Elements of an Effective Parenting Plan

Whenever a divorce proceeding takes place and children are involved, issues of child custody and visitation inevitably arise. The goal for everyone involved should be to design a custody and visitation arrangement (also called a “parenting plan”) that effectively addresses the health, education, and well-being of the children.

Typically, parenting plans are organized into two components:

Legal custody: This refers to which parent is responsible for making key decisions affecting the child’s daily life, most often those involving education, religious practice, medical needs, and extracurricular activities. As with physical custody, legal custody can also be either sole or joint,
though joint legal custody entitles each parent to participate in decisions about their children’s lives (even if they don’t agree on all of these decisions). In California, the presumption is that both parties can share legal custody, with exceptions where circumstances dictate that one parent should have sole legal custody—as in situations involving domestic violence, abuse, and abandonment.

Physical custody: This relates specifically to where children live and how best to organize their activities. With sole or primary custody, the child lives with one parent most of the time and visits the other parent. With joint custody, a child lives with both parents. In either case, certain questions need to be answered, including: Where should children live during the week and on weekends? Which parent is in charge of the children and at which times? How do children get from one parent to the other?

Physical custody also addresses the issue of each parent’s visitation rights. In my experience, visitation rights can be anything from “no rights” to having the children half (50%) of the time. Additionally, a parent can receive rights to supervised visitation, which generally involves the presence of a third party who monitors a parent’s time with his or her child; although the parties
may agree to have a parent supervise the other parent, especially when it is in the child’s best interest, such as when a parent has previously had little to no contact with the child, to ease the previously-absent parent into the child’s life. Factors determining the need for supervised visitation may include, but are not limited to:

-The child’s relationship to the parent
-Any history of domestic abuse
-A parent’s detrimental conduct (e.g. alcohol or drug abuse)

I believe that generally when it comes to determining these concerns, parents are uniquely positioned to make the best judgment call. In the vast majority of cases, parents have greater personal knowledge of what’s best for their children. By contrast, other participants in a court proceeding—such as lawyers, judges, and other mediators—generally know much less about the
children’s own personal past, present, and future needs.

When parents are sincerely motivated to do what’s best for their children, the results are generally very favorable. Parents know their strengths and limitations best. If they focus on the kids, they can (and should) be able to work things out between themselves.

If this isn’t possible, it’s time to consult a family law attorney and get assistance in creating a workable parenting plan for the future.

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer a free consultation on a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, estate planning to criminal/DUI matters, and landlord/tenant disputes.

Is Getting a Premarital Agreement a Good Idea?

A premarital agreement (more commonly known as a “prenup”) can be helpful for two parties anticipating marriage in the near future. This document, which must be committed to paper and signed by both parties, is meant to offset some of the issues partners may face should they later
end up in divorce or legal separation.

What’s addressed in a pre-nup and what’s left out

Most issues that can come up during divorce or legal separation can be addressed in a premarital agreement, including spousal support (how much, how long, etc.); the characterization of property (separate or community); property division; and debt characterization and division. In other words, the premarital agreement is useful for covering most of the key areas of potential
dispute should the parties decide to separate.

What the premarital agreement doesn’t address is anything relating to the children of a marriage or domestic partnership. As the courts have determined, the best interests of children can’t be anticipated at the outset of a marriage. All issues relating to children’s needs must be addressed at the time those needs arise.

The terms of a premarital agreement may be altered during marriage if one party or the other does something contrary to its original terms—for example, the husband brings a house into the marriage but later deeds the property over to his wife or arrange for joint ownership. In legal terms, this is called a “transmutation of asset.” Any deliberate changes to the agreement must be
outlined in a written agreement signed by both parties (e.g. amendment or post-nuptial agreement).

What to do before seeing an attorney

Of course, talking about the possibility that your upcoming marriage might fail isn’t a pleasant topic. But if you and your spouse/partner decide a premarital agreement is a good idea, don’t wait until you’re in the attorney’s office to start discussing details.

