parenting, credibility, or judgment, and can shift custody from one parent to the other. When it comes to bad facts, substance abuse is the most common, family violence is the most heavily punished under the law, and untreated mental disorders are usually the most complex. Other examples of bad facts include failure to respectfully co-parent, exposing kids to a paramour, and prioritizing negative feelings for the other parent over the well-being of the kids. The existence of these factors requires that you have an exceptionally experienced and skilled attorney on your side to take advantage of said facts or to properly defend against them.
Do I Need Witnesses?
One of the most effective components of a case is the testimony of witnesses. The value of witness testimony varies significantly, but generally, the most effective witnesses are neutral parties, such as neighbors, teachers, and mental health professionals. Statements from family or close friends are often perceived as biased.
Consider the following: if you’re looking at restaurant reviews, would you trust a review from the restaurant’s owner, or would you look for a review from an unbiased third-party?
Can a Mother and a Father Split Up Their Children?
Children can be split up, but it is incredibly rare. Separating children is disfavored under the law, but not forbidden. Usually, this separation occurs when children are older or when a child is under the age of 3 and siblings are older.
Jury Trials & Litigation
What Should I Wear the Day of My Trial?
Whether you are having a jury trial, a hearing, or a trial with a judge, you must dress in a way that presents you in the best light. Let’s be honest; people are judgmental. Often it isn’t even intentional, but it happens, which is why first impressions are so important. For example, if you visit a doctor for the first time, and they showed up wearing shorts and flip flops, you may wonder if they take their profession seriously. On the day of trial, you should dress in a way that is respectful and shows that you are taking your legal matters seriously—no shorts, no flip flops. Leave your hat in your car. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it to a place of worship or in front of your grandparents, it is likely inappropriate for court. If you have tattoos that can be covered, go ahead and cover them. If you have facial piercings, take them out for court—small details matter, so it is vital to have an attorney that will steer you in the right direction
Strategically, you will want to talk to us about how to best present yourself in a way that reinforces your position in court. If you are a stay-at-home mom looking for a decision or schedule that aligns with your role as a parent, it is okay to dress like a mother rather than a businesswoman. Similarly, if you are asking to reduce the amount of support you pay, you shouldn’t come to court in a luxury suit and designer watch. Don’t let a detail derail your case. Our team has years of experience and can help you to develop a comprehensive legal strategy that includes everything from case details to clothes.
Will I Get to Tell My Side of the Story?
Testifying in court is not like it is on TV. You’ll get to tell your side of the story, but it won’t be as dramatic as it is in movies. Your attorney will ask you questions, and you will answer them; It’s much more conversational than people expect.
How Much Will a Family Jury Trial Cost?
Jury trials are the most complex type of hearings in civil court, and if you want an experienced attorney to represent you, it may seem like an expensive endeavor. However, having someone experienced in jury trials will save you money because they are more efficient and effective in their preparation than most. Think of it this way, would you rather have a low-cost surgeon with a spotty track record, or an appropriately-priced, highly-recommended surgeon? In the long run, If you opt for the discounted surgeon, you’re likely going to spend more time, money, and energy trying to correct their mistakes than you would if you hired the more highly-regarded surgeon. Secure your future. Hire an attorney that understands every detail of your case and how to use them in court.
Can I Bring My Children With Me to Court?
Although many divorces (and all custody cases) involve children, you can’t bring children to court. Most courthouses do not have onsite childcare and it is crucial to shield your children from the legal process. Your children should be in childcare or school at the time of your hearing. The only exception to this is when a judge specifically requests to speak with a child in his or her chambers. In that instance, the child will be allowed to speak with the judge after arrangements are made with the court.
When Should I Get to the Courthouse?
Typically, we recommend that you arrive to the court at least 35 minutes before your hearing, as you will want to allow time to park and go through security. Security checks are the first step required before you will be allowed to attend your hearing. However, you should speak with your attorney about what time he or she would prefer that you arrive.
How Should I Behave Inside the Courthouse & Courtroom?
Courtrooms are not as theatrical as they may seem on TV. Instead, the courtroom is primarily a place of order and silence. When you arrive at the courtroom assigned to your case, you will notice that there are other people present. There will likely be other parties there for their own cases, attorneys, clerks, a court reporter, bailiffs, and of course, a judge. With that said, most courts will require absolute silence in the courtroom unless you are in front of the judge for your case. In most Texas courts, this includes speaking with your attorney. Not only is talking distracting for the court, but if your attorney is listening to you instead of the court proceedings, they may miss something important. Usually, you’ll be required to briefly step out of the courtroom to conduct this conversation during a break to maintain the order discussed above. Remember, it becomes difficult for the court reporter to transcribe testimony if he or she cannot hear adequately, and it creates a similar problem if the judge cannot hear testimony due to courtroom chatter.
Next, you should know that taking pictures or video with any device while in the courtroom is strictly forbidden. For this reason, we recommend clients keep their electronic devices out of view, so it does not even appear as if a client is attempting to violate this rule.
When in court or the courthouse, it is key to be polite and courteous even in the hallways. You never know who may be observing you or making judgments about your credibility and character.
We’d argue that the most critical and universal rule of all Texas courts is that your cell phone must be in silent mode or powered off while in the courtroom. We have witnessed bailiffs both remove people from the courtroom and confiscate cell phones because of a non-silenced phone during a proceeding. To avoid this issue and embarrassment, we recommend that our clients power off their phones just to be safe.
What are the Advantages & Disadvantages to Mediation?
If mediation is needed, you will meet with your lawyer and a neutral mediator who will help guide you and the other party to a resolution. Several advantages to mediation are:
- It may be less stressful because the focus is on amicably resolving issues.
- Future litigation is less likely when both parties agree on the issues instead of having a court decide.
- The process is confidential, so any disputes over childcare and financial issues are solved in privacy and not aired in a public court proceeding.
Things to consider with regard to mediation:
- Attending mediation does not guarantee that a case will settle.
- A mediator does not have the authority to force disclosure of hidden assets like a court does, even if the mediator is aware of their existence.
- The mediator makes suggestions and guides discussions but is not allowed to give legal advice. Attorneys are still required to advise if settlement proposals are in their client’s best interest and in line with a likely outcome in court.