Stepp Law Group, Monroe NC




Find You, Be You, Love You: Self-Searching, Self-Branding, and Self-Care in the Midst of Divorce

Finding yourself in the middle of a divorce (or conscious uncoupling as some people are now calling it), can be a challenging time for a multitude of reasons. Not only are you dealing with the struggle of dividing your finances and your time with your children, but often times, you find yourself in the middle of an identity crisis. For many, you find yourself going from a long-time couple- a “we”, to a single- a “me”. This can be a major shift in how you feel about who you are. For years you have lived making decisions for the couple, and building your image as a family, and now that image is drastically changing. Now that you are emerging from this phase in your life, it is time to rediscover and freshen-up your self-brand. Part of our job as family law attorneys is not only helping our clients through the legal process of a divorce, but also through the personal journey. Rest assured, we have been in your shoes personally; we’ve witnessed this thousands of times professionally, and we have words of wisdom to offer:

  1. Find You/Self-Search: The first step in re-discovering and updating your self-brand is finding who you are now as an individual. Part of this takes self-reflection over your past to sort through the path you’ve been down. For this, we always recommend our clients seek counseling from a professional, whether that be a mental-health professional, a religious professional, or a physician. Journaling can also be a helpful and cathartic way to reflect on where you have been. The next step is working on where you want to go and where you see yourself in the future. Listing goals, dreams, and aspirations is a great way to begin preparing for the future. During this time, we recommend trying different hobbies, spending time with friends and family, meeting new people, and generally exploring the world around you to find things that you enjoy and that interest you. Doing this will not only help you make new connections and cultivate new relationships, but it will also lead you to new passions, or may even lead to re-discovering old passions. Reflecting, dreaming, and exploring is all a part of the healing process, and will lead to you finding who you are in this new phase of your life.

  2. Be You/Self-Brand: Once you have worked through reflecting on your past and have taken time to figure out where you want to go, what you are passionate about, and who you are as an individual, it is time to start letting others know who this new person is. This is when you re-establish your self-brand. Branding has become ever-so-important in the age of online marketing, social media, and networking. You want people to know who you are and what they get when they are dealing with you in business and in associating with you personally. The business side of self-branding consists of ensuring that you are presenting a professional, trust-worthy, and sound image of yourself. Your business, in part, will dictate the type of brand to be portrayed. Regardless of what the brand is, you should display your business brand in a uniform manner across all of your platforms, including social media, website, and other marketing materials. In your personal self-branding, you want to make sure that you are connected with your authentic self and that you are sharing that with those who you want to connect with personally. This means finding people who you are comfortable with so you can unmask and be your true self in its most raw form. Part of this means finding those who love you for you no matter what, and the other part is sharing who you are with those people. You will find that when you are able to do that, happiness in your personal life, no matter what is going on in your business life, will be easy to come by. In both your business and personal branding, there are countless resources to help you cultivate these brands. Life coaches, branding experts, social media managers, and other similar professionals can help you to perfect your brand, then hone in the skills to put that brand out in the world.

  3. Love You/Self-Care: Finally, part of living a happy and healthy life following the unexpected path of a divorce is to love yourself and take care of yourself. You have reflected on where you have been and the ins and outs of how and why those things happened in your life. You have rediscovered who you are and how to share that person with others in a personal and professional sense. Now comes loving that person and making sure you take care of who you are so that you continue to grow and prosper. Loving yourself comes in many forms, but at its most basic, comes from being comfortable with who you are, appreciating what you stand for, and being proud of what makes you unique. Understanding that you will not be everyone’s “cup of tea,” and that you will never be able to please everybody all the time is a key to being able to love yourself. Constantly searching for the approval of others is a quick way to constantly feel depleted. Instead, connect with those who are most important to you. Use those people as a mirror to speak to you honestly so that you can stay in tune with what others are seeing from you, but otherwise, live your life, and if it makes you happy and makes those you love happy, then you’ve done all you need to do. The other side of loving yourself is taking care of yourself, which also comes in many forms. This can mean connecting to what fuels you spiritually, whether that is religion, yoga, nature, or the like. It can also mean taking care of yourself physically and mentally, which can be easy as taking a daily walk or taking some quiet time to yourself each day for a few minutes. It can also mean something as simple as making sure that you are always taking time to connect to those things you are passionate about and making time to do the things that fill your tank. If you are creative, take time to explore that creativity. If you love giving, do work with a non-profit. If travel brings you joy, make sure to set aside time for a trip whether that means weekend trips throughout the year, or a vacation abroad every once in a while. Whatever it is, make sure to stay in tune with the things that you can easily find happiness in.