I can’t emphasize this strongly enough. Not only will discussions between you and your partner save money in attorney’s fees, it’s far preferable to iron out any differences ahead of time. This way, when you do meet with a lawyer, you both come in knowing (or at least having a good idea) about how you see the terms of this proposed prenup.

However, keep this in mind – while a premarital agreement is generally enforceable by law, it is not absolute. Courts can disregard a prenup for a variety of reasons. But it is valuable, nevertheless, because when a divorce or legal separation becomes necessary, this document serves as evidence that both parties anticipated and agreed upon certain terms before the
marriage took place. In most courts of law, a prenup will be given the same consideration as any other evidence submitted in a divorce proceeding.

A final important tip: Don’t make an appointment to initially consult an attorney on a prenup a couple of days before the wedding. Most premarital agreements take anywhere from two weeks to several months to prepare, negotiate, revise and then execute and sign. And the law has a built-in, seven-day required window between the time the prenup is presented to each party and the time the agreement is signed. Waiting until the last minute to address this topic will only delay your happy event.

Is a prenup right for you? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law, estate planning, bankruptcy, DUIs and landlord/tenant disputes.

What a Prenuptial Agreement Can and Cannot Do

A pre-nuptial agreement (also called a “prenup”) is a legal contract between two people who intend to get married. This document defines each party’s respective rights and obligations, should the marriage eventually go down the path of divorce or legal separation.

Can be used as evidence in a court of law

In California, prenups are governed by rules outlined in the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act. Such an agreement can be drafted to address present and future property rights, as well as either party’s future entitlement to spousal support and (in a very limited sense) issues relating to any
children the couple might have.

In a court of law, the prenuptial agreement represents a contract that may be enforceable or, at the least, used as evidence of what each party intended at the time they got married. While the court may find a reason to invalidate a part or parts of the prenup, the document can still be used as evidence of each individual’s prior intentions.

To make the prenup more enforceable, it must (a) be drafted under the rules of the Uniform Act and (b) include a stipulation that, at the time of creating the agreement, each party receives a full financial disclosure from the other party—including a complete list of assets, debts, and respective incomes. Each party must then be allowed seven days to review the document before signing it, during which they can, and should, seek the advice of an attorney if they don’t already have one.

Make the best decision for your future

What can be included in a prenup:

  • Under California law, almost anything acquired during the marriage, be it income, property, or debts, is presumed to be community property. This means either party is entitled to half of the assets or responsible for half of the debts, regardless of who acquired them. In some cases, a prenup can alter that presumption—not only by defining assets coming into the marriage as the separate property of the person bringing them into the relationship but also by identifying a person’s acquisitions during the marriage (wages, bank accounts, etc.) as being in that party’s separate property.
  • Both parties may agree on either a waiver of spousal support or other limitations on one
    person’s entitlement to spousal support—that is, the maximum amount of support
    allowed or the maximum duration of payments of spousal support allowed.
  • The parties may agree on other terms of support that courts don’t usually consider, such
    as a child’s eventual college expenses. The prenup can stipulate that one party will
    assume the burden of paying those expenses, an issue usually beyond the court’s
    jurisdiction.

What cannot be included in a prenup:

  • Any terms deemed “unconscionable”—for example, a plastic surgeon earning $500,000 a year is unlikely to be permitted to insist on a waiver of spousal support from his fiancé, a teacher in the public school system, who earns vastly less.
  • Provisions pertaining to child custody, visitation, and child support terms are not allowed in this document.
  • A prenup cannot include terms of “punishment,” such as “If he cheats on me, I get damages of $50,000.”

Should couples intending to get married have a pre-nuptial agreement? The answer varies depending on the individual circumstances, but I believe it’s always a good idea to know what you’re bringing into the marriage and what you’d like to have, should the marriage come to an end. Whatever the case, enlist the services of an experienced attorney to make sure you arrive at
the best decision about your future.

