Frequently Asked Questions
About the Firm
- How many lawyers are there?
- We have eight lawyers. Five partners: Heather A. Cooper, David L. Ginsberg, Daniel L. Gray, Nathan J. Olson, and Robert M. Worster III, and three associates: Adele M. Garmirian, Kristen L. Kugel, and Stephanie J. Smith.
- How large is the firm?
- We have fifteen employees, consisting of eight attorneys and seven staff members. Partners include: Heather A. Cooper, David L. Ginsberg, Daniel L. Gray, Nathan J. Olson, and Robert M. Worster III, and Associate Attorneys are Adele M. Garmirian, Kristen L. Kugel, and Stephanie J. Smith. Two paralegals support the attorneys: Joanne B. Randa, and Cheri H. Federici. Dr. Leah Nathan is the firm's Domestic Relations Consultant. Administrative assistants are Dawn A. Matthews and Morgan A. McMellen, and Lauren M. Oufiero is the firm's Billing Manager. We have one office manager: Robert A. Kotwicki.
- Is the firm “aggressive?”
- Many clients ask us this question, which is difficult to answer. We strongly disagree with a “scorched earth” approach to family law litigation, firmly believing that no family is served by an expensive and bruising court battle. However, there are times when one spouse decides to be unreasonable; a party may have a serious disability such as alcoholism, or when an opposing counsel takes unreasonable positions. Our attorneys have all dealt with such scenarios numerous times. We counsel our clients not to play games or fight dirty, but we will aggressively protect your interests should the need arise.
- What do you charge?
- We charge an hourly billing rate. You are billed based upon the amount of time our attorneys and staff spend on your case. When you retain the firm, you pay a sum of money called a “retainer.” This retainer stays in our escrow account. As time is billed on your case, money is drawn out of the retainer escrow account to cover the expense. If any funds remain at the end of the case, they are returned to you.
- This law firm does not offer a flat fee for its family law services. Please refer to the Fees section of our website for further information and for tips on keeping your fees and costs down.
- Do you offer free consultations?
- No. We charge for initial consultations at the normal hourly rate of the attorney with whom you meet. Typically, initial consultations last approximately one hour.
- Where does the firm practice?
- The firm practices law in all Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun, Prince William and surrounding counties. A few of our attorneys are admitted to practice in other states (District of Columbia, Maryland and Pennsylvania) although non-Virginia cases are generally referred to lawyers specializing in those jurisdictions.
- Should I file on fault or no fault grounds
- The decision to file a lawsuit for divorce is a weighty one. A fault-based divorce can be very expensive and filled with animosity. However, there may be valid reasons for filing a fault-based divorce. For example, there is no waiting period to file for divorce on the fault grounds of adultery. Circumstances may require that a fault based divorce be filed to obtain immediate relief from the court. Only you can make the decision, and only after you have discussed all the ramifications with your lawyer.
- Does it matter who files for divorce first
- Generally, filing first provides no real or lasting advantage or benefit. However, it may be an issue when the Court is deciding whether to assess fees against a certain party. A party who instigates litigation unreasonably may be viewed in a poor light by a judge.
- How should I conduct myself during this process?
- Every person reacts to divorce differently and has different ways of dealing with this stressful period. Behavior that may be acceptable from one person in a given divorce may be completely destructive in another situation. However, there are general rules that should govern your conduct:
- If at all possible, try to maintain respectful communication with your spouse and frequent communication if you have children.
- Do not enter into any agreements without first speaking to your lawyer.
- Never threaten or abuse your spouse or children.
- While you can tell your lawyer anything you wish, never say anything to anyone else that you wouldn’t want repeated to your spouse, your spouse’s friends or family, your family, your spouse’s lawyer, or a judge.
- Never destroy records or attempt to hide or secret assets.
- Bear in mind, especially if you have children that you will be dealing with your spouse for years to come. Divorce brings an end to your marriage; it does not make your spouse vanish. Reasonable concessions and a respectful attitude during your divorce generally pay untold dividends afterwards.
