Thursday, March 28, 2013

Help, my spouse is missing!

I often get asked the question: I want to file a Divorce or other Family Law action but I don't know where the Respondent is? Can I proceed?

Sometimes the court allows litigants to serve documents other than by personal service (e.g. service by posting or publication). However, before the court will allow this, you will have to prove that you have tried your hardest to find him/her. Also, sometimes it will be helpful to the action to actually find your ex-partner so that you can enforce court orders such as child or spousal support. 

Tips for Finding a Missing Spouse/Partner in Order to Serve Him/Her:

  • Search social networking sites: I can't tell you how many times we have done a Facebook search and found a former partner. Sometimes locations are listed or you can email/ message a missing person. Sometimes there are photo's of places s/he frequents that you (or a registered process server) can track down.
  • Send a letter to your spouse's last address: Ensure to write "return service requested, do not forward. If they filed a change of address form with the USPS, you will get the letter back with a new address.
  • Call 411: Ok, I know this sounds silly, but often times if you call the city that you think your ex lives or works, you may be able to get a phone number and/or an address!
  • Try online telephone directories or a reverse telephone number directory: If you know his/her phone number, try to get the address from a reverse telephone number directory.
  • Contact relatives or friends: Perhaps you tell them that the children have an urgent matter and you need to contact the other parent? (It's not really a lie right? I mean if a parent is missing, that is certainly urgent!) Call, write or email them and ask if they contact information or, in the alternative, if they will contact them on your behalf.
  • Try past employers: Contact them to see if they have any info regarding the person's whereabouts or a name / address of a new employer. It's worth a try!
  • Search property records with tax assessor's office or county registrar/recorder's office. 
  • Consider using a paid internet site that searches for people: The more info you have like name, date of birth or social security number -- the more likely the results are accurate.Also try aliases. 
  • If you think they may be in jail contact CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, County Jail or search the Federal Bureau of Prison's Inmate Locator Database. Make sure you have the name and date of birth. 
  • Contact a Private Investigator or be your own detective: Even if you don't know where someone lives, you may know where they frequent or know their habits. Do they go to a certain bar? Gym? Coffee shop? Remember, you can't serve him/her but you can have a friend, family member or registered server help you track someone down. 
Below are some links to Bay Area Process Servers:

 Sturdee Services - The best! We've used them for several years and they have been successful at tracking down people trying to evade service. 

Process Server Institue - San Francisco

Same Day Attorney Service - Berkeley 

Docket Rocket - Great Yelp Reviews!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I've Separated From the Mother of My Child, Now What?

Paternity = Fatherhood

If you have not married the mother of your child, you will need a Judgment of Paternity to establish your right as a father. A parentage case may be started by the mother, the father, a child's personal representative or the Department of Child Support Services. 

There is one exception to the requirement for a Judgment of Paternity: If you have correctly executed a Declaration of Paternity (CS 909) [usually you are presented with one in the hospital if you were present for the birth]. The Declaration of Paternity must be signed by both parents and can have the same effect as a court order establishing paternity of your child -- without anyone having to go to court. When the form is not signed at birth -- you and mom must complete the form in front of a notary public and send to the State Department of Social Service. 

Should I sign a Declaration of Paternity? 
Only sign if you are certain you are the father. Since it can have the same effect of a Judgment, once you have correctly completed the document you can be held responsible for child support unless you (1) file a Rescission Form within 60 days or (2) successfully challenge the DOP within a very limited period of time. The latter option is much more difficult and may require legal assistance. 

Can I still establish my Paternity if I do not sign the DOP or if I am not on the Birth Certificate? What about if the Mother refuses to acknowledge my rights to our child?
Absolutely! You will need to file a Petition to Establish a Parental Relationship and bring the case before a Judge. Once paternity has been established, you can seek custody and visitation rights. 

What if I am not sure if the child is biologically mine?
You can ask the court to order genetic testing prior to an admission of paternity.

Can I change a previous order of child custody or support?
You can change a prior order by filing a Request for Order with the Court. You must show a change of circumstances. Examples include: (1) change in income; (2) informal or court ordered change of custodial time share; (2) you have completed drug/ alcohol rehabilitation or anger management courses; or (3) the mother is not providing a safe or suitable home environment.