Getting married or just have any questions regarding the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offers a free consultation on a variety of issues, ranging from family law, bankruptcy, debt collection defense, estate planning, criminal defense, DUIs, and general civil matters.

The Pros and Cons of Alternate Dispute Resolutions

Taking your case to court can be costly and time-consuming. In my opinion, it should only happen when there’s no other way for the disputing parties to reach some middle ground. That’s why it’s good to know about other options, such as negotiated settlements, also known in legal circles as Alternate Dispute Resolutions (ADRs).

Each type of negotiated settlement comes with advantages and disadvantages. Here’s how different ADRs stack up:

Settlement Conference

Generally involves the individuals in dispute and their representatives meeting together in-person, over the phone or online, and attempting to resolve the issue themselves.

PRO: Doesn’t require a third-party who’s unfamiliar with the individuals involved or the particulars of their dispute.

CON: No guarantee a settlement conference will work, since the reason parties are in litigation in the first place is because they couldn’t resolve the issue.

Mediation

This type of negotiation includes a professional mediator hired by both sides to try to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. The mediator may or may not be a lawyer, but is almost always trained (and often certified) in mediation techniques. He or she usually has knowledge of the applicable law.

PRO: When both parties are at a standstill, getting a knowledgeable outsider’s perspective can be very helpful. Also, it’s also a good way to see if your position has what’s called “legal standing”—that is, if it’s reasonable and has a decent chance of prevailing.

CON: Hiring a skilled mediator adds to legal expenses, since this individual can charge as much or more than your own attorney does. (The cost is generally split between both parties.) It’s still cheaper than taking a case to court.

Arbitration

This type of proceeding is less formal than a trial but more formal than mediation. The arbitrator, (an individual or multi-person arbitration panel), is a neutral third-party. Both sides in the dispute decide beforehand whether the arbitrator’s decision will be binding or non-binding. (In my experience, binding arbitration is a useful option when a settlement conference or mediation is unsuccessful.)

PRO: Encourages cooperation and a non-hostile approach toward resolving an issue. Also, it’s cheaper and faster than litigation. The rules of evidence and procedure are simpler than those in a court of law. And arbitration proceedings are typically confidential, saving both sides any potential embarrassment or the release of private information.

CON: Costs can add up when choosing both an arbitrator and a venue for the negotiated settlement. If both parties determine the decision will be binding, it’s very difficult to appeal or “vacate” the decision at a later time.

If you’re involved in a legal issue, talk to your lawyer about seeking an alternative dispute resolution that’s suits your specific situation.

Are you in need of legal counseling? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from bankruptcy, family law and estate planning to traffic violations and landlord/tenant disputes.

Protect Your Assets by Keeping Records

When two people fall in love and decide to get married, they don’t want to consider the possibility that at some time in the future they may no longer feel the same way about each other – and that the experience of separation and divorce might turn ugly over issues of community assets and debt obligations.

Sadly, as we all know, this scenario happens all too frequently. But while divorce is an unhappy topic to consider before such a happy occasion as marriage, I believe it’s vitally important to do so. A well-considered and expertly crafted pre-nuptial agreement can set out rights and responsibilities, address issues of property characterization, and minimize the potential legal
costs involved in a lengthy and contentious divorce.

Division is right down the middle

Here’s a common problem I see in my practice: A client comes in who’s been married for 10+ years but doesn’t have a prenup. This person is very unhappy at the prospect of having to divide practically everything he or she owns 50-50 – as generally is required by California community property law. Why? Because, the client says that they came into the marriage with substantial assets acquired well before anyone said, “I do.”

Since California is a community property state, we start with the assumption that, when it comes to property that has been acquired in the course of a marriage, (that is, all the assets as well as debt obligations), the division almost every time will be right down the middle.

