Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Questions

You're probably full of questions right now—and that's okay, because we have answers! Check out some of the questions we hear the most about bankruptcy, divorce, and child custody from clients just like you.

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  • What is the difference between debt consolidation and bankruptcy?

    Over the years, I have met with many individuals who have tried using a debt consolidation company to assist them with reducing their monthly payments on credit cards, and to pay off these debts. I have also had people come to me and ask if they should try using a debt consolidation program instead of filing for bankruptcy. My answer is always the same: “If you have the ability to pay your debts off in a three to five year period without using the money you need to live on, then you should do it”. However, there are some huge differences between bankruptcy and debt consolidation that you should be aware of. This article will go over most of those differences.

    1) Debt consolidation attempts to work with your credit card debts to negotiate a repayment plan at a reduced interest rate, and maybe a reduced balance. They do not work with other types of debts like medical bills, payday loans, car loans, tax debt or mortgage arrears. In contrast, bankruptcy will deal with all of your debts. If you do a Chapter 13 repayment plan, you will determine the amount that will be paid back to your creditors based on your financial situation. Unsecured creditors, like credit cards, medical, payday loans, and even taxes, will not receive any interest on their balances.

    2) Debt consolidation attempts to work out a payment plan that will pay the credit card debts in full and the payment plan can last for several years. In bankruptcy, you will either wipe out the credit card debt in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or you will be in a Chapter 13 payment plan that deals with all of the debts for no longer than 60 months.

    3) A debt consolidation program is voluntary for your creditors and they can opt out at any time. For example, I had clients who had participated in a debt consolidation program for over three years before they came to see me. Prior to entering the program, one of their creditors had obtained a judgment against them. The creditor agreed to participate in the debt consolidation program. My clients never missed a payment but one month the company that they were making their payments to messed up and did not send a payment to the creditor who had the judgment. The creditor immediately implemented a garnishment against my clients, taking 25% of their take home pay. After they came to see me, we filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which is not voluntary for the creditors. The bankruptcy stopped the garnishment and they were able to pay off all their debts in less than five years. If they had come to see me three years earlier, they would have been able to be debt free much sooner.

    4) Your credit report will take a monthly hit while you are in the debt consolidation program. A credit report shows if you are paying your creditors according to the contract. If you are not paying according to the contract, your credit report will show that an account is delinquent according to the contract terms, and every month it will show a higher delinquency. Since the debt consolidation program is based on paying the creditors back at a lower interest rate and lower payment than the minimum monthly payment, every month the credit card companies will report that you are delinquent on your payments. This lowers your credit score of course. However, when you file a bankruptcy your credit score will take a hit at first, but then you can begin rebuilding your credit by making on time payments immediately. Most of my clients see significant increases in their credit score within one to two years after having filed a bankruptcy.

    5) Debt consolidation programs have a large number of fraudulent companies. When going into a debt consolidation program, you have to be very careful who you are working with. There are thousands of horror stories about individuals who have paid a debt consolidation company thousands of dollars, and nothing was paid to their creditors. Bankruptcy is governed by Federal Law and any attorney who represents individuals in bankruptcies will be supervised by the Bankruptcy Court, the US Trustee and the state bar.

    There is a time and place for debt consolidation companies, and there are some reputable companies. However, you must be very careful when considering one of these programs and make sure that it will meet your needs. Likewise, filing for bankruptcy should never be an easy decision, but it can provide you with complete debt relief that is not available anywhere else.

    If you are struggling with bills you cannot pay, contact Hampton Roads Legal Services at 757-320-2010. I will meet with you one-on-one and discuss how a bankruptcy can help you to become debt free.

     

  • Will my bankruptcy filing fees increase under Donald Trump's new budget?

    A lot of media attention has been given to President Trump's new budget plans. Attorney Pfeiffer explains...

    When an individual or couple files for bankruptcy, they have to pay a "filing fee" to the Bankruptcy Court for filing the case. This filing fee is normally included in the fees you pay to your attorney. The budget proposal that President Trump has submitted to Congress includes a provision to raise the bankruptcy filing fees. While the discussion has centered around raising the fees for Chapter 11 cases, normally when the fees are raised for one Chapter, the fees for all other Chapters are also raised. A Chapter 11 case is a reorganization bankruptcy. Normally these cases are filed by businesses who need to "reorganize" their business strategy, and often involves closing stores. However individuals can also file a Chapter 11 case. Non-business Chapter 11s tend to be individuals who have high income and/or high debts. Why can't these individuals file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows them to develop a re-payment plan? Because there is a limit to the amount of secured and unsecured debt that an individual can have and still file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case. If the individual’s debts exceed the limit, they may have to file a Chapter 11 case. Chapter 11 cases are different from Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases in that the debtor incurs quarterly fees based on their monthly income. There are also monthly reports that have to be submitted to the US Trustee. Because of the ongoing requirements in a Chapter 11 case, a debtor needs to be represented by an attorney that is experienced in this type of bankruptcy.