We understand that divorce can be scary and confusing. It is a place most never imagined being, but if you will take time during the storm to connect with yourself and find who that is so that you can grow that person and love that person, you will find that the storm will subside and there is a bright new journey for you on the other side. No matter where you are in your marriage, your separation, your divorce, or your single life, we say cheers to you- you are smart, strong, and empowered.

Use Your Gifts

Being a parent is a blessing. Also a great challenge. I try so hard to set a good example for my girls, in everything I do and in everything I say. Sometimes I do a great job; sometimes I fail miserably. But, no matter the day, the choice, the struggle, the argument, the decision, I always come back to the same motto, one I have said countless times as a parent: “Use your gifts”. So simple really. Use your gifts. Three words, so powerful, something that should be so easy, but sometimes is quite simply, ignored.

We all have gifts, talents, skills and the like, things about us that are easy, that come naturally, without effort. These are our gifts. We just have them. But for so many, our gifts are ignored, pushed aside, made unimportant or hidden.

Many do not know or recognize their gifts. For some, it is simpler to know what our gifts are NOT.  For me, the gifts I do not have were easy. Math is not my gift. I can not do much without a calculator. Logic games have always seemed illogical to me.  Patience is not my gift. I am quick to form an opinion, quick to react, quick to decide, quick to judge, quick to speak, quick to intervene, quick to do almost anything. Being tall is not my gift. I am short. My pants never fit correctly. I cannot reach anything without a chair, a ladder, or a stool. I am little, small, short- always have been, always will be.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be so many things- a famous artist, a writer, but more than anything, a mother.  God blessed me with two smart, beautiful girls. Not perfect, of course, but perfectly mine. Are my daughters my gift? No, because while they will always be my daughters, I only have the privilege of guiding them for a few more short years, and then they will be off on their own, finding their own lives, their own way, finding their gifts.

As a mother, I have found myself telling my girls over and over to use their gifts. They have such amazing gifts. Their gifts are so clear to me, yet have never been clear at all to them.  I argue and lobby for them both to recognize, appreciate, and use their gifts. My youngest is brave, compassionate especially towards animals, and has my gift of advocacy; she uses these gifts and I am helping her to grow in them and use them to her benefit. She is also gifted musically; she can play instruments and she has a beautiful voice; I was told not once but twice by two different teachers that she has perfect pitch. I am not a musician. I know nothing about pitch, but understand this gift is not learned or developed: you have it or you don’t. She can play the guitar and the piano. She amazes me with her musicality . Her gift. But she takes it for granted. She is disinterested. She doesn't see it as a gift.

She also has the gift of height. She is 5’7 and beautifly tall and still growing. Her height is a gift. She can walk into a room and is almost always seen and noticed. She can reach anything. She has the physical size to dominate in the soccer field, being taller than most her age. But she hates being so tall, and often-times will slouch to make herself seem shorter. She does not use or see her height as a gift. It is clear to me, but it is no gift at all in her eyes.

My oldest daughter also has amazing gifts. She is wise beyond her years. She was born with an old soul, a unique heart and mind for understanding others. She is compassionate, no-nonsense, funny, and driven. While she puts most her gifts to use, like her sister, she does not see any of these qualities as gifts. While incredibly self-confident, her gifts remain subdued; though I know one day they will make her the incredible young woman she is on her way to becoming.

I have spent the last 25 years of my life as an attorney, most of those years practicing family law. Over these many years, I have been advocating for my clients’ rights, so I have learned that one of my true gifts is advocacy. I fight for my clients, their children, their money, their homes, and most everything that is important to them. I have been blessed with a very successful law practice, and in my heart I know the success I have is due to the use of my gift. Like so many, like my children, I didn’t always recognize my gift, but I never had anyone tell me how important it was to know your gift, to develop your gift, or to use it.

