Monday, April 13, 2015

How Much Does a Child Custody Case Cost?

Custody Battle Expenses are High

Custody battles are often one of the most expensive areas to litigate in Family Law, from both a financial and emotional aspect. Sometimes when emotions run high in a case, especially at the beginning, parents assume they must “battle it out.” Before deciding what’s best for you and your children, here are some options for you to consider:

Mediation Programs

In most cases, parents feel more satisfied when they can directly manage how custody and parenting time will affect them and their children. These days, the court system highly encourages parents to settle their custody and parenting time disputes in an out-of-court agreement, rather than battling it out in trial. This leaves the question” who will get custody” mostly up to the parents themselves with input from attorneys, counselors and mediators. Before you begin any mediation program, it’s important to know the process and requirements of the county you live in. For example, many counties require a parenting education program for any case involving children. Mediation regarding custody and parenting time is also typically required. Parents can also decide to attend mediation without filing anything with the court under either private mediation or the program hosted by the county. Mediation programs through the county are generally free or nominal cost, while private mediators can be costly, but sensitive to difficult and complex issues.

Custody Evaluations

Sometimes when there is domestic violence, mental health issues, or addiction issues, it’s not always possible to settle custody and parenting time issues in mediation. When this happens, a party or the court can request a custody evaluation of the case. This special evaluation is typically performed by a social worker, psychologist or another expert who has been specifically trained to perform custody evaluations for families. The purpose of the evaluation is to give the court more information about the family’s situation, as well as give the court a recommendation about custody and parenting time specific to the case. These evaluations are quite comprehensive and time consuming—sometimes taking anywhere from 3 to 8 months to complete, depending on the situation.

Attorney fees and litigation costs

It costs money to handle custody disputes in court. There are court fees, attorney fees, and other costs. Because custody cases are unpredictable in terms of complications and length, most family law attorneys charge fees based on hourly rates. A custody and parenting time trial can last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days—in addition to the time it takes for the attorneys to prepare for trial. Beyond the attorney time, you may also need to prepare to pay fees for an expert witness (such as a custody evaluator or a psychologist).
Custody cases are complicated and it is important to try to find an experienced lawyer to help you with your case. During an initial consult, the family law lawyer will present you with some possible solutions and explain the custody laws in your state—along with the various factors a judge will consider when reviewing your case. If you are interested in talking to an attorney about how custody works in Oregon or Washington, give us a call anytime! Portland: 503-227-1515 or Vancouver: 360-823-0410.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How Will Taxes Affect My Estate Plan?

Tax season is here. Most people don’t realize how income taxes and estate taxes affect their estate planning and end up paying more than they should.

Developing a Tax Efficient Estate Plan

You have spent a career building your wealth to be where you are today.  As you craft your estate plan, many things must be considered.  One of the most critical factors in decisions regarding wealth distribution is tax impacts, specifically estate taxes and income taxes. With tax season here, a common question is: “how will taxes affect my estate plan?”  An estate planning attorney can answer this question for you and help you in developing an estate plan that is as tax efficient as possible. Most individuals neglect to realize how income taxes and estate taxes affect their estate planning and wind up paying the government more than they should.

What is Estate Tax?

The estate tax is a type of “death tax”, which is assessed on everything you own or have an interest in at the time of your death. This tax is imposed on both the federal and on the state level in Oregon and Washington and is paid directly out of your estate. The federal estate tax applies to gross estates in excess of $5.43 million. The Oregon estate tax applies to gross estates in excess of $1 million, and Washington’s estate tax applies to estates in excess of $2.012 million. The tax rate at the federal level is 40%! In Oregon the tax rate tops out at 16%, and in Washington the tax rate tops out at 20%. Your estate could potentially owe a substantial amount in taxes without proper planning.

Should you have an estate that is in the range of being subject to the federal or state level estate tax, it is critical that you consult with an estate planning attorney who can assist you in preparing a plan that includes strategies that will minimize estate tax liability.

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Income Tax Planning

In addition to estate tax considerations, proper tax planning also includes efforts to reduce income tax burdens. Some techniques might involve shifting income from a taxpayer in a higher bracket to a taxpayer in a lower bracket, making proper beneficiary designations on your IRAs which will permit the beneficiary of the IRA to stretch out the distributions for the life of the beneficiary, deferring income for a period of time, or taking advantage of depreciation rules. If a taxpayer receives an asset as an inheritance, as opposed to receiving an asset as a gift during their lifetime, the later sale of that asset by the taxpayer will be treated in a much more tax favorable way. In today’s economic climate, it is important to weigh estate tax avoidance against gain that would be due on a taxpayer’s sale of a gifted asset, as opposed to an inherited asset. An estate planning attorney knowledgeable in taxation will be able to help you navigate the twists and turns of the tax code and determine which income tax reduction techniques will be most beneficial to you.