     It has been several years since the bankruptcy fees were raised, so it would not be unusual to see an increase in the cost to file any bankruptcy, not just Chapter 11. If filling Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is something you have been considering, do not wait to see if the fees are raised. Attorneys cannot decrease these fees for you. The fees are set by the bankruptcy court and must be paid or the case will not be filed. Attorneys have to pay this fee before they can submit your case, which is why the fee is typically included in the total price that you pay. Our attorney's will be happy to speak with you about your situation in our free initial consultation. If you are not ready to have a meeting yet, take advantage of the books and reports we offer that will give you more information before you take the next step. Remember we want to do what is best for you and help you reach the fresh start you deserve, even if that does not mean filing bankruptcy. Our attorney will not advise you to file if that is not in your best interest. 

  • How are marriage debts divided during a divorce?

    This is a freelance article from Gemma Herbert

    Psychologists note that a divorce is one of the most stressful life events a person can undergo in both an emotional and practical/financial sense. Divorce often places economic strain on individuals, since most couples take out various loans, including mortgages, car loans, credit card loans, etc. When divorce comes around, it can be difficult to decide which partner is responsible for which debts (or parts of debts). Another difficulty arises when one partner refuses to pay debts a court has deemed them responsible for.

    Division of Property and Debt in Virginia

    Since Virginia is an ‘equitable property state’, all property and debt acquired during the marriage should be equally divided between spouses upon divorce, unless they have agreed otherwise or unless the court finds that equal division would be unjust.

    The Court carefully analyzes all property owned by the couple, assigning each spouse with a particular percentage of the total value of the property and debts. Consideration is always given to monetary as well as non-monetary contributions made by each spouse. Often, two thirds of the property will go to the spouse who earns a higher wage, and one third will go to his/her spouse. In states subject to community property rules, both spouses typically divide any property acquired during the marriage 50-50. 

    Equitable Distribution: Considerations Made by the Court

    The Court takes a number of factors into account in an equitable distribution divorce, including:

    • How long the marriage lasted.
    • The income and future earning potential of each spouse.
    • The health and age of each spouse.
    • The standard of living enjoyed by the family during the marriage.
    • The childcare provided during the marriage.
    • The value of the investment one spouse made with the other’s education.

    Marital vs Non-Marital Property

    The distinction between these two types of property can sometimes be difficult to assess though as a general rule, marital property includes all earnings made during the duration of the marriage, and anything accrued with those earnings.

    Any debt incurred during the marriage is usually classified as marital property, unless the lender was looking to one spouse’s independent property as a potential source of payment.

    Non-marital property, on the other hand, includes damages for personal injury, property acquired with one spouse’s separate funds which remain the property of that spouse, inheritances, gifts, businesses owned prior to the marriage, etc.

    With respect to businesses, if a spouse can show they have helped increase the value of their spouse’s business during the marriage, a percentage of the business may be considered marital property.

    Finally, any property bought with a mix of marital and separate funds is classified as part marital and part non-marital property. When non-marital property is mixed with marital property, it is generally classified as marital property.

    The marital home is often a bone of contention, with the person providing primary care for any children having the right to live in the home. If there are no children and the home is in the name of one spouse, that spouse may have the right to ask the other spouse to evacuate the home. If the home belongs to both parties, they may decide to sell the house and divide any profits made, in the percentage ratio decided by the court.

    Enforcement of Unpaid Debts

    Once the Court decides which party is responsible for particular debts (or the degree to which each spouse is responsible), trouble can occur if one spouse fails to meet their obligations to pay debts. If this occurs, you can petition the court to enforce the agreement; your spouse will have to explain why they cannot honor the debt as ordered, and they may have to face fines or imprisonment. Some spouses choose to pay debt then request reimbursement from their spouse. Although legal advice is crucial in these cases, a good general rule is to try to pay all debts during the divorce, so you can work on building a better future instead of dwelling on the past.

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    Further reading

    Booth and P. Amato, Divorce and Psychological Stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 32, December 1991, 396-407.

    American Psychological Association, Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible, accessed January, 2016.

    Q, Debt Help, accessed January, 2016.

    Forbes.com, Understanding How Assets Get Divided in Divorce, accessed January, 2016.

    Social Science Research Network, The Equitable Distribution of Marital Debts, accessed January, 2016.