If we come to an agreement, do either of us need to go to court?
No! Assuming you have a complete agreement and you have filed the necessary pleadings, you will not need to go to court.

I did not sign a Declaration of Paternity and/or there is no Judgment of Paternity. Mother and I have an amicable relationship. Do I still need a Judgment of Paternity? 
It is still a very good idea to establish Paternity. If you fail to establish paternity, your child may have difficulty inheriting from you or your family members, traveling with you, receiving social security / veteran's benefits (if available), accessing family medical records, obtaining support from both parents or reaping the emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are. You may also have trouble getting access to your child if the relationship between you and your child's mother becomes strained.

If you need assistance establishing your parental relationship and/or challenging a paternity judgment, Levine Law Group can help. We offer a range of services including: mediation, document preparation, legal coaching, limited scope representation and Full Representation. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Levine Law Group Welcomes Andrew Levine

It’s a family affair.  Literally.  Andrew and I are first cousins. We grew up together in Los Angeles until Andrew moved with his parents (Rich and Deb) to the Bay Area. Now we are reunited and couldn't be more excited. 

After spending several months in NY acquiring employment experience with a large financial institution, he has taken the California Bar Exam and is awaiting results.

He is currently working on several projects for Levine Law Group, including but not limited to: drafting correspondence; preparing legal memoranda, responding to discovery requests and addressing client concerns. 

Below is his bio:

Andrew earned his Bachelor of Arts in two degrees, French and History, from the University of California, Los Angeles.  He received his Juris Doctor degree from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law.  While in law school, Andrew was selected to join his law school’s Journal of Law and Gender, an honor given to students ranked in the top 20% and those who score exceptionally high on a school-administered writing exam.  He focused his attention while writing on the Journal to organizing a symposium which brought attention to crimes against children, including statute of limitations reform for victims of child sex abuse, as well as international parental child abduction.

Andrew brings to the Levine Law Group substantial experience working in both the public and private sectors.  Passionate about advocacy and serving our disadvantaged communities, Andrew interned in the Domestic Violence Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and the HIV Law Project in New York.  In recognition of his work, Andrew’s law school designated him a ‘Public Service Scholar’ and awarded him a substantial scholarship. 

Andrew also worked in the commercial litigation department of a prominent mid-size law firm in New York, where he focused on a variety of contractual disputes.  Andrew later worked in the Compliance and Risk departments of a large financial institution.

In his spare time, Andrew enjoys being with his family and friends, rooting for his favorite local sports teams, and eating his way through the Bay Area.  

Welcome to Team Levine, Drew! 

The (mis)adventures of a family law attorney (part 1)

The (mis) adventures of my first seven years as a family law attorney and the lessons I've learned: 

When I look back on the last seven years of practicing law, I thank my lucky stars for the experiences I've had and by the same token, thank god they are behind me. After graduating law school, I knew I did not want to spend the next several years learning law in the basement of a law library, going through 1000's of boxes full of Discovery. Nor did I want to spend hours and hours writing legal briefs and researching obscure areas of law that touch very few people. So I found a small law firm in Fairfield that was looking for an entry level attorney to immediately manage their own case load and litigate divorces. Sure I was frightened. After all, I was the girl in law school who slumped as far down in my chair as I could -- hoping to become invisible so I wouldn't be called upon. Yet something yearned inside me to get out there and learn the ropes. My naivetĂ©, enthusiasm and altruistic motives were as helpful as damaging -- encouraging me to work diligently and passionately but attracting me to the most dysfunctional of situations (and sometimes, clients).

"Mr. Murphy, Don't Shoot" (names changed to protect the incident)

Eager to resolve my first big case, I was willing to do just about anything. I was representing an 85 year-old man divorcing his (very) young bride and it was ugly. We were down to the nitty gritty, only personal property needed to be divided (think: toaster). After a ridiculous amount of negotiation, a Judgment was prepared which carefully provided for the disposition of every item of joint and separate property in the family residence. Mr. Murphy was to keep the home but Wife's share of the property needed to be transferred to her. Arrangements were made that Ms. Murphy would rent a U-Haul and bring a couple family members to help her. Mr. Murphy was entitled to have a "support" person there with him while she loaded up the truck. The night before the planned exchange, Mr. Murphy declared that he would only go through with property division if I accompanied him on the day of. I really really didn't want to because I knew just how volatile both parties were. By the same token, a failure to finalize the "agreement" would mean a delay in the final Judgment. I couldn't live with myself if the ill and feeble old man passed away still married -- and I knew he'd haunt me from his grave should his (ex) wife receive all of his hard earned assets. So, I agreed.