A possible exception occurs in cases where domestic violence is involved. If the court determines that one person has been severely injured and is leaving the marriage with substantially diminished capacity to acquire new assets and income, he or she may be entitled to more than a 50-50 division of assets and debts.

The importance of “tracing”

But what about assets and debts acquired either before the marriage or after separation? The key to asserting one’s exclusive rights to property acquired before marriage or after separation is through what’s known as “tracing.” If you can trace the timing of the acquisition of an asset to a date either prior to the marriage or after you and your spouse/partner separated, the court will, in
most cases, take this as proof of separate property belonging to the person who acquired it. The same principle applies to assignment of debt in the divorce.

But tracing depends on accurate documentation – and that’s where many of us fall short. As in the long-term marriage I mentioned above, it’s easy to lose track of any documents you might have concerning the acquisition of assets 10, 15, or 20 years ago. Unless you can produce such documentation, it will be very difficult to establish that any specific asset should be deemed your
separate property.

Things get further complicated when you have to reach out for assistance with documents. Many institutions like banks, expunge records after five years or more. So when it comes to obtaining financial and investment information from long ago, unless you’ve kept good records on your own, you may be out of luck.

I can’t stress this strongly enough. Print out your important documents, (bank statements, credit card statements, etc.), and keep them locked away. You never know when a particular document will prove useful in court.

How can you attempt to avoid all this drama and turmoil? Look into having a pre-marital agreement, even if it casts a momentary shadow over your upcoming wedding celebrations. It’s by far the best way for both parties in a marriage to identify and protect their separate assets and minimize the possibility of being liable for the other’s pre-marital debt obligations, if things take a turn for the worse somewhere down the road.

Is a prenup right for you or just have any questions regarding the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law, estate planning, bankruptcy, and DUIs and landlord/tenant disputes.

What Happens in Small Claims Court?

Clients sometimes come to my office regarding a claim they have on a defaulted personal loan or they want to retrieve a security deposit from a landlord or have some other matter where money is due them. In many cases, the amount they claim is too small to warrant being handled in a
civil court of general jurisdiction, nor does it justify hiring a lawyer to represent them. In cases like these, generally the best option is to bring the matter to small claims court.

In small claims court, the person who brings the action is called the “plaintiff,” and the person being sued is the “defendant.” With the occasional exception, (e.g. corporations), neither side is allowed to have a lawyer present at the small claims hearing, though it is often acceptable and well-advised to speak to a lawyer before or after the court proceeding.

What types of cases go to small claims court? Here are some typical examples:

  • Disputes regarding property damage
  • Personal injuries following a motor vehicle accident
  • Landlord/tenant security deposits
  • Property damage allegedly caused by a neighbor
  • Disagreement with a contractor concerning a home repair or improvement project
  • Dispute in a homeowner association
  • Collection of money owed

Generally speaking, the highest dollar amount an individual plaintiff in small claims court can ask for is $10,000. (Small businesses and government entities are usually restricted to no more than $5,000.) Once both sides have made their case, the matter is left to the small claims judge to decide. Actually, most small claims matters are heard by “temporary” or “pro tem judges,” who are attorneys who have practiced law in California for at least ten years and who volunteer to assist the court in certain types of cases.

The person who brings a dispute to small claims court may also be entitled to receive costs from the defendant. “Costs” refers to filing fees, witness fees, the expense involved in notifying the person you’re suing, etc. The plaintiff may request the court to add these costs to the judgment—the amount of money the court determines should be paid to you.