I now know that although I am small and short, my physical appearance allows others to underestimate me, and to be shocked when such might comes from such small bones. I know that being quick to react and to judge can be negative traits, but they have also benefited me in my work at times when I use them in a positive manner. I also know that although I am not math-minded, having a disadvantage like that has forced me to rely on others at times, which has expanded my contacts and knowledge and taught me to be humble in the things I do not know. I have spent my life focusing on weaknesses, and am learning that in areas that I considered myself ungifted, I actually have grown most from those pitfalls. In doing so, it has also shown light on my more gifted areas and taught me to harness those gifts for great things.

I hope to continue to encourage my daughters to recognize their gifts, appreciate them, foster them, and use them, but also to find ways to turn their shortfalls into gifts of their own.

Ask yourself what your gifts are. A simple but important question. Then ask yourself, what areas am I weak in, and how can I make those weaknesses benefit me. See how quickly your life changes when you simply start to harness the obvious and not so obvious gifts that God has blessed you with, and continue to pass the lesson on to our next generations.

It's Not All Hearts and Flowers

The time period leading up to a separation or divorce is often extremely stressful. Everyone's situation is different. You and your spouse may have simply grown apart, you may have been constantly fighting, perhaps things have gotten particularly heated, and there may have even been domestic violence issues. No matter the situation, it is guaranteed that the initial period of separation, although sad, tends to feel like a bit of a relief for a lot of people. You are no longer living with this person who has been a part of so much emotional turmoil and baggage for you, which can feel like weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. After that initial feeling of relief comes what a lot of people are not fully prepared for- the emotional rollercoaster that comes with going through a divorce. 

 We all know that a divorce is not easy. What many people don't know is how to navigate the feelings throughout the process, and what exactly to expect. Even the simplest of divorces that involve just the negotiation of a Separation Agreement come with tough decisions and heavy emotions. Those who have to see a case through lengthy litigation take an even bigger hit. No matter whether you and your spouse are able to semi-amicably settle upon terms for a Separation Agreement, or whether you end up litigating every issue of your divorce, you need to be prepared emotionally for the process. 

Time is the one aspect of a case that seems to catch most divorcing couples by surprise, and also tends to cause the most stress and emotional damage. Depending on your county and the issues you have to litigate, your case can last anywhere from several months to a few years. Many people think they will file litigation and see resolution within a couple of months, so they are not prepared when their case drags out for more than a year. This time means more time of uncertainty about your future, more time you have to spend working with your ex-spouse, and more time that you have to spend focusing on the past without being able to completely move into the future. The only way to avoid this time is for you and your spouse to settle your case outside of Court in a timely manner. This often means each person making some sacrifices and leaving the marriage without something they really wanted. Settling can be hard to do, but when compared with the time and money that comes with fully litigating a case, it can be a great option for some couples. 

Another aspect of a case that some don't have to experience, but most do, is the polarization between you and your former spouse. Even with cases where the parties have agreed on terms before meeting with attorneys, inevitably, someone changes at least one of those terms, causing friction between the parties. Going through a separation and divorce puts people in a vulnerable state from the outset, so when their former spouse begins changing their mind about certain issues, it is easy for parties to get angry and become polarized. Polarization usually causes a stalemate and pushes people into Court. To avoid this, be prepared that even if you think you and your spouse are already in agreement on how to divide assets, time with the children, etc. that one of you will change your mind, and there will be at least a small period of negotiation. Often times, before meeting with legal counsel, most people do not fully understand their legal rights. A couple who has reached an informal agreement, and then meet with attorneys may find that based on their legal rights, they want to make changes to that agreement before formalizing it. Don't use this as fuel to demonize your ex-spouse, no matter how unreasonable you think his/her request is. If you can both continue to treat each other with mutual respect, and can continue to try and see everything through the other person's eyes, you will get to the end of your case much more smoothly, and with a lot less emotional damage. 