    Floridabar.org, A Seven-Step Analysis of Equitable Distribution in Florida Part 2: Distributing Marital Property, accessed January, 2016.

    Eisneramper.com, Who Gets What?, accessed January, 2016.

  • What types of information can & can't be included in my credit report?

    Your credit report contains a massive amount of data, and it can be overwhelming trying to determine which tidbits of personal information will be included.  The guide below outlines the different types of information that will and won’t be included on your credit report

    What Can Be Included:

    • Identifying information, including full name, current & previous addresses, employment information, date of birth and social security #
    • Trade lines – your list of current and recent past debts and obligations
    • Credit inquiries (any time you give a potential creditor permission to view your credit report)
    • Judgments, liens and garnishments
    • If a bankruptcy was ever filed
    • Account information when accounts are voluntarily closed by the consumer
    • Dispute information if a consumer has properly disputed credit information
    • Any key risk factors adversely impacting the credit score

    What Cannot Be Included:

    • Your income and/or net worth
    • Your private medical information, although if you have medical debt, the debt may appear
    • Criminal record unless it involves a financial blunder
    • Debts of your spouse that are separate from your own
    • Information older than 7 years
    • Personal information such as race, age, ancestry, sex, ethnicity or political affiliation

    Concerned about the impacts bankruptcy will have on your credit report?  Don't be!  Call us today at (757) 320-2010 for your free consultation. 

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  • What types of people are best suited for a debt management plan?

    The Types of People Best Suited for Debt Management Assistance

    By DebtHelper.com  

    DebtHelper.com is an IRS Approved 501c3 Non-Profit Florida Corporation dedicated to our mission to educate, advise and empower youth to seniors to handle debt, credit and housing and to provide affordable housing opportunities through the acquisition and rehabilitation of residential properties.

     

    Are you struggling with credit card debt? It may seem as though you pay your credit card debts, but the balances never seem to budge. Often credit card debt has nothing to do with someone’s spending patterns, and is instead the result of extended unemployment, divorce, an accident or long-term illness. A Debt Management Plan can help many to determine the best course of action, and regain a firm financial footing. Whether the final result is adjusting your household budget, debt consolidation, or bankruptcy. There are many options available.

    If you are wondering if a Debt Management Plan could help, consider the following:

    Signs that you may need assistance

    There is a certain type of person that is best suited for a Debt Management Plan. These individuals struggle to make minimum payments, but may not see their balances going down. Another sign could be that they miss making credit card payments, or pay them late and suffer the penalty.

    If you find yourself unprepared for unexpected emergencies, such as car repairs, you could be a candidate for a Debt Management Plan. People that write checks for necessary expenses and hope that the check doesn’t clear until the next payday may also find a Debt Management Plan helpful.

    Believe it or not, it is possible to save money and a Debt Management Plan may be able to help you find ways to tuck a little savings away.

    Obstacles to getting out of debt

    There are some barriers to pulling yourself out of credit card debt without help; the charges and fees asserted by credit card companies can inflate the balance on credit cards. This may result in consistently being over your credit limit and paying additional surcharges on these fees. It is like taking one step forward, and then two steps back.

    Other obstacles to getting out of credit card debt could be life in general. A financial crisis can derail your budget and cause panic and hardship. No matter how hard you try, life can get in the way of paying down your credit card debt.

    Debt management assistance options

    Most creditors will work with Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies to provide financially distressed clients some relief through a Debt Management Plan. This can take the pressure off and alleviate some stress as you pay down your credit card debt, as long as the client will be able to pay off their credit card debt at reduced interest rates and lowered monthly payments, and have that credit card debt paid in full within a 5 year period.

    Ways that a Debt Management Plan can help

    Once you have completed a credit counseling session with an approved consumer credit counseling agency, that agency can help you pay off your credit card debt by working with your creditors to:

    • Lower monthly payments
    • Reduce or eliminate interest rates
    • Stop late and over-the-limit fees
    • Consolidate credit card payments into one monthly payment
    • Stop collection calls and harassment from creditors

    What you need to know:

    • A Debt Management Plan can provide a thorough assessment of your financial situation.
    • A Debt Management Plan can help give some relief as you work to pay down your balances.
    • Enrolling in a Debt Management can put an end to the stressful collection calls.
    • A Debt Management Plan may even help clients save money, and build a nest-egg for unexpected financial emergencies.
    • If bankruptcy is a client’s best course of action, they can create a plan that has the best possible impact for their future.

    Progress starts with action

    If you suffer from some of the financial hardships mentioned above you may be a good candidate for a Debt Management Plan. These programs can help you get back on track and help get your financial future in order so you can pay off your credit card balances faster and on-time. However, a Consumer Credit Counseling Agency won’t be seeking you out as your creditors may already be; you have to take the steps to make things happen.