Issues in small claims court are generally resolved in a rapid and inexpensive manner. Unlike a matter in civil court, which can go on for many months, a case in small claims court is typically heard within 20 to 60 days from the date the claim is filed. Keep in mind – the dockets for most small claims courts are extremely full, you must be ready to present your side as quickly as
possible. When I meet with clients who are scheduled to appear in small claims courts, I advise them to be sure they’re thoroughly prepared ahead of time. This means having evidence on hand to back up your claim, such as:

  • Bills
  • Contracts
  • Receipts/cancelled checks
  • Witness testimony—Usually the witness is required to attend the proceeding
  • Photographs
  • Letters
  • Any other relevant and supporting documents

As noted, both plaintiffs and defendants represent themselves in the small claims court setting. I recommend clients should dress respectably, (a sloppy appearance won’t do anything to help your case), be polite, and reasonable in their presentation.

Small claims court serves a useful purpose in settling certain types of disputes. If you feel you have an issue that seems appropriate for this venue, I advise you to contact an attorney experienced in small claims cases beforehand. The knowledge you can gain may prove extremely helpful when you find yourself standing before the small claims judge.

Do you think you may have grounds for a lawsuit but are worried that it may cost too much to bring it to court? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offers a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law, estate planning, bankruptcy, and DUIs and civil matters.

What does “Spousal Support” Mean?

Spousal support, (formerly known as “alimony”), refers to the obligation of one party in a marriage or domestic partnership to provide support to their former spouse or partner. California Family Code Section 4320 lays out numerous factors by which a court is mandated to award spousal support. These factors include:

  • Duration of marriage
  • Available resources (including assets and income) of the person seeking spousal support
  • Ability of the other party to provide resources to the supported spouse
  • The reasonable needs and lifestyle requirements of the supported spouse

Spousal support is usually based on how much the supported spouse believes she needs, (for purposes of this post, I’ll use “he” for supporting spouse and “she” for supported spouse), and how much the supporting spouse believes he can pay. Somewhere between these two figures, a final number is determined.

In general, the issue of spousal support revolves around the style of living established during the marriage or domestic partnership. Let’s use this hypothetical example to explain:

Ron is a cardiologist married to Sheila, a schoolteacher. When they first got married, they agreed Sheila would be a stay-at-home mom. She quit her job, thus depriving herself of an income and moved from a rental apartment to an expensive house in La Jolla. During the course of their marriage, Sheila established a very comfortable lifestyle in their exclusive neighborhood. She
had friends there and the couple sent their two children to a costly, local private school.

At some point, Ron and Sheila decide to separate. Sheila is unable to maintain this lifestyle on her own, nor can she realistically expect to do so even if she gets a job. Thus, under the law, she is reasonably entitled to spousal support that will help her live the same style of life to which she’s become accustomed. The question, of course, is how much and for how long? At this point, Ron will be obligated to either accept the terms of spousal support Sheila requests or to demonstrate (a) that he’s unable to make such payments or (b) that his separated spouse is over-inflating her anticipated expenses and/or understating her expected income and resources. If the parties can’t agree on a figure, the issue goes before a Family Court judge.

There’s a common misconception that you can only get spousal support if you’ve been married or in a domestic partnership for a certain amount of time. The truth is, anyone can assert an entitlement to spousal support, no matter how long the marriage/partnership lasted. Typically, the Court’s reasoning goes as follows:

  • A marriage of 10 years or more: Unless the two parties can agree on a date to terminate
    spousal support, the obligation to pay support will continue until the supporting party can
    convince a court that this obligation should come to an end (if, for instance, his ex-wife
    now earns enough to support herself).
  • A marriage of less than 10 years: The two parties can agree on a date of termination for
    spousal support or the Court has some discretion to order a termination date. While this is
    not absolute, the unwritten practice is that the obligation lasts for roughly half the length
    of the marriage.

In my years of practice in this field of law, I’ve encountered many supporting spouses who feel aggravated by the ongoing obligation to support their ex-spouse. I try to lessen the aggravation somewhat by reminding them that, unlike child support, spousal support can be claimed as a deduction on their income taxes and that the supported party has to report what they receive as
income on their taxes. A silver lining? Maybe just a little.

Wondering what you might face should your spouse or partner file for a dissolution of marriage/partnership or legal separation? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from bankruptcy, family law and estate planning to traffic violations and landlord/tenant disputes.