There are pitfalls throughout a separation and divorce that your attorney can help you to avoid to try and make the process as stress-free as possible. Your cooperation and relationship with your attorney will be imperative to avoiding unnecessary stress and negative emotions. Keep in mind that a good attorney will not sugar coat things for you and give you false hope. If your attorney tells you that the law is not on your side about an issue, this does not mean that your attorney is not on your side, or is not fighting for you. It simply means your attorney wants to keep you fully informed so that you do not go into Court or negotiations with the sense that you will come out with something that the law is clear that you are not entitled to. Not every aspect of litigation is predictable, but an experienced attorney will know how to properly advise you in an effort to help you avoid long and costly litigation. If you can learn to use your attorney as less of a fighting tool and more of an advisory/informational tool, you will find that you will get through the divorce process much quicker with a lot less heartache. Finding an attorney who openly communicates with you is key. You do not want an attorney whose office does not answer your calls and emails. No more than a couple of days should go by after you have reached out to your attorney without you getting some kind of response. If you find initially that you are not getting that kind of service, then you need to quickly consider a change in counsel before you get too far into the process. Your attorney will be with you from the beginning through the end of this process, so no matter what, make sure to choose someone you feel comfortable with, and who will adequately represent your rights. 

Being prepared at the beginning of a separation for the emotions that are to come will help you navigate the process and come out on the other side with a sense of relief and closure. Your attorney is always someone you can reach out to to help you through the process, but keep in mind that the process may take a toll on you, and you will need the constant support of friends, family, and perhaps counselors. No one's path to divorce is filled with hearts and flowers, but prepare by understanding the process to come, by securing the proper legal counsel, and by getting into the right frame of mind, and you will come out on the other side with more peace, ready to move forward. 

So I Think I Want a Divorce...Maybe...What do I do Now? - Steps to Follow When Considering a Divorce

Many of the people who walk into our office are still unsure about whether or not they want to separate from their spouse. One of the most frequently asked questions is: "What do I need to do until I decide whether or not to go through with a separation?" There are a number of things to consider personally and legally in making a decision about whether separation is best for you. Here is a list of a few issues to consider while you decide:

1. Consult With an Attorney: Consulting with an attorney even before you have officially decided to separate is critical for a number of reasons. Most importantly, an attorney will be able to advise you of all of your legal rights and responsibilities based upon your individual situation. Some people turn to the internet in search of legal advice, and although helpful information can be found on the web, that information does not take your individual situation into account. Family law cases are intricate in that each person has a different set of circumstances that shape his or her divorce. By consulting with an attorney, you have someone in whom you can confide, and someone who can properly direct you based upon the specifics of your situation. Additionally, by consulting with an attorney early on, you are better able to quickly secure your legal representation in the event that you end up needing it.  Some people attempt to navigate a divorce on their own without legal representation, which is a risky decision. Again, although you may be able to find some helpful information online, or from your friends who have been through a divorce, none of those sources alone will adequately prepare you regarding the relevant laws that will come into play in your case. Furthermore, family law often times involves high stress and intense emotions from both parties. By hiring an attorney, you allow yourself to take a step back and have someone who is not personally involved advocate for you from a position of knowledge versus a position of raw emotion. 

2. Protect Your Communications: If you are sharing a phone account, a computer, an email account, etc. with your spouse, then your communications are not private from him/her. If you have consulted with an attorney or a counselor, and that person is emailing you or leaving you voicemails, your spouse could easily see that information. It is best to create yourself a private email account that you do not access on these shared devices and accounts in order to ensure true privacy. Your attorney may also need to mail you certain documents, so you may want to consider getting your own PO Box. 

3. Protect Your Assets, Accounts, and Information: In an earlier blog, I explained some of the ins and outs of the equitable distribution process wherein your marital assets and debts are divided during divorce proceedings. If you are considering separation, you need to be taking steps to protect yourself financially. If you are considering separation, it is likely that your spouse is as well. Unfortunately, once emotions come into play, spouses may begin taking advantage of each other, so it is simply best to take the necessary steps to prevent the same. You should begin making a list of all of your property that is valuable and important to you. You want to account for items that were purchased during your marriage so that if your spouse moves out and takes or sells some of those items, you will have record of them. It may be wise to take photographs of certain items to document what condition they are in. You may want to consider opening a bank account that is in your name solely. Although any money deposited into the account prior to your date of separation will still be considered a marital asset, you will need your own account following your separation in order to maintain money that will be your separate property after separation. Having your own bank account will also keep your post-separation life more private from your spouse. If upon separation, your spouse begins spending funds that were marital in an irresponsible manner, or begins moving large sums of money into accounts that you cannot access, you should consult your attorney regarding a Temporary Restraining Order wherein the Court may put restrictions on some of your marital funds and accounts in order to protect both parties from marital waste. Finally, you may want to make copies of all of your important documents in case they become unaccessible later on (social security card, account statements, tax returns, medical records, children's important records, etc.).