How an Estate Planning Attorney Can Help

Tax planning is not just for the wealthy. All families can benefit from the utilization of estate planning techniques designed to improve tax efficiency (and who doesn’t want to pay less in taxes?!). Gevurtz Menashe’s estate planning attorneys are well-versed in estate and income tax reduction strategies. If you would like to learn more about how taxes can affect your estate plan or how your estate plan can be more tax efficient, any one of our estate planning attorneys can assist you.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Asset Protection Strategies for Everyone

Basic steps to protect your family from a creditor attack

For many, “asset protection planning” sounds like something to be done only by the wealthy or by people working in professions with high risk for liability, such as doctors and dentists.  However, asset protection strategies are not just for the rich - anyone can get sued or run into trouble with creditors.  Therefore, everyone can take some basic steps to help protect their assets and family from creditor attack.

Obviously the goal of any asset protection attorney is to help clients protect their estates from creditor claims, but how is this done?  Fundamentally, asset protection planning involves converting assets that may be reached by creditors to assets that creditors cannot attack (or that are more difficult to attack).  For example, if you have $5,000 in a personal checking account, any creditor could easily claim access to that cash.  If, however, you contributed that $5,000 to a properly structured irrevocable trust for your children, it may be out of creditor reach. 

Another common asset protection strategy is to use business entities to protect personal assets.  For example, if you own a rental house in your name, any tenant could file a claim against your personal assets.  Transferring the rental home to a well-designed and properly-managed limited liability company (LLC) could shield your personal assets from the tenant’s claims.

Successful Asset Protection Planning starts now

One of the keys to successful asset protection planning is to start now.  If a creditor has already taken action against you, chances are you’re too late to protect your assets against ending up in the hands of a creditor.  To be most effective, asset protection planning should begin before the underlying claim arises.  This can be months or even years before a demand letter is received or lawsuit is filed.   Late-stage planning is not only potentially ineffective, it also can be illegal, as most states have fraudulent transfer laws that specifically prohibit transactions designed solely to avoid creditor liability.

Estate planning and asset protection planning go hand-in-hand.  Many estate tax reduction strategies can also help to protect your assets from creditor exposure.  Making gifts, establishing certain irrevocable family trusts and family partnerships and retitling assets are some of the strategies commonly used by asset protection attorneys.

Gevurtz Menashe’s asset protection attorneys can help your peace of mind

Having a well-designed asset protection plan can give you peace of mind that your assets and family will be protected, even in the event of a creditor attack.  Gevurtz Menashe’s estate planning attorneys can help you review your assets and potential liabilities to create an asset protection plan that works for you.
Are you interested in learning more about asset protection planning? Our Oregon and Washington estate planning team can help! Give us a call anytime! Portland: 503-227-1515 or Vancouver: 360-823-0410.

John Christianson, Of Counsel (Estate Planning)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Are You Actually Ready for a Divorce?

How do you know you are ready for a divorce?

While Gevurtz Menashe handles a myriad of family law matters, the largest part of our firm’s practice involves the dissolution of marriages. Our clients come to us at varying steps in the decision-making process. Some clients are just thinking about divorce for the first time and want to find out as much as possible before they even entertain ending their marriage. Other clients have thought about divorce for several months, even years, and are ready to move forward with the legal process. And there are a lot of people somewhere in between – not sure if their marriage is savable but not sure if they want to end their relationship in its entirety either. Many people are simply looking for more information about the process. Wherever you may be in the process, it’s important to us to provide our clients the resources and time necessary to make this very important and intimate decision. 

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Should you get a divorce?