    Want a free consultation to determine if bankruptcy is a viable option to resolve your debt situation?  Call us today at (757) 320-2010. 

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  • If I file bankruptcy, how will that effect the economy?

    A concern we hear often is that debtors feel that if they file bankruptcy, there will be negative implications on the economy.  It’s great to be socially responsible and have concern regarding your decision to file.  What most debtors don’t realize is that in most cases, the decision to file bankruptcy is actually beneficial for the economy. 

    The basis of our economic system stems from the ability to buy goods and services. 

    If your funds are tied up paying creditors and high interest rates, you are unable to buy additional goods and services to help stimulate the economy.  By having debts discharged or significantly reduced, that frees up money to put back into the economy which is actually more favorable that paying a few creditors with high interest rates. 

    The inability to have debts forgiven does not increase a debtor’s likelihood to pay their debts; however the ability to discharge debts ultimately allows for more money to circulate and fuel the economy.  Additionally most creditors realize that a percentage of the money they lend will not be repaid, and that is accounted for in their high interest rates. 

    Filing individual bankruptcy is only detrimental to the economy when it happens in mass, which typically stems from a recession and/or depression. While this has happened in recent history, our economy has seen an uptick in the last few years. 

    If your decision to file bankruptcy has been halted because you are concerned that it will have an overall negative impact on the economy, you can rest easy.   Bottom line – if you are drowning in debt and want to help the economy, it may be most beneficial all around if you actually file for bankruptcy.

    Ready to file?  Call us today for a free consultation!

     

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  • What are the signs that it's finally time to file bankruptcy?

    Bankruptcy is intended to help honest debtors get a fresh start, but there is no hard and fast rule on who will benefit most from bankruptcy.  These are some of the warning signs that I look for when advising someone that it may be time to file bankruptcy.

    You are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments. 

    When someone is faced with mounting bills, some debtors will play a game I call the Credit Card Shuffle, randomly choosing which minimum payment to make based on how nasty the collection call will be.  Some debtors will even pay credit card bills before paying their rent or mortgage rather than face those harassing collection calls. This is simply wrong.  Your family’s food and shelter should take priority over credit card debt.

    Stress.

    Are you losing sleep or constantly arguing with your spouse because of your debt problems?  Money problems are a leading cause of divorce.  Bankruptcy is not a cure all, but it can help remove your financial problems as a source of difficulties and stress in your marriage.

    Health.

    I have seen far too many clients losing sleep and suffering stress‑related health problems because of their financial struggles.  A willingness to work multiple jobs or crazy overtime hours may be a sign of good character, but it can lead to burnout, exhaustion and anxiety. Anxiety over debts can also lead to depression which can cause numerous health problems. Do not let bills cause you to suffer physical health problems.

    Changes in your normal behavior. 

    Are you considering doing something illegal to fix your debt problems or something that could put your health or the health of your family at risk?  Have you taken up gambling or drinking?  Are you doing things that are "out of character" for you?  These may be signs of desperation and it may be time to see an attorney.

    The Balance Transfer Shuffle.

    Are you constantly applying for new credit cards to take advantage of low balance transfer rates?  This may be a sign that you are in over your head in debt.

    If any of these apply to you, call us today at 757-320-2010 to schedule your free no obligation appointment with our experienced attorney. We will meet with you, analyze your situation and explain how bankruptcy can help you to regain control over your finances.

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  • Should I File a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy?

    Chapter 7

    If you're buried in debt, your best option may be to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This type of bankruptcy is designed for individuals who do not have the ability to repay their creditors. The vast majority of our clients are able to protect all of their assets so that they do not lose anything. However, in order to allow you to keep your belongings, the necessary documents must be correctly prepared and filed. Don't lose your assets. Before you attempt to file, consult with an experienced attorney.

     

    Chapter 13

    If you fallen behind on your mortgage payments but now have the ability to make your regular monthly payments, cover your living expenses and make a payment to catch up what you are behind, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help you to keep your home. If you have missed payments on your car and the repo man is on his way or just took your car, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help you get it back. If you have tax debt or debts that can not be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there's a good chance that Chapter 13 bankruptcy could be a good option for you. Chapter 13 offers a repayment plan over three to five years that helps you pay the debts that have to be paid in a way that you can afford and helping you to become debt free.

    If you are struggling to repay your creditors, I can help you.  Call me today at (757) 320-2010. 

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  • Can My Child Support Amount Change? If so, how often?

