All attorneys of the Miller, Zimmerman & Evans law firm have been asked to join the recently-founded Jack D. Levin Family Law American Inns of Court of Greater Des Moines as inaugural members. The mission of this prestigious organization, made up of judges and attorneys, is to inspire the legal community to advance the rule of law by achieving the highest level of professionalism through example, education, and mentoring. Donna Miller will serve as a Master of the Bench in the organization.
Most people expect to be billed hourly when they hire an attorney. Hourly billing requires a retainer to be paid up front so the attorney can bill against it in either .1 (sometimes .2) increments. Most attorneys operate under this billing structure.
What most people don’t know is that many attorneys offer flat feel billing options. Flat fee billing is where the attorney charges a single flat fee, plus court costs, for the entire action. In regards to divorces, attorneys generally offer flat fee billing for uncontested cases, both with and without children.
There are several advantages to flat fee billing in family law cases. First and foremost, clients know exactly how much it will cost to get divorced. Since one of the most common complaints clients have is cost, flat fee billing resolves this issue by addressing cost upfront, allowing the client to plan appropriately. Flat fee billing also limits the amount of fee disputes and issues with attorney withdrawal.
Flat fee billing has its disadvantages as well. One disadvantage is that the fee is based on the average cost of an action. If the client’s action is much simpler than the average case, the client ends up paying more. Another disadvantage, specific to family law, is that some cases start off uncontested and become contested as the case progresses. Generally, when this happens, the case becomes an ‘hourly billing’ case and the attorney begins billing based on his or her hours spent working on the case.
Flat fee billing can be an excellent option for those considering divorce. At Miller, Zimmerman & Evans, we offer flat fee uncontested divorces – $1,500 for divorces with no children; $1,800 for divorces with children. This amount does not include court costs. If the divorce ends up being contested, we simply switch clients over to an hourly rate.
Please call us if with any questions.
The answer is “maybe.” In Iowa, cohabitation with another person does not automatically result in a reduction or termination of alimony. This is because cohabitation has too many variables that affect the rights of the paying party and recipient.
But, the paying party can file a petition to modify an existing alimony award, and argue that cohabitation is a substantial change in circumstances requiring the court to either lower or terminate alimony.
The initial burden rests on the paying party to prove that the recipient is cohabitating with an unrelated person. The paying party must also prove that the recipient and unrelated person are cohabitating as spouses would. Courts put significant weight on whether the recipient and/or unrelated person have unrestricted access to the home, demonstrating that the recipient is living with the unrelated person.
Once the paying party proves their initial burden, the burden then shifts to the recipient to demonstrate why alimony should continue. The recipient can show an ongoing need for payments. For example, courts have recognized medical issues and the recipient’s inability to find employment as ongoing needs. Or, the recipient can argue that the original alimony award is unmodifiable. This is appropriate when the alimony was awarded for reimbursement or rehabilitation purposes.
Before moving, we suggest you talk to an attorney.
The logistics of custody and visitation are often difficult to agree upon, and when one parent has moved or is planning to relocate out of state, it can be even more difficult. To help, we recommend parents consider the following:
It is incredibly helpful when dealing with out-of-state visitation for both parties to be flexible. Ideally, both parties will be prepared to give a little and recognize that for out-of-state visitation to work, it may not always be possible to split holidays in the same way that families living in the same city might be able to do. They may want or need to consider alternate holidays instead. While this may not be ideal, it’s often the best way to ensure both parents have a chance to build and maintain close relationships with the child. Also, keep in mind that custody schedules should always focus on what’s best for the child – not what’s most convenient for the parents.
The expense associated with visitation for out of state parents is something that those who live in the same city never have to consider. For parents located several hours away from one another, the reality is that shuttling back and forth can get pricey. Airplane tickets are very expensive, and even gas money and hotels for those driving adds up, especially over time. Make sure you consider who will be responsible for paying these costs when negotiating any settlement agreement. The more detailed the plans are, the less likely there will be disputes later on.
Even those with the most flexible schedules won’t be able to spend the time they may want with their child, as the distance may simply be too hard to entirely overcome. As a result, it’s important that out-of-state parents be given time to communicate with the child when he or she is at the other parent’s house. Determine whether you need a set schedule, a minimum number of contacts per week, or some other arrangement to ensure that you can keep in touch with your child, whether by phone calls, emails, text messages, or video conferences. This will allow you to play a more active role in the child’s life without being physically present.
Traditional spousal support is typically awarded in long-term marriages to provide the recipient spouse with a standard of living comparable to that experienced during the marriage. When determining whether to award traditional spousal support, a judge will consider the factors set forth in Iowa Code §598.21A(1). Probably the most important factors are: the duration of the marriage, the earning capability of the spouses, and property distribution.
Once a judge determines that traditional spousal support is warranted, he must then determine the amount and length of support to be paid. Since the amount of traditional spousal support is established based on an analysis of multiple factors, it is difficult to determine the amount a judge will order. As a guideline, the Iowa Supreme Court recently provided some guidance in In re Marriage of Gust. The Court stated that an award of spousal support equal to thirty-one percent of the difference in the parties’ yearly income is not unreasonable. This is only a guideline, not a set equation.
Courts must also determine the duration of payments when awarding traditional spousal support. Traditional spousal support generally terminates at the death of either party or if the recipient spouse remarries. Cohabitation and retirement of the payor spouse are generally considered a substantial change in circumstance, which may allow for the modification of the spousal support order. In certain circumstances, typically marriages over 30-years or when it is clear the recipient spouse will not be able to support herself at the marital standard of living, unlimited traditional spousal support may be appropriate.
While there is some guidance from the Supreme Court, awards for spousal support vary, and it is good to talk to an experienced attorney about the particular facts in your case will likely result in an award for support. We would be happy to assist you with this evaluation.