Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
Below are answers to common questions we often receive from potential clients who visit our office. Questions are organized by topic. If you have a question that is not listed below, send us an email or contact us by phone at 609-737-3030. We would be happy to discuss your legal problem with you.
Please remember that each case is unique and your case may have a different answer based on your specific facts. These are general answers only – they are not a replacement for an individualized consultation with the attorney.
Once you are ready to move forward with your case, it is important that you contact us as soon as possible.
The first step is to call or email us to set-up a consultation. Post consultation, we can start representing you or your company as soon as (1) we establish that there are no potential conflicts of interest (e.g., that we do not represent a party on the other side of your transaction); and (2) you execute our engagement letter (retainer agreement) and pay the requisite retainer deposit.
Legal Fees and Services
Most new clients will have to schedule a consultation before they they can given any legal advice. We charge a fee of $250.00 and the consultation will typically last 60 minutes. Initial consultation can be in-person or by phone. During this time, you will have the attorney’s undivided attention, and she will spend quite a bit of time reviewing your documents and talking to you about the details so she can fully understand the matter. This is a great opportunity to have your questions answered and receive general feedback while deciding if you wish to retain Teper Law Firm LLC. There is no obligation for either party to work together thereafter.
Consultations are the perfect opportunity for new clients to receive general advice on their matter and decide if they feel they would work well with the attorney. Unfortunately, to ensure our current clients are served to the best of our ability, unscheduled and unpaid consultations, interviews, phone calls, or emails are not possible unless they concern an emergency.
Please call the office to discuss if your matter is something the attorney handles. If so, you can schedule a consultation to generally discuss your matter and ask questions you may have. We will answer your questions to the best of our ability given the information provided and short timeframe to review the documents during the consultation. We will provide general advice and feedback regarding your matter.
The initial consultation is intended to help you determine whether you have a case, whether the attorney is able to help you with your specific legal issue, and whether you and the attorney have a good rapport. Be prepared to discuss the facts of your case, provide documents and witnesses in support of the facts, and discuss fee arrangements. Although our law firm does not represent you until a retainer agreement has been signed by both parties, the information provided during your initial consultation will remain confidential.
While the internet is a great source of information, relying on legal information contained in a website as your only source of legal advice can cause serious problems. You do not know if the information provided is accurate, or up-to-date. Law is complex, complicated and ever changing. In U.S. law can differ from state to state. Filing a badly-prepared petition/application/complaint can delay or even destroy your chance at obtaining benefit or relief sought. An attorney has the necessary expertise to ensure that all your legal needs are met, and your legal documents are complete and well-prepared.
Yes. Our office can service Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese speaking clients.
No. Attorneys are required to be competent, loyal, honest, and to represent you zealously within the boundaries of the law. However, even if your case is strong, and your lawyer meets and exceeds these standards, your case could still be unsuccessful. There are too many variables that can affect the outcome of your case and no party is ever guaranteed to be successful in a lawsuit.
Yes, because we understand the importance of communication and transparency between an attorney and each and every client. Therefore, we strive to communicate with each client however they feel it is best to communicate, and we do so as often as reasonable, considering budgetary constraints and other factors. Legal matters, lawsuits especially, have a way of stretching out over extended periods of time and clients often feel anxious and want to make sure everything that can be done is getting done. Receiving daily updates can prove very expensive for a client and may lead to additional frustration, so we strive to obtain balance with each client so that they are receiving timely information and know that their case is progressing according to a strategy.
Our office is generally open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. However, we understand that some people do not work typical office hours, and so we offer late appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 8:00 pm. Weekend appointments are also available, for existing clients and by appointment only.
The key to managing your legal bills is organization and participation. As the client, you should be part of the team putting together your case. Since most matrimonial fees are billed based on time spent, a client who is efficient and prepared can help reduce costs.
The first rule is that you should only call your divorce attorney to discuss legal matters concerning the case; too often, clients confuse the role of the attorney with their therapist. You should prepare a list of items to discuss with your lawyer, which will help ensure that you'll cover all of your pressing issues.
If the attorney isn't in when you call, leave a detailed message. If the question can be answered by staff, you can save the attorney's time and your money.
Don't hesitate to use the services of a paralegal for the mundane or perfunctory aspects of your case; you'll be billed a lower hourly rate. The attorney will still be available to review the matter, but will need less time to do so at the higher hourly rate.