    You notice your ex is starting to wear fancier clothes, and just bought a brand new car.  Your kids come home from a weekend at dads and tell you all about the exciting things they did because daddy has more money.  You suspect your ex may have gotten a significant pay raise - when is it ok to ask for more child support money?

    The court system does not automatically monitor wages for you or your spouse, and therefore support orders do not automatically change in accordance to income fluctuations.  A parent must request for a modification to be made if certain criteria are met.

    What criteria would warrant a change in support?

    Change of circumstances.  If one parent experiences a significant increase OR decrease in pay, normally at least 25%, they would likely qualify for a support modification.  If a parent inherits money or has an increased ability to support the child through another avenue, they may be asked to increase support.  Adversely, if the supporting parent loses his/her job, the court may allow for support payments to be suspended during unemployment. 

    The child’s needs grow.  Often as a child grows, their expenses for clothes, food, etc. grow as well.  Perhaps the child becomes ill or disabled, and now you’re met with paying for pricey medical accommodations and other medical bills.  These types of situations would typically constitute a support modification. 

    It’s been a long time since the order was placed.  If it’s been several years since the child support order was put in place, it’s likely you or your ex meet some of the above criteria.  It might be a good idea to have the case reviewed to see if a modification is feasible. 

    Make sure you are able to provide evidence that there is good reason for a change before filing with the court. 

    For a current listing of the child support tables, click http://leg1.state.va.us/000/cod/20-108.2.HTM

    If you need help with a change in custody or visitation due to a change in circumstances, I can help you.  Call me today at (757) 320-2010

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  • What are the statistics on divorce in America?

    Check out these interesting facts on American divorce...

    • There is 1 divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That's nearly 2,400 divorces per day, 16,800 divorces per week and 876,000 divorces a year.
    • The divorce rate for a first marriage is around 41%. The divorce rate is 60% for a second marriage and 73% for a third.  Cumulatively 1 in every 4 families will face divorce.
    • The average length for divorce proceedings is 1 year.
    • First marriages that end in divorce usually last approximately 8 years.
    • Approximately 6% of American couples marry, divorce, and then remarry each other.
    • The divorce rate for couples over 65 years old has doubled since 1980.
    • Marriages are more likely to last longer when people marry at an older age, have a higher education, and earn more money.
    • Contrary to popular belief, premarital cohabitation does not increase a couple’s divorce risk if the couple intends to get married.
    • The top 5 reasons for divorce include communication problems; infidelity or betrayal; financial problems; psychological, emotional, and physical abuse; and loss of interest.

    Political

    • Ronald Reagan is the only known U.S President to have been divorced.
    • Couples in Republican states are 27% more likely to divorce than couples in Democratic states, as Republicans have historically married younger than Democrats.

    Male vs. Female

    • In 2/3 of all divorces, it's the woman who files. Additionally, while men are financially better off than women post-divorce, they typically suffer more emotionally.
    • The average age of divorce for a first marriage is 29 for women and 30.5 for men.  The average age of divorce for a second marriage is 37 for women and 39.3 for men.
    • Women on average wait 3.1 years to remarry after a divorce. Men wait 3.3 years.
    • A marriage in which a woman is 2 or more years older than her husband is 53% more likely to end in divorce than if the husband were 3 or more years older or only 1 year younger.
    • 79.6% of custodial mothers receive a support award, while only 29.6% of custodial fathers receive support.
    • 46.9% of non-custodial mothers totally default on support, while only 26.9% of non-custodial fathers totally default on support.

    Race

    • White women who marry outside their race are more likely to divorce than other ethnic groups. Mixed marriages involving blacks and whites were the least stable interracial marriage, followed by Hispanic-white couples.
    • Asian women are the most likely to be in a first marriage that lasts over 20 years. The CDC statistics show 70% of Asian women are still in their first marriage, compared to 54 % of white women, 53% of Hispanic women, and 37 % of black women.

    Children

    • Couples with children have a slightly lower divorce rate than couples without children.
    • If there is a daughter and no son in a marriage, the union is 5% more likely to end.
    • Having twins or triplets increases the risk of divorce by 17%.
    • Children of divorced parents are twice as likely to drop out of high school and less likely to attend college.

    Geographical

    • According to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, New Jersey has the lowest divorce rate out of all 50 states. Also with low divorce rates are New York, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The East coast in general has a divorce rate of less than 12%.
    • Nevada has the highest rate of divorce at 14.7%. Wyoming, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee all have rates of divorce over 13.%.