Before we even begin our representation, we want to be sure our clients are actually ready to move forward with the divorce process.  While we are not mental health professionals ourselves, we will often ask our clients the following questions to help them evaluate whether they are ready to proceed with a divorce:
  • Have you tried marriage counseling?  While counseling is not for everyone, sometimes it can really help struggling couples learn how to communicate and work through their problems.  Alternatively, if the marriage is for certain over, couples’ counseling can sometime provide a healthy forum to communicate about divorce issues such as how to tell the children, what co-parenting in different homes looks like, etc.
  • Are there substance abuse issues that need to be addressed first?  We often encounter clients who are seeking a divorce because their spouse struggles with substance issues, and sometimes it’s our clients who have the issues themselves.  There are great in-patient and out-of patient treatment facilities in the area we refer our clients to.  There are also great programs to help spouses of substance abusers, which is equally important.  Sometimes treatment saves the marriage but even when it doesn’t, the divorce process will be much smoother if both parties are healthy and sober.
  • Have you talked about divorce with your support system?  Sometimes there are people who know us better than we know ourselves.  When making an important decision such as divorce, it’s essential to talk about it with at least one other person who you trust and can rely on.  This can be your counselor, clergy, relative, or friend.  Having a support system around you when making the decision and also as you go through the divorce process will be invaluable during each step of the way.
  • Are you and your children safe?  Most importantly, if a client’s or the children’s physical or emotional safety is at risk, we want to be sure there’s a safety plan in place to protect anyone in harm’s way.  If there is physical or emotional abuse by a party, we advise to end the relationship and seek help to protect yourself and your children, which can include legal protections.  
Although the divorce process affects all areas of our client’s life—physical, social, economic, spiritual and emotional, the court system is only able to address a very narrow slice of a very complicated situation. While we do our best to represent our clients in the legal realm, we encourage them to rely on other experts to give them guidance in these other important aspects. It’s important our clients have the emotional support necessary while we work out the legal process.

We help protect what’s most important to you

If you are interested in learning more about the divorce process in Oregon or Washington, give us a call anytime. You can also check out our attorney profiles and read more here. When you’re ready, our legal staff will work with you to schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys who will provide information and resources to help with your decision. To reach us in Portland, call 503-227-1515. For our office in Vancouver, WA, call 360-823-0410.

By Paige A. De Muniz, Shareholder

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Before You Leave: Legal Considerations for Traveling with Children

Traveling has become one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s “modern family” particularly when it comes to families of divorce. With spring break right around the corner, it’s high travel season for vacations.  Whether you’re gearing up for a fun-filled beach retreat, or a quick visit to grandma’s house, it’s important to know the legal procedures required for divorced parents with traveling children…including considering updating your estate plan.

Understanding Your Parental Rights

Do you know your parental rights when it comes to traveling? Do you have an updated parenting plan? If a planned trip by one parent with children infringes in any way on the other parent’s legally specified parenting time, the traveling parent must obtain authorization, preferably in writing, from the non-traveling parent.  Even if the trip takes place only during the traveling parent’s allocated parenting time, it is good practice to obtain a signed consent from the other parent.  The consent should confirm relevant logistical details, such as the dates of travel and specific locations of travel.  If the agreement is for “make-up parenting time,” that should also be confirmed in writing.  If problems are anticipated in obtaining a signed consent from the other parent, the parent who wants to travel should consult with an attorney as soon as possible, preferably well in advance of the travel date.  If problems actually occur, it may be appropriate to contact an experienced family law mediator and seek assistance from the mediator to work out a solution.

Prepare Your Child’s Passport Application

Do you or your ex-spouse plan on leaving the country? For a child under age 16, it is generally required that the child’s passport application be made in person with both parents or legal guardians present, unless one parent has been granted sole legal authority to apply for the child’s passport or the second parent has provided a notarized statement of consent on the U.S. State Department’s approved form.  Documents supporting the child’s passport application must also be provided at the time of the application.  The application form should be completed but not signed until the passport agent so advises.  To make it through the process without problems, a parent or other legal guardian who needs to acquire a child’s passport should start early and be well prepared—in some cases it can take a few months.  

The Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP) allows parents to register their U.S. citizen children under age 18 in the U.S. State Department’s Passport Lookout System.  The Passport Lookout System then gives all U.S. passport agencies, as well as U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, an alert on a child’s name if a parent or guardian registers an objection to passport issuance for his or her child.  If a child’s information is registered, the registering parent should then receive advanced notice of the other parent’s attempt to obtain a passport for the child.  This notice may help prevent unauthorized international travel with the child. See link to the CPIAP website HERE.

Airline Requirements for Unaccompanied Minors

Will your children travel unaccompanied? It is fairly common for children to travel by airplane for parenting time with their long-distance parent.  According to the US Department of Transportation, most airlines will permit children who have reached their fifth birthday to travel unaccompanied under certain circumstances.  Children ages 5 through 11, flying alone, must follow special “unaccompanied minor” procedures. On some airlines, these procedures are required for unaccompanied children as old as 14.  On many airlines children ages 5 through 7 will only be accepted on direct or nonstop flights and an “unaccompanied minor” fee is often charged.  Airlines generally do not permit children younger than age 5 to fly alone.  Check the website for the airline the child will be flying for specific requirements.

