DISCLAIMER. Law deals with life. The law is complicated because life is complicated. No two legal situations are identical. The statute laws, the case law and court decisions, and the rules of court just for South Carolina take up hundreds of volumes. This book deals with generalities. It is not a substitute for a lawyer and you should not act in reliance on any statement in this book until your own lawyer has advised you.

SEXISM. I am not sexist. Neither basic human decency nor my wife, my daughter, my mother, my law partner, my favorite court reporters, my office staff nor the other strong women in my life would permit it. In this book, purely for brevity, I use the generic masculine pronoun unless referring specifically to a wife or mother.

With those two housekeeping details completed, I now continue with the substance of this book.

I am a divorce lawyer. More broadly, though, I am a family law practitioner. I represent clients in matters dealing with divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and any domestic relations issues. Note that I am not your lawyer until you and I agree.

I charge for my time and my employees' time hourly rounded to the next tenth of an hour. You should pay your lawyer to do certain things for you in a domestic relations case. You can do certain things for yourself and should not have to pay anyone to do for you. When you save your lawyer time, you save your money. The first major purpose of this book is to help you get the best legal representation at the least expense.

Lawyers are sometimes poor at maintaining good public relations. The chief complaint of clients is not that the lawyer got a poor result. The chief complaint is that the lawyer did not explain procedures, strategy, and actions to the client. The second purpose of this book is to help you understand what the lawyer is doing for you as your lawyer and to help you understand why they are doing it.

Trial lawyers are competitive and have large egos. I am a trial lawyer. I like winning and I hate losing. The better prepared your lawyer is for your case when you go to court together, the better chance you have of getting a favorable result. A third purpose of this book is to help your lawyer better prepare so you may get a more favorable result.

I tried to make this book readable, informative, and relevant. I hope you enjoy it, although you are probably going through a difficult period in your life and the subject is emotionally difficult. I recognize using this book effectively requires time and effort.

If you read and understand this book the benefits to you should be substantial. You will save money in legal fees. You will get better representation in both settlement negotiations and trial. You will be more knowledgeable about family law and you will be more confident in your situation. You will better understand the proceedings. You will have a better relationship with your lawyer, whether me or someone else. You will be a stronger person, both emotionally and financially.

My purpose is not to teach you to be a lawyer. That takes three years after college plus practical experience. My purpose is to have you as a happy and satisfied client. I want the legal aspects of your domestic relations problem handled in a way that does not increase the pain and anguish you may be feeling.

I first published this book as a printed book in September 1982. Since then many changes have occurred in the laws and in the rules of court, requiring many revisions.

I originally wrote this book for my clients but it should be valuable for anyone going through separation and divorce.

For Other Lawyers’ Clients Your lawyer will not do everything the way I do it. This does not reflect negatively on either your lawyer or me. Our general principles and the ultimate goals are the same.

Hourly rates in the legal profession vary. Your lawyer may charge more or less per hour than I charge. Your lawyer may charge for his services on some basis other than an hourly rate. He may charge a flat or fixed fee. He may charge at the end based upon several factors. His fee may contain a combination of these rates. Generally, a lawyer may not ethically charge a contingent or percentage fee in a domestic relations case.

The initial retainer fee varies greatly from lawyer to lawyer. The larger the retainer fee, the greater the chance that the lawyer will not earn it all. Have a firm understanding whether the lawyer will refund you any unearned portion of your retainer fee. Most lawyers apply your retainer fee toward their hourly rate or costs. If a lawyer charges a fixed amount just to take your case and that amount will not apply to your hourly fees, you may wish to consider another lawyer.

I offer these suggestions in dealing with your lawyer:



1. Always make an appointment. Lawyers appreciate clients who are considerate of their time. I never met a lawyer who welcomed clients with no appointment.

2. Make your own appointment. Let no one else make your appointment for you. Many lawyers believe that clients who do not make their own appointments are not serious or committed to the case. The worst-case scenario is for a mother to make an appointment for an adult son.

3. Do not be a know-it-all. You will acquire much knowledge from this book but if you must use it repeatedly to educate your lawyer, you are using the wrong lawyer.

4. Have a firm understanding about your lawyer's fees and costs. Having that understanding in writing protects both you and your lawyer. Ethical lawyers use written 6 fee agreements. Legal fees are usually negotiable; however, your lawyer understands what his time and efforts are worth. Ask intelligent questions about fees and costs. If the fee quoted by your lawyer is still unsatisfactory, find another lawyer; everyone will be happier in the end.

5. Avoid unnecessary telephone calls and emails. Absent an emergency, save your questions so you can ask several during one call. Do not call your lawyer at home unless it is an absolute emergency or he has asked you to call. I avoid this problem by not having a home phone. Most lawyers have a minimum fee per telephone call and you can save yourself money by avoiding unnecessary telephone calls. The part of family law practice that most lawyers dislike is the telephone calls from clients, particularly the unnecessary telephone calls.

6. Never, never, contact a judge about your case or a judge’s staff about your case. This embarrasses your lawyer and may cause you much more serious problems. Do not call the clerk of court or anyone other than your lawyer or his staff for information about your case.

7. Do not quote a police officer, your friend who is a real estate paralegal, someone who works in the magistrate’s office, or the internet about your legal rights or what the result in your case should be. These are notoriously bad sources for legal advice. Your belief you need advice from those sources insults your lawyer.

8. Pay all fees and costs promptly. Lawyers appreciate prompt payment and will generally respond with a better effort for the client.

9. If you become dissatisfied with your lawyer, write a diplomatic and restrained letter stating your dissatisfaction and requesting a conference to discuss it. Your lawyer can probably explain. The South Carolina Bar provides the Client Assistance Program headed by Jill C. Rothstein to help clients with these problems. You may be contact Ms. Rothstein by telephone at 803-799-6653, ext. 159, or e-mail at jrothstein@scbar.org. Ms. Rothstein is both helpful and pleasant in helping clients resolve issues with lawyers.

10. If you have differences with your lawyer you cannot resolve, go to his office, pay all fees and costs, ask for your file, and take it to another lawyer. If your case is already pending in court, your lawyer must get an order relieving him as your attorney of record. If you discharge your lawyer, consent to an order relieving him as your attorney of record.

11. Occasionally give your lawyer a pat on the back, show appreciation. Lawyers are human and need reinforcement. The best pat on the back is to recommend him to your friends.

12. Do not tell lawyer jokes unless you want to insult your lawyer. Most lawyers are honest, believe their professional colleagues to be honest, and will resent any suggestion that lawyers are not honest. Most lawyers work long hours, fifty hours a week or more, and resent suggestions that lawyers do not work hard. Lawyers spend little time protecting clients from the bad acts of other lawyers but spend much time protecting their clients from the bad acts of non-lawyers. 7

13. Many clients believe that lawyers should be grateful for their business. Most good lawyers have more clients than they need. The demand for good lawyers exceeds the demand for good clients. Many lawyers are quick to sever ties with difficult clients. Most lawyers are wary of potential clients who discharged one lawyer. Many refuse to represent potential clients who discharged more than one lawyer. Do not assume that finding a new lawyer will be easy if you discharge your old one. My brother Clarkson recommends the Tarzan principle, “Do not turn loose of one vine before you have a hold on another.

14. If your lawyer recommends you accept or make a settlement offer, do it. Lawyers make far less money from settlements then from trials. When your lawyer recommends settlement, it will save you money and cost your lawyer money. He is protecting you.