    Occupation

    • Dancers and choreographers reported the highest divorce rates at 43.1%, followed by bartenders at 38.4% and massage therapists at 38.2%. Other occupations in the top 10 include casino workers, telephone operators, nurses and home health aides.
    • Occupations with the lowest divorce rates include agricultural engineers, salespeople, nuclear engineers, optometrists, clergy, and podiatrists.
    • According to the Defense Department, the divorce rate of military couples rose from 2.6% in 2001 to 3.7% in 2011. The Air Force has the highest rate of divorce out of all the services.

    Substance

    • If one partner smokes, a marriage is 75% more likely to end in divorce.
    • Divorced men are at an especially high risk of alcohol abuse. In contrast, divorced women’s alcohol consumption falls sharply after a divorce.

    Medical

    • Women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer are more likely to divorce by 40%. If a man is diagnosed with testicular cancer, the marriage is 20% more likely to divorce. On contrast, breast cancer survivors are 8% less likely to divorce than women who have not had breast cancer.
    • Men are eight times more likely than divorced women to commit suicide. They are also twice as likely to suffer depression and heart attacks.
    • If a spouse has gained more than 20% of his or her body weight, divorce is more likely.

    Celebrity Divorce Facts

    • Mel and Robyn Gibson's divorce in 2009 is considered to be the largest celebrity divorce settlement, as Mel paid his ex $425 million.
    • The celebrity who has been married and divorced the most is actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, who has been married nine times.
    • Britney Spears holds the record for shortest celebrity marriage; her union with childhood friend Jason Alexander lasted only 55 hours before it was annulled.

    Need help with an uncontested divorce?  I can help you!  Call me today at (757) 320-2010.

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  • My Ex and I Never Married, Who Gets Custody?

    Unmarried couples have a less complicated separation process than divorced couples, and typically custody is simplified as well.  In Virginia, the mother is usually awarded sole physical custody unless the father takes action to secure some form of custody.  An unwed father may need to establish legal paternity by taking a DNA test before custody will be considered. 

    The unmarried couple can establish a parenting plan that will be filed with the court, detailing custody and visitation as well as health care, education, religion and how to handle potential changes to the arrangement (someone gets married, someone moves).   If the couple cannot agree on the terms above, one or both may request that the judge decide the issues at a contested hearing.

    The Court will based it's decisions on custody and visitation using the standard of what is in the best interest of the child and who has been the primary caregiver for the child.  Factors considered include the mental/physical health of both parents and child, parent’s lifestyle, parent’s ability to provide food, clothing and shelter, the emotional bond between parent and child, and the child’s preference. 

    If you’re not sure how you line up with the courts guidelines that grant primary custody, here’s a simple checklist that shows what is taken into consideration when deciding who has been the primary caregiver:

    Who was usually responsible for the following:

    Task Mother Father Shared
    Feeding Infant _____ _____ _____
    Changing Diapers _____ _____ _____
    Holding/Cuddling _____ _____ _____
    Preparing Meals _____ _____ _____
    Doing Laundry _____ _____ _____
    Buying Clothing _____ _____ _____
    Grocery Shopping _____ _____ _____
    Packing Lunches _____ _____ _____
    Bathing _____ _____ _____
    Brushing Teeth _____ _____ _____
    Putting to Bed _____ _____ _____
    Helping with Homework _____ _____ _____
    Taking to Doctor _____ _____ _____
    Taking to School _____ _____ _____
    Coaching Sports Teams _____ _____ _____
    Hosting Play Dates _____ _____ _____
    Playing _____ _____ _____
    Teacher Conferences _____ _____ _____

     

    If you are unmarried and need help setting a custody dispute, I can help you.  Call me today at (757) 320-2010.

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  • What Are the Top 5 Reasons To File Bankruptcy?

    There is a misconception that people file bankruptcy because they overspend and use credit cards irresponsibly.  Although that can be the case, it is only #3 on our list.

    1. Medical Expenses  - Serious and/or rare illnesses that come with hefty medical bills covered by insurance typically also come with hefty co-pays.  According to a Harvard University Study, medical expenses account for 62% of bankruptcies.  Out of these, 78% of bankruptcy filers had medical insurance.  With rising health coverage costs and copays, a serious hospitalization can cause severe debt.  Once savings has been exhausted, the only option left to deal with medical bills may be bankruptcy. 

    2. Job Loss – Termination, layoffs and resignations are the second leading cause for bankruptcy.  Most Americans don’t have enough money in savings to survive an unexpected job loss (especially without severance), and therefore turn to credit cards for survival.  Even once a new job is obtained, sometimes the debt incurred in between jobs is too much to catch up on. 

    3. Excessive Credit Card /Unsecured Debt – This is third on the list.  Although the debt to income ratio may be considered excessive, it doesn’t necessarily equate to irresponsible spending.  An expensive car repair or medical bill charged on a credit card with high interest can get out of hand quickly for a person with a low income. 