It must have been the hottest day of the year and my client refused to turn the air conditioning on. The fragile old man I had come to love had the stance of a 25 year old marine ready to do battle. I contemplated throwing jeans on but wore my best skirt suit in an effort to please my conservative client. Right from the start we encountered problems. Which bedroom set would wife get? Why would I have thought that she wanted the only set that Husband purchased before they met? What about the figurines and other ‘art’ we had failed to contemplate in the agreement? Each time the energy became tense, I used my best mediation skills to try and defuse the situation. When that failed, I called the police.

The first time the cops came out they thought it was a joke (on them) and they weren’t very happy about it. What lawyer would spend her Saturday at a client’s home dividing silverware? They must have seen the look of desperation in my eyes and after what felt like a lifetime of snickering, they stood by for the division of one room. Then they left. The afternoon continued like that, with law enforcement never sticking around for more than 10 minutes. Each time I held my breath as they left, knowing that everyone was only getting more agitated as the day progressed.

Finally, the last room. How difficult could it be? It was Mr. Murphy’s Den: where he sat in a late 1970’s lazy boy, ate tv dinners (because she “wouldn’t cook worth crap”) and watched MTV’s the Real World. I suspect his wife had never even set foot in the man cave. Nonetheless, she wanted to check it out to ensure she had not missed a thing. My back was to the door as I watched the Mrs. unplug the 10 year old DVD player. I suddenly noticed a wild look in her eye (a nice change from the general look of disgust and disdain). But when I turned my head, to my horror I saw (out of the corner of my eye) Mr. Murphy standing in the doorway holding up a shotgun. I screamed, and threw myself to the floor, skirt over the head and full-on panty exposure. “Mr. Murphy, Don’t Shoot!”

To which he replied: “What the hell are you talking about Ms. Erin. I ain’t gonna shoot nobody. I’m just showing my lovely wife her gun, this damn thing she made me keep under her godforsaken side of the bed. She can have it back cause I want no part of this bitch’s bullshit.”  

[gigantic sigh] [scrape up what’s left of my dignity and dust off my knees] um, er…well… ‘I think we have accomplished all that can be done in a day. Thank you everyone for your patience and assistance in get this, um, resolved in a day.’

Lesson learned: Never intentionally insert yourself in a situation that could potentially make you a percipient witness.

(Mis)Adventure #2:
"Your Honor, the Lady is E-V-I-L"

 After we (my now husband) had been dating for awhile, I thought it would be a good idea for him to see me in court. After all, it is an integral part of my life. I picked a fairly ‘routine’ hearing and where the opposing party was unrepresented. Sky sat in the back of the courtroom as I argued the case on the record. I then submitted and waited for the ruling. Surely it would be in our favor. This was an issue that I was very well versed on the law and the facts fit perfectly. Your Honor asked Mr. Martinez if he had anything else he would like to say. Calmly, my opposing party looked over at me and then back at the Judge. Then he raised his finger and pointed it directly at me, ‘your honor, this lady is EVIL, full on evil. I see the devil in her eyes when I look at her. You need to know this Judge… before you make your order. She is E-V-I-L. Evil.'

Oh boy. I scanned the courtroom for my man. Surely, he would feel protective. Would he do something he’d regret? That would land him (or me) in contempt of court? Oh please please please don’t be protective, let me handle this with grace, I’m a big girl. And then, as my eyes locked on my fiancĂ©, I see him sitting in the corner, with a smirk on his face, nodding in agreement! He thought it was hilarious and now I’ll never hear the end of it.

Lesson learned: expect the unexpected. 