Another way of keeping your legal fees in check is to communicate with your divorce lawyer by email, which allows you to focus on the issue and lets the family law attorney respond in writing. But keep the emails brief: a long email may be too hard to answer with a quick turnaround.
If you have a list of issues to discuss with your lawyer, schedule a telephone conference or meeting. Prepare and share an agenda with your attorney in advance so everyone knows what areas need to be covered, and limit the time of the meeting.
Finally, the more concise the information you provide your attorney, the less time will be needed to properly prepare your case. Complete the "homework" your lawyer gives you as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Gather your financial documents - including tax returns, financial statements, bank statements, checking account records, and credit card statements - organize them, and produce chronological records for your lawyer. If you have access to software that helps prepare budgets, complete this information for your attorney. If you don't have access to financial records, prepare a list for your attorney of what accounts you believe were maintained during the marriage, and provide the contact information for the accountant who prepared your tax returns.
A well-organized and proactive client not only saves fees, but is more likely to realize his or her goals in the divorce process.
We encourage a frank, open discussion about our fees with each client at the time of the first interview.
Lawyers are paid under various fee arrangements.
Hourly fee: On an hourly fee basis, fees are based on an hourly rate for services rendered. A detailed, itemized bill will be given to you showing all work done on your case. This explanation may come monthly or at the end of your case, whichever way you choose to be billed. Unless otherwise agreed, the hourly fee basis will be the presumed fee arrangement.
Flat fee: On a flat fee basis, your legal fee is a stated sum for agreed upon services. No detailed accounting will be provided to you.
Contingency fee: On a contingency fee basis, your legal fees will be based on the amount of recovery your attorney obtains for you; no recovery = no fee. Not all cases qualify for the contingency basis.
Other potential fees: A pre-payment (retainer) will often be required in order to begin to process your matter and you will be kept advised as to how that pre-payment is being used. Bills will be sent to you periodically showing your charges and payments.
Certain cases may have a minimum fee. This means that no hourly accounting will be made unless excess time is expended.
We try to keep legal fees as reasonable as possible. The amount of services required, however, is not fully within our control. We discuss with our client options for services and the benefits of services. Sometimes, however, services are directly related to an opposing party’s action or inaction.
Please feel free to discuss fees with your lawyer.
Teper Law Firm has extensive experience handling various cases mainly in the immigration, family/matrimonial law and estate planning/administration areas of law. We are able to offer superior representation by staying abreast of trends and changes in those legal fields and by constantly updating our skills and knowledge. Today, most lawyers tend to specialize in one or few areas of law, rather than take on every case that comes through the door. That means, that we cannot take on every kind of legal problem, as we may not have the legal expertise in that particular field. We are happy, however, to speak with you regarding your legal needs. If we cannot help you, we can help you find the right lawyer to help with your legal needs.
Divorce and Family Law
Yes. We can represent you in an uncontested or contested divorce matter.
A contested divorce means there is at least one issue in dispute in your divorce proceeding. Issues such as custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support (alimony), equitable distribution, and counsel fees are commonly disputed. The amount and complexity of the disputed issues as well as the extent of the dispute will affect the length and cost of your divorce proceeding.
If you're able to reach in agreement as to the issues in dispute, your contested divorce will be converted to an uncontested divorce and the court will schedule a hearing to grant you a final judgment of divorce. Most people are eventually able to reach an agreement on their contested issues. The agreement can either be written as a separate document, commonly known as a property settlement agreement or marital settlement agreement, or the terms of your agreement can be inserted right into the final judgment of divorce granted by the judge.
Throughout the course of your divorce litigation, you and your spouses will be permitted to obtain discovery from each other, including case information statements, outlining the other spouse's income, expenses, assets, and debts, in addition to the supporting documentation. If, after exchange of discovery and attendance at one or more mediation session and/or settlement conferences you are still unable to reach an agreement on the issues in your case, the court will schedule a trial date.
Each divorce case is different, so there is no one-fits-all answer to this question. However, the divorce process is rarely a friendly place. Litigants who are entering the matrimonial dispute should understand that the system's priority is processing and concluding cases - not addressing the daily indignation or unfairness litigants feel they experience at each other's hands. There are great variations from judge to judge. After all, judges are people, too, and there is as wide a range of capacities and caring in the judicial population as there is in the general population. If your spouse will not negotiate and gives an ultimatum that your lawyer thinks is unreasonable, then there's no real choice but to try your case in court.