    4. Divorce – When one household suddenly becomes two, you’re essentially doubling expenses without doubling the income.  Combine that with the associated legal costs, alimony and child support, the bank account dwindles quickly. 

    5. Unexpected Disasters – These are the rare occurrences that most people don’t think about or plan for… and assume if they do happen, their assets would be covered under insurance.  These include natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, and other disasters such as death.  Most people don’t realize that property loss under these circumstances isn’t covered under most home owner insurance policies – typically separate insurance policies must be purchased in order to cover property & asset loss under these circumstances – in addition to covering the cost of new clothes and shelter. 

    If any of these sound like your situation and you are struggling with debt, WE CAN HELP YOUContact us today at (757) 320-2010. 

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  • What are the grounds for getting an annulment in Virginia?

    The valid grounds for an annulment in Virginia are very limited. The stipulations are:

    1) One spouse was impotent at the time of the marriage;

    2) One spouse had been convicted of a felony at the time of the marriage;

    3) The husband had fathered a child born to another woman within ten months of the marriage;

    4) The wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage by another man;

    5) One spouse was a prostitute.

    All of these circumstances require that the spouse seeking an annulment was not aware of the issue at the time of the marriage and that they moved to end the marriage as soon as they found out about the issues.

    There is no right to an annulment based on the length of the marriage. If the couple separates right after the wedding, they will have to file for divorce unless one of the circumstances about applies.

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  • Can I keep a credit card when I file a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Virginia?

    When you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must list everyone that you owe money to. There are no exceptions. If you have a balance on a credit card, you have to list it on your bankruptcy petition. However, if you have a credit card that has a $0 balance, you do not owe money to that creditor and you are not required to list the account. Most major credit card companies, MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover, automatically receive notice of every bankruptcy that is filed anywhere in the United States. They compare those filings against their accounts and close any credit card accounts for individuals that have filed a bankruptcy regardless of whether they were listed in the bankruptcy.

    If you are considering filing a bankruptcy, do not attempt to pay off a credit card so you don't have to list it. You are far better off using the money to pay for a bankruptcy. If you really need to have a credit card, you can apply for a new credit card after your bankruptcy is filed. However, remember what caused you to have financial problems in the first place and do not run up balances on a new credit card after filing a bankruptcy.

    If you are having trouble paying your credit card debt, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy may be the solution for you. Contact Hampton Roads Legal Services today at 757-320-2010 to schedule an appointment with attorney Edrie Pfeiffer. She will explain how a Chapter 13 bankruptcy can help you.

  • Do I have to File A Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in Virginia?

    There are times when it is better to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy than a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you have a mortgage or car loan that you are behind on and you want to keep the house or the car, you may need to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. If you have significant equity in a house, car or other asset, you may need to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy to protect that equity. If your income is above a certain level based on the size of your household, you may be required to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

    However, you do not have to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy simply because you own a house or have a car loan. There are some attorneys who will tell virtually every client that they need to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy regardless of their circumstances. I have even heard of attorneys who go so far as to tell a client that they have to file a Chapter 13 because they own a house or because they have a car loan. This is not the case. If you  are advised that you have to file a Chapter 13 simply because you have a house or a car loan, you need to make sure that you understand the reason for the Chapter 13. If you are unclear about why you have to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you should seek a second opinion.

    It is normally less expensive to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy up front since most attorneys collect their attorney fees from the Chapter 13 plan payments. However, the attorney fees for a Chapter 13 are normally much higher than for a Chapter 7 overall. Before you file a Chapter 13, you need to understand how much you will have to pay if you decide later that you want to convert your case to a Chapter 7.

    If you have been told that you have to file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and you want a second opinion contact Hampton Roads Legal Services at 757-320-2010 for a free consultation on what is best for you.

  • Can my bank take money out of my account to pay my credit card?

    The practice of taking money from a bank account to pay a debt owed to the bank is called "setoff". While many loan agreements may provide for a set off of funds, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) prohibits a bank that issued a credit card from removing funds out of a deposit account to satisfy its credit card claims. This prohibition is very broad and contains only minimal exceptions. For example, the bank is prevented from exercising set off after the termination of the credit card, unless the debtor has incurred additional debt after termination of the card. The law also prevents financial institutions from taking money the consumer intends to deposit, before it is formally deposited. For more information on setoff, read our article.

    If you have a bank account and a credit card issued by the same bank in Virginia, you need to review your agreement and make sure that you have not authorized the bank to take funds out of your account to pay your credit card debt. If you are struggling to pay your credit cards, it may be time to file a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Contact Hampton Roads Legal Services today at 757-320-2010 to schedule free consultation to see if bankruptcy will help you.