4. Consider What Your Housing Situation Will be Post-Separation: Unless you are a victim of domestic violence, your attorney will often times advise you to stay put in your marital residence. The purpose of this advice is that often times, the party who has lived in the marital residence during separation will end up keeping the marital residence (usually in exchange for a payment of part of the equity to the opposing party). Additionally, by staying in the marital residence, you maintain control over a lot of the marital property, as most of those things remain in the house pending distribution of the marital assets during the equitable distribution process. If you do not wish to remain in the home, or you feel it would be better for your family as a whole that you do not remain in the home, then you need to begin looking into housing options. If you have children, you will want to consider proximity to their schools. You will also need to consider cost.  If you are considered the supporting spouse (the main financial provider), you may be looking at future post-separation support payments, and mortgage payments on the marital residence while you also make payments on your new residence. If you are the dependent spouse (you have relied on your spouse's income primarily to live), then you may have issues getting adequate financial support from your spouse after separation, prior to the Court ordering your spouse to pay you a certain amount in support. In either situation, moving your home is stressful and it is wise to begin looking at options early on.

5. Seek Counsel From Someone Other Than Your Attorney: Clients often times rely on their attorneys for emotional support. Although most attorneys are happy to provide this type of support when they can, such support would be more meaningful to you coming from other sources. Although your attorney will tell you to keep quiet regarding your potential separation, it is certainly okay to confide in close family and friends for support. Those who love you most will support you through these tough decisions. They may give some welcome (sometimes unwelcome) advice, and they will be there to discuss your options and your feelings with you. Although your attorney will discuss your legal options with you, your attorney is not emotionally connected to the situation, and does not know the intricacies of your history with your spouse; your attorney simply knows the law and how to apply it to your situation. With that said, often times friends and family are attached to both you and your spouse, and may not be the best people to confide in. You may want to consider speaking with a counselor or religious leader regarding your situation and your thoughts. This person, like an attorney, is required to keep your conversation confidential; he or she may know you more personally than your attorney, and their sole job is to support you emotionally and give you personal guidance. Your attorney will be used to giving legal advice, and although he/she will sometimes offer personal advice, it is best to leave those types of conversations to those who know you best, or those who specialize in that area. A divorce can be complex and emotionally draining, so it will be helpful to have that extra support both before and throughout the process should you choose to separate. 

She Believed She Could so She Did: Women in Business, the Journey for us All

Donna B. Stepp: Age- my best kept secret, Attorney for 22 years, Law Firm Entrepreneur for 17 years

I am blessed.  Truly blessed.  I remind myself of this simple phrase every day, because it is true.  I am a Christian first, a wife and mother second, and a lawyer third.  I believe in God, in family, and in hard work, in that order.  I try very hard to keep this balance,  admit that sometimes, I struggle, but that is okay.  Life can be difficult.  I learned that long ago.  Life can also be rewarding and full of blessings, and I am reminded of this every day. 

I did not grow up wanting to be a lawyer.  In fact, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do: I was going to be a famous artist.  I was going to art school in New York. I grew up studying and creating art.  It was my passion for many years.  In high school, my interests changed, and I realized that I would have to work harder or settle for being less than the best, so my passion for art turned into recreation.

I went to law school for two reasons:  first, because my Uncle, my Godfather, was a lawyer and is to this day one of the smartest, charming, and amazing men I know. He was not only book smart, he was engaging, a people person.  He can talk to anyone.  I grew up admiring him, wishing I could be like him.  He was a tremendous example for me, and I wanted to have a life like his.  Second, because I quite simply did not know what else to do.  I was in college, had changed my major multiple times, knew I could not go to medical school because I am horrible in math and science, so law school it was!

Looking back, my decision to adventure into the unknown world of law was one of my best.  Leaving home for law school forced me to be independent of my family. I had never lived away from home until that time.  I chose a small southern law school 8 hours from my hometown, and this forced me to make new friends and forge new relationships.  To this day, I am close to many of my law school friends, and I cherish my law school memories. 