Judges frequently exercise their vast discretion based upon the personal values, biases, and upbringing of a particular judge. Principles of matrimonial law are general and broad enough that they can accommodate many diverse personal values. In order words, the same facts presented exactly the same way to two different judges may result in two different decisions - both of which might be sustained on appeal.
Consequently, the more you keep control of the case and make your own decisions, the better off you're likely to be. Of course, there are some cases where the voice of reason is unilateral; one party understands what is appropriate while the other may not care. In those cases, you have no choice but to prepare thoroughly and present your case to a judge.
You can represent yourself or use services of any licensed legal professional. However, most places that promise quick and cheap divorces under $199.00, do not actually provide legal representation, and they cannot provide you with legal advice. You can get yourself divorced by utilizing their forms, but you can also get those forms for free on the court’s website. Besides, in New Jersey and Pennsylvania you will have to pay more than $199.00 to get divorced, as the filing fees alone exceed that sum.
Your separation agreement, divorce agreement, or judgment of divorce will be binding upon you for the rest of your life. It is a serious legal document that has significant and long-lasting legal consequences. You should obtain the advice of an experienced divorce and family law attorney to advise you at all stages of a separation or divorce.
Child support is calculated pursuant to the state child support guidelines. Both parents’ incomes and/or earning capacities are utilized to determine the child support obligations. Income for purposes of child support is not the same as income for tax purposes. The definition of income for purposes of support is broader than taxable income. While the support calculations are fairly straightforward, there are some situations that warrant a deviation. These may include items such as child care to enable one parent to work or the allocation of health insurance premiums.
Legal custody is defined as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.” Physical custody, also known as residential custody, is defined as “the actual physical control of the child” or simply, where the child lives.
Assuming the residence where you and your spouse resided is jointly owned, it would generally be a poor idea to change the locks and the alarm code. Simply by moving out, your spouse has not waived the right to the property. You can, however, file a petition with the court requesting that you be granted exclusive possession of the marital residence. In the event your petition is granted, your spouse would be excluded from the property. Thereafter, you would be permitted to change the locks and the alarm code.
Relocation is possible, but absent consent of the other parent (or guardian) relocation requires permission by the court. The law requires the court to consider ten factors when determining whether to grant a relocation request:
1) The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child’s relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the non-relocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child’s life;
2) The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child’s physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
3) The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the non-relocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistical and financial circumstances of the parties;
4) The child’s preference, taking into consideration the age and maturity of the child;
5) Whether there is an established pattern of conduct by either party to promote or thwart the relationship of the child and the other party;
6) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the party seeking the relocation, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity;
7) Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the child, including, but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity;
8) The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation;
9) The present and past abuse committed by each party or member of the party’s household and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party; and
10) Any other factor affecting the best interest of the child.
My children want to live with me and not my spouse. Are they allowed to make that decision?
The short answer is “no.” How much weight the court ultimately puts on a child’s preference depends on a number of circumstances such as the age and maturity of the child, and the specifics of why the child wants to be with one parent over the other. The court is obligated to always do what is in the best interest of the child and, absent an abusive or dangerous situation the court is inclined to find that the best interest of the child is served by maintaining a relationship, and thereby custodial time, with each parent.
Wills and Estate Planning and Administration
You can write your own will, however, having a lawyer draft your will buy you peace of mind. A lawyer can ensure that the will complies with state law, provides the best tax advantages for your estate and heirs, and accounts for particulars in your specific circumstances. In short, you may feel more assured that the document will stand up in court even if contested, and that your wishes will be carried out as desired.
Additionally, you may want to consult a lawyer if:
- You have questions about your will or other options for leaving your property.
- You expect to leave a very large amount of assets and you wish to engage in tax planning.
- Rather than simply choosing people to inherit your property, you want to make more complex plans for what happens to it--for example, leaving your house in trust to your spouse until he or she dies and then having it pass to your children. Older people who have remarried often want to set up this type of trust.
- You are a small business owner and have questions as to the rights of surviving owners or your ownership share.
- You must make arrangements for long-term care of a beneficiary--for example, setting up a trust for an incapacitated or disadvantaged child.