  • When is the best time to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy?

    You would think that the best time to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is as soon as you can no longer afford to pay your bills. However there are many different factors to consider when deciding the best time to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Here are a few of the factors to consider.

    1. You have tax debt for several years. Many people, accountants included, believe that tax debt cannot be wiped out or "discharged" in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. That is not correct. After a certain period of time, taxes become dischargeable. Filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy too soon could leave you responsible for thousands of dollars of tax debt that could have been discharged if you had waited a few months. You should talk to an experienced bankruptcy attorney if you owe several years of taxes to find out when is the best time for you to file. The attorney will need to know how much you owe for each tax year and when the tax returns were filed for each year.

    2. You have anticipate receiving a large tax refund. Filing before you receive the refund could prevent you from keeping the refund. I have seen many people who filed a bankruptcy, without the assistance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney, lose thousands of dollars because they filed their bankruptcy before they received their refund.

    3. You are being sued over a debt. When a creditor obtains a judgment against you, they have several options for collecting on that judgment. One of the most frequently used method is to initiate a garnishment. While bankruptcy will stop a garnishment, there are times where you need to file before the creditor can start the garnishment process.

    As you can see from these three examples, the decision as to when to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is not always simple. Before you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you need the assistance of an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Contact Hampton Roads Legal Services at 757-320-2010 to schedule a free consultation with our experienced bankruptcy attorney. 

     

     

  • Can I keep my house if I file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?

    There are two factors that must be considered when you want to keep a house when filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The first factor is whether there is equity in the house. When you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the court appoints an individual, called the trustee, whose job is to try to find assets that he can sell to pay something to your unsecured creditors. If you own real estate, the trustee will determine if he thinks there is equity in the property. This means that he wants to see if he could sell your house for more than is owed on it. If the trustee thinks that he could sell the house for more than is owed on the mortgages and for enough to also cover the costs of selling the house, he will market the house. An experienced bankruptcy attorney will normally determine if there appears to be enough equity in the house that could cause the trustee to attempt to sell the property. Many people owe more on their mortgage than their house is worth so it is unlikely that a Chapter 7 trustee will attempt to sell the property.

    The second factor that will play into whether you can keep your house after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the status of your mortgage. If you are behind on the mortgage payments when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the mortgage company may elect to proceed with foreclosure. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, there is no way to prevent a mortgage company from foreclosing if the payments are not current. Your mortgage company may be willing to work with you through either a loan modification or forbearance agreement but that is the mortgage companies choice. You can not force them to work with you after filing a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you are behind on your mortgage payments and you want to keep your house, you should consider filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

    If you own real estate and are considering filing bankruptcy, you need to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Contact Hampton Roads Legal Services and we will schedule you a free consultation to discuss how bankruptcy may be able to help you.

  • What does it mean when a case has been dismissed with prejudice?

    A dismissal with prejudice means that the court has made a final determination on the merits of the case, and the debtor is now forbidden from filing another bankruptcy for a designated period of time. This bar from refiling will be set by the Judge in the dismissal order and can be from a couple of months to several years. The dismissal of bankruptcy cases with and without prejudice is authorized by the Bankruptcy Code (the Code). Generally, dismissals are ordered without prejudice. However, if the Court feels that the individual is abusing the bankruptcy process, they may dismiss the case with prejudice. Your attorney can give you a more detailed explanation of a dismissal with prejudice, and every situation is different. If you are concerned, be sure to ask your attorney for more information.

  • What does it mean to be legally separated in Virginia?

    One of the most misunderstood terms in divorce law in Virginia is "legally separated". I get calls every week from someone who tells me that they want to file for a legal separation.

    Action & Intention

    To be legally separated, the state of Virginia does not require any paperwork nor is there anything filed with a Court to be considered "legally separated".  All that is required is to be living separate and apart and that one of the spouses intends to end the marriage. That is it... an action (physically separating) and an intention (to end the marriage). Note that it does not require a mutual decision to end the marriage, only one spouse has to have the intention.

    Proof of Separation

    The larger issue is proving that you are legally separated. When you file for a divorce, you will have to provide evidence that you were legally separated for the required time period. This is normally done with the testimony of a witness that you have been separated for the length of time, that the separation has been continuous and uninterrupted and that you stated your intention to end the marriage. Your witness must have been in a position to know that you and your spouse have been living separate and apart.

    If you are currently separated from your spouse and you are ready to get a divorce, contact Hampton Roads Legal Services at 757-320-2010. We will set you up with a free phone consultation to discuss your situation. 

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