To Stash or Not to Stash: Do I Have to Disclose Everything I own in a Divorce Proceeding?

People who come to my office seeking assistance with a divorce often ask one of two questions, and sometimes both:

  • “Do I have to tell my spouse about everything I own or owe?”
  • “What happens if my spouse is hiding an asset?”

These are important issues that need to be addressed, since the process of dividing assets and debts can determine the quality of life for both partners following their divorce. Any attempts to hide property or mislead the other person by failing to disclose can have serious consequences for everyone involved.

In the course of a legal separation or divorce, California law dictates that each spouse must provide complete information about all of his or her assets (such as property, vehicles, financial accounts, business interests, etc.) and debt (loans, credit card payments, etc.). The statements made by each spouse concerning assets and debts are contained in what’s called a Schedule of
Assets and Debts, and may also be disclosed in Community and/or Separate Property Declarations.

During the legal proceedings, each party is required to serve their financial disclosures on the other party and file a declaration confirming such service of disclosures with the court. Any Judgment of divorce or legal separation entered without such disclosures is generally considered void under California law.

In a situation where there’s an unintentional omission of assets, the court (once alerted to this omission) usually readdresses the division of property to make sure there has been a fair and equal division of assets overall. With an intentional omission of assets, (such as the concealment of a party’s stock options or undeclared cash in the bank), the court may award the other party
more than the typical 50 percent of the community property asset — sometimes up to 100 percent! The court may also demand that the offending party pay attorney fees and costs as sanctions for having to litigate this issue.

So how can one party find out if their spouse or partner is deliberately hiding assets?

A lot depends on the complexity of the particular case, but in general, legal professionals can call upon several resources to obtain information about undisclosed assets. During what’s called the “discovery process,” one party’s attorney can formally request production of relevant documents
and other information from the other party or invoke the power of subpoena to third parties to get necessary information and/or documentation handed over. There’s also the option of hiring a private investigator to do an “asset search”—the results of which are regularly admissible in court.

What happens if a hidden asset is discovered after the division of assets has been completed? Unless otherwise ordered, the court maintains jurisdiction to address this issue should it arise, even after judgment has been rendered. An undisclosed asset can be subject to a further court order after the divorce has been finalized, so long as it is promptly thereafter brought to the
court’s attention.

Post-Judgment penalties for concealing or misrepresenting one’s assets or debts may include payment of the other party’s attorney fees and costs, a dismissal of any of his or her own claims, reallocation of asset and debt division (if possible) and, even, incarceration. That’s why the safest rule of thumb in a divorce proceeding is to always disclose your assets and debts.

Any situation where significant assets or debts are concerned may be too complicated for the parties to resolve on their own. Consulting an experienced family law attorney is your best bet to ensure a proper division of assets and debts before the divorce or legal separation proceeding comes to a close.

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topic? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf offer a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.

Take Care of Your Legal Needs

It’s more than half way through the year so this is a great time to take care of some essential legal planning responsibilities – and you’ll feel much better when you do.

Estate planning

Many people mistakenly think of an estate plan as something that matters only when they die, but there’s really much more to it than that. With a thorough and carefully prepared plan in place, your loved ones won’t have to experience the additional stress of wondering about your final wishes (health, financial, etc.) should you become physically incapacitated and unable to share those wishes during a highly emotional time.

If you already have an existing estate plan, take the opportunity to review the plan so it reflects any changes that took place prior to now. Such changes might have included:

  • Got divorced or remarried
  • Blessed with the birth or adoption of an additional child in the family
  • Need to remove or replace an agent or beneficiary who passed away
  • New wishes for how you want to have your medical needs addressed

It’s also important to note that, depending on when you first created your estate plan, California law may have changed in ways that invalidate some provisions (or at least affected them so they’re no longer practical). In my legal practice, for example, I’ve come across very old estate plans that haven’t been modified to accommodate requirements under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and/or the California Probate Code. Without being updated, such plans could run into serious legal problems at a later date; the same problems you have sought to avoid by creating your estate plan in the first place.