Upon graduation, I stayed in North Carolina, my new home. After a brief stay in the North Carolina Mountains, I took a position as an Assistant District Attorney in an area covering 5 counties.  Again living on my own, knowing almost no one, I made new friends and forged new relationships, both personally and professionally. After almost 5 years of prosecuting, I decided it was time for the next phase of my professional career.  I took a leap of faith and opened my first law practice in Union County in 1998.  Although there were days in the beginning that I wondered if I had what it took to be successful, I remember fondly every experience, both good and bad,  along the way, and today, in 2015, I continue to own a successful law practice here in Monroe.   I am blessed with the professional success that I have enjoyed for 22 years. 

Along the way of my developing professional career,  I married, had two amazing daughters, divorced, and married again (to the love of my life).  I mention the divorce not because it defines me, but because, like all of my other personal journeys, my divorce helped make me the woman that I am today.  I am blessed every day to be a wife and mother.  I am blessed to have 3 people who need me everyday and who support me everyday in return.   

As I said earlier, I am a Christian.  I was taught to put God first, and that when you do, everything else falls into place.  I believe this to be true, although admit sometimes it is a struggle.  My journey in faith is one  I continue to walk every day.  I mention my faith not to impress it upon others, but to share that for me, being a Christian has played a great part in my success as an attorney.  I believe in giving back to others when you are blessed, and I work very hard to ensure that I give with my time, with my talents, and with my financial support in areas outside of my profession.  I am blessed to be fortunate enough to have these opportunities to give back to others.  

So many times in my life,  I simply took a leap of faith.  I believed in myself and had faith that guided me along the way. Being a Christian first, a wife and mother second, and a lawyer third has led me to great personal happiness and professional success.  I know who I am, and I embrace it, and  I encourage others to do the same!


Jordan M. Griffin: Age- 25, First Year Associate Attorney, Hopeful Entrepreneur 

As a youngish woman entering into the business world, reading the words of wisdom of a veteran woman in business who has built an extremely successful law firm, raised a beautiful family, supported her community, and created a legacy that will follow her for years can be intimidating. We wonder, how did she get there? Will I make it that far in my career? What do I have to do to get there? 

Although I am just breaking into my career field as an attorney, I have grown up around extremely successful women; I've soaked in their wisdom; watched the way they work; watched the way the cultivate relationships; and most importantly, I have paid attention to how they balance their personal lives with their works lives. My mom always preached that reputation is key, and I have learned over time that she couldn't be more right. You don't make it to the top like a Donna Stepp without having a stellar reputation, and that all begins when you take your first step into the business world, sometimes even before that. This means making every relationship count. Don't write off someone just because they don't have anything to offer you; instead, offer them what you have. You will be surprised to see that the person who may have just been a casual acquaintance becomes the person who helps you get your dream job. Everyone refers to this as networking...I have never been a fan of that word; it makes me think of forced relationships that you are cultivating because you want something from the other person. I've quickly learned that the relationships I genuinely put my time into, the ones that I really care about and cherish, are the ones that have taken me the furthest. Most of those relationships are with the strongest women in my life. They haven't taken me far because they want something back out of it, and I haven't given back to them because of what I know they can do for me. It is deeper than that. Because we care for each other, we want to put everything into making each other successful. This isn't to say that every person you meet will turn into these deeper relationships, but it means that each time you meet someone, you put your best foot forward; you give what you can give to help that person be successful, and even if you never see a return from that person, you have built on your reputation, and that reputation will turn into referrals and other relationships that will help you grow personally and professionally. 