- You fear someone will contest your will on grounds of fraud, or claim that you were unduly influenced or weren't of sound mind when you signed it.
- You wish to disinherit, or substantially disinherit, your spouse. It's usually not possible to do this if your spouse objects, but a lawyer can explain your spouse's rights.
- Also, some people simply feel more comfortable having a lawyer review their will, even though their situation has no apparent legal complications.
If you don't have a valid will or use some other legal method to transfer your property when you die, state law will determine what happens to your property. Typically, your property will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your other closest relatives. If no relatives can be found to inherit your property, it will go to the state.
In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit to do so.
If you are part of an unmarried same-sex couple, your surviving partner will not inherit anything unless you live in one of the few states that allows registered domestic partners to inherit like spouses.
If you receive a deportation order or notification, the first thing you must do is contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney, who will work with you closely to build your deportation defense. You need an attorney who understands and is skilled in all aspects of immigration law.
If you received a notice to appear, this most likely means that you are in removal proceedings. You may, however, be eligible for relief from removal. Talk to an immigration lawyer to discuss your situation and whether or not you qualify for cancellation of removal, asylum, naturalization, withholding of removal, or another type of relief. If you have a criminal record, then this process could be complicated.
Although you have the right to represent yourself in all legal cases, representing yourself may not be a viable option for everyone. If you choose to go "pro se" which is Latin for "on your own behalf" and you do not know what relief to seek - you may be doing yourself a disservice. If you are facing a potentially contentious situation, and you are feeling overwhelmed or uninformed - it is important to have someone at your side to objectively and zealously represent your best interests.
Moreover, by representing yourself, you may be giving up important rights. You owe it to yourself and your family to make truly informed decisions with the benefit of an attorney.
Many legal proceedings are emotionally and financially challenging, and frequently decisions made during that time will affect your future. Before you decide whether to hire an attorney to represent you, consider all your options. Representing yourself may save you some money short term, but if you cannot protect your legal rights, you may suffer long standing consequences afterward. Also, depending on the facts and difficulty of your situation, you may not be able to adequately represent yourself and protect your long term needs.
There are some very specific situations where your risk of self-representation increases. In fact, if you are able to place a check mark next to more than three of the following statements, you may benefit from hiring an attorney to represent you.
Review the list below to help you assess the complexity of your situation.
- Criminal records exist
- There is evidence of criminal/neglectful behavior
- Mental illness
- Physical disability or other significant health issue
- Mental competency issues (example, Alzheimer's disease)
- One of the parties is emotionally unstable and prone to fits of rage and violence
- Undocumented immigrant status
- Unfamiliarity with legal proceedings
- Lack of proficiency in English language
- Dispute of child custody/visitation/support
- Hiding assets
- Work for cash payments
- There is a dispute over property or assets
- Recently moved to another state or country
- Opposing party is disagreeable for the sake of it intimidating
- The case has already started and the judge has strongly encouraged you to hire a lawyer, or really doesn't seem to be seeing things your way at all.
If you cannot retain an attorney, you have a few options available to you. You may choose to represent yourself and go "pro se" or if you qualify you may be able to obtain representation from a legal aid center. These centers often offer free advice and representation to indigent clients. Also, you can contact your local bar association and ask for a list of attorneys willing to accept a case on a "pro bono" basis. Many attorneys perform volunteer work for the good of their community, and accept some cases free of charge.
Our office, for example, performs work for the South Jersey Legal Services and Legal Services of New Jersey. Also, if your case qualifies, many attorneys accept contingency fee cases. A contingency fee is normally payable only if the client is successful. It may be a percentage fee or a fixed fee. The most common type of contingency fee arrangements are in litigation and arbitration proceedings. Note that this is not a viable option in family law.
Be wary of non attorneys offering legal advice. First of all, such individuals might be engaging in unauthorized practice of law. Second of all, their advice may be inaccurate or just plainly wrong and harmful to your case.
No. You do not need to wear a suit. There is also no need to wear fancy or expensive clothes. However, you do have to dress up. You need to look neat and respectful, so wear something you would put on to go to a job interview or a religious ceremony. Remember that many judges are very traditional, and you do not want to offend a judge by wearing something disrespectful.
Our office recommends that clients avoid any clothing that can be distracting, such as low cut blouses, very short skirts, shorts, sneakers, spaghetti strap tops, or sports attire.