Now’s a good time to check with an experienced lawyer to make sure your estate plan is still legally valid and will carry out your wishes, and, if you do not have an estate plan in place, get to it!

Debt relief

Are you one of the many, many Americans who have been accumulating considerable debt lately? Rather than wallow in this predicament, take advantage of free consultation offered by many debt relief attorneys (including myself)!

We can help you design proactive ways to resolve your debt and gain control of your financial situation, so you can actually move forward without this enormous weight on your shoulders. Don’t wait for debt collectors to start coming after you!

Take action

Stop procrastinating! It’s understandable that people put off their legal planning—after all, approaching a lawyer about estate planning or debt relief or any other legal matter seems like a severely negative thing, and most of us naturally drag our feet on these issues, sometimes until it is too late. But think how much better you’ll feel after you address and resolve these matters directly.

For families and individuals who have enrolled in legal insurance plans, such as Hyatt Legal Plans, ARAG, Workplace Options or Legal Access/LegalEASE and Legal Resources, I suggest you take a closer look at what these plans have to offer. Many plans provide full-service benefits for legal matters like estate planning and debt relief. They’re also very helpful for general legal advice on a wide range of legal matters.

Remember—you don’t have to wait until you’re facing a lawsuit (or initiating one) to get in touch with an attorney. We can help you cope with many of life’s challenges and free you up for other important goals in the coming year.

Are you in need of legal counseling or have any questions about the above topics? The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf, APC offer a free consultation in a variety of issues, ranging from family law/divorce, bankruptcy, and estate planning to criminal/DUI matters and landlord/tenant disputes.

A Policy You Didn’t Know You Needed – Legal Insurance Policy

Ever had an unexpected legal matter come up and you didn’t know what to do or who to turn to? Legal services have increased during the pandemic. Coping with a legal issue can be expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally overwhelming. Many employers offer a legal insurance plan as part of their employment benefits but those who sign up tend to forget they have it.

A legal insurance plan is similar to a health insurance plan. (Keep in mind this is not liability insurance either.) By enrolling with an employer’s plan, a small monthly amount is deducted from their paycheck. Employees then can gain access to a nationwide network of high quality legal services, attorneys, and legal resources without the costly legal fees. The legal plan provides a list of approved attorneys for you to choose from. When an attorney accepts your case, they submit a claim to the legal insurance plan provider, usually with little to no further expense to you (beyond minor out-of-pocket costs). Some policies may reimburse you for seeking out-of-network services or offer a discount to their legal services.

Every legal insurance plan provider has its own policies and procedures, but in general they cover a full range of personal legal matters such as the following:

Depending upon which legal insurance plan your employer subscribes to, you may have access to these benefits:

Advice and office consultations. Call an attorney for free advice and/or office consultation. Get guidance on your legal rights in a given situation, as well as access to various online tools and resources. This benefit could lead to preventing a serious legal situation from occurring in the first place.

A resource in times of legal trouble. Should you need a lawyer for any of the cases mentioned above (or others), through your insurance plan, you’ll be in a great position to find the right person for your needs. 

Financial benefits: Review the policy’s coverage for services, rates, discounts that are offered. If you’re unsure what legal benefits your employer provides, I urge you to review the policy with your boss or HR representative. Knowing this ahead of time will have you prepared to know your options.

This employer-provided benefit can reduce the stress of anyone with a legal issue, as well as the time and expense involved. You will feel more in control of the situation and closer to resolving the issue and moving on with your life. Legal insurance coverage is a valuable resource to have access to.

The Law Offices of Ian S. Topf belong to a variety of employer-provided legal insurance plans. Contact us for more information about getting a free consultation .