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

10 Qualities to Look for in a Lawyer

Choosing a lawyer to help you resolve some of life's most challenging predicaments can be overwhelming. When we are in need of legal counsel, we are vulnerable - struggling with a crisis of sorts and on the hunt for someone to put our trust in. Look for these traits when searching out legal help:


KNOWLEDGE of the law

Contrary to popular belief, lawyers do not know all laws off the top of their head. However, your lawyers should participate in continuing legal education to seek out new law and procedure, refresh their memory and learn new strategies to resolving life most complicated issues. Most importantly, a lawyer who is afraid to admit when they don't know something -- is your worst nightmare. There's nothing wrong with pausing a meeting to look up existing law in an effort to steer you in the right direction.


TEAM player

A good lawyer knows how to delegate. S/he can't do everything by themselves and most importantly -- is probably not good at everything. Litigation attorneys spend a lot of time in court with other clients so you need to know that you will have access to legal assistance even when your primary attorney is unavailable. Look for a lawyer with a team of people to help -- a case manager, paralegal, admin and associate. This doesn't necessarily mean your legal fees will be higher. To the contrary, your attorney is probably much more efficient and can often have employees who bill at a lower rate complete many of the forms required in a law suit.



You need a lawyer who can roll up their sleeves and make things work. If your lawyer does not have a competitive nature s/he is likely to crumble under pressure. Passion can't be learned -- it's innate. If you sense that the lawyer you are considering doesn't have it, skip him/her. Cases can last months, sometimes years. You need to be confident that your lawyer will not fizzle out or get bored -- but instead will keep gunning for you all the way to the finish line. Passionate (good) attorney's are not afraid to be agressive or assertive when necessary. 



Really, there are lawyers who are truthful. A lawyer who does not have a reputation for being honest, will have trouble with garnering the trust that is necessary to negotiate a matter to resolution. Failing to take the high road on a regular basis certainly effects your credibility in the courtroom.



You want your lawyer to think outside the box - identifying problems in advance and thinking of creative solutions to conquer them. Strategizing a case well is not just essential for a positive outcome, it is a great way to keep the action as cost effective as possible and avoid common pitfalls before they give rise.



Law is very specialized these days, similar to other fields like medicine. A lawyer who spreads him/herself to thin, cannot possibly have the necessary experience to battle all of the legal nuances that come in a particular case. Your chosen lawyer should have several years of experience in the field you are hiring them for. Don't be afraid to ask the attorney you are interviewing how many cases they have brought to trial, references from previous clients, and a sampling of outcomes.



You better like your lawyer -- you will be spending quite a bit of time with her/him and will be sharing some of your most vulnerable thoughts. Why not look for a lawyer with a sense of humor, compassion, warmth and people skills. Not all lawyers are stuffy, condescending and rude. There's nothing worse than paying someone to be a jerk.


WRITING skills

Lawyers spend a large part of their practice writing. I sometimes wonder if there's a subconscious competition to use the most verbose language possible. Maybe it's because they think they appear smarter? Who does it help when a lawyer uses vocabulary that no one can understand? (they often use it incorrectly too!) A good lawyer will write simply and to the point. Your judge is often reading your pleading the night before -- after cooking or taking care of their kids and a long work day. The last thing they want to do is read through a 10 page declaration that strays from the relevant facts.



Is your lawyer so busy that s/he will not have time for your case? Can s/he give your matter the attention it deserves? Your lawyer must have the time and resources to deal with emergencies or sudden issues that come up in your case. For example, in my area of practice (family law and divorce), issues sometimes come up that require immediate action such as domestic violence, child abduction or asset / money concealing. Your lawyer cannot be too busy to act immediately if necessary.



This one is tricky. You certainly don't want to hire the cheapest attorney on the block. There's something to be said about getting what you pay for. However, it isn't always necessary to hire the most expensive lawyer. In fact, just because they have a high billable hour doesn't make them good. Your attorney should have a strategy to keep the action as cost-effective as possible. S/he should have a practice management system that keeps costs down. For example, we use a system called "My Case" that allows our clients the ability to access their court dates, correspondence, court pleadings and other information about their case. This cuts down on expensive phone calls and emails just to determine the status of your case. The office should be comfortable but not fancy. You definitely do not want to be paying for your lawyer's luxuries!