- Seek professional help in dealing with your divorce. The stress of this process can exact a heavy physical and emotional toll. Most people involved in a divorce would benefit from limited or long-term counseling and a doctor’s care to help them through the divorce.
- When can I begin dating? From a legal perspective, you remain married until you are divorced, even if you have physically separated from your spouse. Any sexual relations with a third party may give your spouse fault grounds for divorce. Introducing a third party into the divorce process can have a significant impact on custody and support issues, and on the negotiated resolution of your case. Bring the subject up with your lawyer before you start seeing anyone socially.
- What is the difference between legal and physical custody?
- Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions on behalf of a minor child. Parents may share “joint legal custody” or one parent may be awarded “sole legal custody.” Physical custody refers to the child’s living arrangements. A parent may have “primary physical custody” (meaning that the child resides primarily with that parent while the other parent has “visitation” or “custodial access”), “sole physical custody” (meaning that one parent has physical custody to the exclusion of the other parent) or “joint physical custody” (meaning that the parents share custody on an approximately equal basis).
- What can I expect, in terms of physical and legal custody?
- Most of the time, parents may expect the court to award joint legal custody or decision making authority. There are times when one parent cannot act in a child’s best interests, or where the parents cannot communicate due to a serious problem, such as physical abuse. In such circumstances, sole legal custody may be awarded, but this is quite rare. In terms of physical custody, the arrangements will depend on a variety of factors. It is impossible to predict a physical custody outcome without an extensive examination of each parent’s historical involvement with the child, future abilities to provide care, and past, present, and future relationship with the other parent.
- How much child support will I get?
- Child support is generally a function of (a) each party’s gross income, (b) how much time the child spends with each parent, (c) day care and health insurance expenses, (d) historic expenses and the child’s standard of living. Child support is set by statute, and is automatically calculated under pre-established support guidelines that consider factors (a) through (c) listed above. The Court may “deviate” from those guidelines if circumstances require, but deviations are rare.
- How much spousal support will I have to pay, and for how long?
- Pending a full resolution of the case, some county courts have spousal support guidelines that dictate the appropriate amount of spousal support based on a percentage of the payor’s gross income. Other localities have no guidelines and instead look to the recipient’s need and the payor’s ability to pay. On a long term basis, the court will consider the payor’s ability to pay and the recipient’s need. The intention of alimony, as expressed in the Virginia Code, is to provide a means for the recipient spouse to become self-supporting. Alimony may be payable for a defined duration or for the lifetime of the recipient spouse.
About Division of Property
- How much of the marital estate will I get?
- Virginia is an “equitable distribution” state, not an equal distribution state. In the absence of an agreement between the parties, the court will divide the marital estate in a way that is equitable, or fair.
- The first step the process is determining whether the property at issue is separate and not subject to distribution, marital, or part-separate and part-marital. Once the Court classifies the property at issue, the property must be valued. The Court, after classifying and valuing, will distribute the property. The Court must consider many statutory factors when distributing the marital estate, such as the following:
- The monetary and nonmonetary contributions of each party to the care and acquisition of property.
- The monetary and nonmonetary contributions of each party to the well-being of the family.
- The duration of the marriage.
- The ages and physical and mental condition of the parties.
- Will I get to stay in the marital residence or will I have to sell my house?
- The Court may order the transfer of jointly-titled real estate to one party or the other, or the court may order the property sold. Whether the court orders the property sold depends upon the individual circumstances of each case and each party. Many times, the matter turns on whether one spouse can afford to purchase the other’s marital interest in the home, (e.g., by way of a refinance).
- What is Mediation?
- Mediation is a process by which parties try to resolve their disputes with the assistance of a third party, or mediator. The mediator may be a family friend, a lawyer, a therapist, or a professionally certified mediator. The process can be informal, as with a friend or pastor, or it can be more formal. The goal of mediation is to reach a fair compromise on all issues. Your lawyer should explain the different mediation options to you. Not every case or issue is amenable to mediation, because it requires a “level playing field.” If one party is at a distinct disadvantage or is physically afraid of the other party, mediation may not be appropriate.
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