Resolving Travel Disputes

If one parent wants to take a child on a trip outside the U.S. and the other parent will not agree to sign a travel authorization document, the parent who wishes to travel overseas should consult an attorney. Most likely, you will petition the court to order the other parent to provide authorization.  Mediation with an experienced family law mediator might also help resolve the conflict. Sometimes the other parent will agree to authorize the travel if the parent who wants to travel provides all the pertinent details about the trip, including the date when the children will return, and if that parent also offers to provide the other parent with a reasonable amount of contact with the children during the trip, including texts, phone calls and Skype, if at all possible.

Unless the applicable court order says otherwise, the travelling parent is not required to “check-in” with the other parent during their trip.  However, given today’s technology, communication is much easier to achieve and highly recommended.   By facilitating brief check-ins with the other parent, challenges down the road may be prevented allowing for more future family travel fun.

Estate Planning Considerations

Do you have an updated will? Traveling carries with it the risks of illness, injury and other unexpected conditions.  Before heading out of town, spring breakers should review their wills and estate plans to make sure they have properly planned for these risks.  Wills and revocable trusts should be reviewed and updated so that proper fiduciaries are appointed and distribution plans reflect current wishes.  Travelers should also consider who they have named under their durable powers of attorney and health care directives.  Depending on the trip, it might make sense to name a different (or alternate) person to serve under these documents.  If traveling without minor children (or if minor children are traveling alone), parents should ensure that non-parent caretakers are properly authorized to consent to medical treatment on behalf of the children.

If you are planning your next vacation and would like to learn more about your parental rights and or updating your estate plans, we are here to help! Contact us or give us a call at our Portland office: 503-227-1515. For Vancouver call: 360-823-0410.

By Kathryn S. Root, Shareholder and John J. Christianson, Of Counsel

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Divorce Advice: Key Conversations to Have Before You Head for Divorce

No one plans on getting divorced. We marry with the expectation that love will last, but sometimes it doesn't always work out that way. Work, kids, life—so many pressures intervene and alter our expectations of what a relationship should be and how our lives will unfold.

How to know if youre ready for divorce

Two key questions confront us as we contemplate divorce. First, is the relationship worth saving? And second, what will life after divorce be like? Choosing some trusted advisers—a "divorce team," if you will—can help you discover the answers to these and other important questions.  
Talk to a mental health therapist.  If your partner won’t go, go by yourself.  Most relationships end because of poor communication, and communication skills can be learned. A therapist can help you to identify the root causes of the dysfunction in your relationship and to decide whether the problems can be solved and how. 
Talk to a friend.  Our friends are our best resources for seeing our lives from a neutral perspective. Is your partner abusive? Do they have a substance abuse problem? Can you change the ways in which you respond to each other? Or is one or both of you unwilling or unable to change?
Talk to a lawyer. This can be a frightening prospect at first, but a divorce lawyer will talk through your situation and provide the information that is applicable to you and your circumstances. How will your property be divided? What are the likely support arrangements? Who will care for the children? How will the other parent be involved? What is the cost? What ways are available to pay for the divorce? Deciding on an attorney who can help you through the process is important. Our firm’s attorneys provide regular counsel to all types of families and situations. You can call your state bar association for a referral as well.
Talk to a financial planner.  Most families can’t really afford to divorce and maintain the same lifestyle afterward. It costs more to maintain two households. Your life after divorce is likely to be more financially constrained, at least initially. A financial planner can take the information you discover from talking to the divorce lawyer and help you understand how you will live on less. 
Talk to another lawyer. Estate planning is one of those life tasks that we put off too easily. Divorce is a key time to revisit our estate plans, and there’s no need to wait.  Sit down with an estate planning lawyer at the beginning so that you have a plan. Start changing beneficiary designations and the like when it makes sense to do so; don't wait for the entire divorce to unfold before making these changes. 
It is scary to confront the possibility of divorce, but the reality is a lot easier if you have proper support. Start working now on putting together your team. The worst thing that can happen is, you’ll never need them. But having your advisers assembled will help you make the big decisions that lie ahead. 

Contact a divorce attorney to learn more

If you would like to learn more about the divorce process, any one of our divorce attorneys can help. You can read more about them here. If you are ready to schedule an appointment with a family law lawyer in Oregon or Washington, please call 503-227-1515 for a Portland divorce attorney, or a Vancouver attorney at 360-823-0410

By Mark Johnson Roberts, Of Counsel

Monday, February 23, 2015

Albert Menashe comments on new Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Albert Menashe comments on new Oregon Governor Kate Brown.  KGW News Channel 8, February 15th, 2015.