The second most important thing I've learned as a new woman in business is that my job right now is to learn. It's easy to walk into the business world thinking you know it all. The truth is, you may know the basics, but you will learn the most from those who have been there through the ebbs and flows of the business. Being humble to your ignorance in the beginning will make you rich in your success later on. For example, in the legal world, you may know the laws, but those who have been practicing for years know the law, the judges, the other attorneys, the probability of success for particular cases, and what I like to refer to as the "street rules."  You can know the law backwards and forwards, but knowing how the opposing attorney works can be the difference between successfully settling your case early on, and going through a lengthy trial. These are things that you learn over time, but they are also things you can learn quickly by simply soaking in the knowledge of the veterans in your field. Learning means putting in a lot of extra time during the beginning of your career so that you can reap the rewards later. This means nerding out on a Sunday over your boss' old work, or the governing books of your career field, or reading blogs by others in your field. As you get older, your Sundays will be filled with so many other obligations, so put in the time now to learn all that you can learn. In law school the professors "front load" the syllabus for the semester. The first part of the semester is heavy on reading and work, and the second part of the semester is spent perfecting what you've studied. Similarly, you can front load your work-life balance by putting in extra time at the beginning to learn everything that you can learn so that when life brings you all of the other important obligations, you are at a place where your business success comes naturally while you focus on all of the other important areas of your life. Use your free time now to learn the rules of the game, so that later, you can play it better than everyone else. 


The long and short of it all is to work as hard as you can work, know when life is more important than work, cherish the relationships you have, be a strong woman, when you are at the top, pull another woman up to sit at the top with you, and most importantly: believe you can, then do it. 

What's Yours is Mine, and What's Mine is Mine

As Family Law attorneys we frequently see clients who come in with this mindset: "I want what I brought into the marriage, and I want almost everything we earned and purchased during the marriage, and I do not want to be responsible for our debts." After what is often times a hostile separation from their spouse, clients become overwhelmed with what will happen with their money, their assets, and their debts. Many people hear horror stories from their best friend who went through a divorce last year who "didn't get anything in the divorce," so when they come into our office, they want to be assured that we, as their attorneys, can get them essentially everything. As you can imagine, this is a bit of an unrealistic mindset to have, even if your attorney is the best in the state. 

One of the most important jobs of a divorce attorney is to manage their client's expectations based upon the relevant law. This means that the most important job for the client, aside from taking care of their family, is to be reasonable in what they expect out of their divorce. The North Carolina statutes and case law regarding Equitable Distribution (the process for dividing assets and debts prior to divorce) are fairly straight forward. North Carolina considers an equal split of the assets and debts earned and incurred during the marriage to be equitable. There are some circumstances where the Court will award an unequal distribution of the marital estate; the statutes list factors that the Court may consider in awarding an unequal distribution of the estate, and it is your attorney's job to present evidence of those relevant factors to the Court on your behalf. Many people believe that if their spouse cheated on them, then they should get more of the marital assets; however, the State of North Carolina does not consider marital misconduct in deciding how to divide the marital estate. An affair can and likely will be considered in making alimony awards, but will have no bearing on the Equitable Distribution issue of your case.

Additionally, prior to ever seeing a Courtroom regarding Equitable Distribution issues, the State of North Carolina requires you to attend mediation. The hope is that you, your attorney, and your spouse, and his/her attorney can come to an agreement regarding the distribution of your assets and debts with the help of a mediator. This is beneficial to you because it will save you a lot of time and money by not having to go to Court on this issue, which often times involves a multi-day trial. Additionally, by settling the issue in mediation, you get to keep some of the power of having a "say-so" in the distribution, whereas if you go to Court, the decision is solely the judge's.

We often have clients who feel that settling the Equitable Distribution issue in mediation is a "loss," and they would rather wait to go to Court and "win." Again, this is a terrible misconception. Your attorney will not allow you to settle in mediation unless they believe that the settlement is in your best interest. This is where trusting your attorney is essential. Your attorney has experience and will be able to balance the cost of going to Court with the benefits and deficits of the offer presented to you at mediation. If the offer is a good one, your attorney will likely explain that you will be rolling the dice by going to Court versus accepting the offer. Settling the Equitable Distribution issue in mediation, when the offer is fair, is not a loss, it will likely end up being a win for you because the cost to go to Court can be immense. You save on this cost by settling the issue early on in mediation, and you get to use that money in a way that benefits you and your family, as opposed to using the money to pay your attorney to go in front of the judge and have the judge decide the fate of the distribution of your marital estate without your input. Ask yourself if fighting to win the pots and pans is worth the money you will have to pay your attorney to go to Court and fight over them; if the answer is no, then settle, and buy yourself a nice new set of pots and pans with the money you saved. Try not to get bogged down in the "I want to win it all," and keep asking yourself, "is this reasonable." 

It is also important to keep in mind that when you have minor children, issues of child custody and child support will always be made priority with the Court, so it can take several months, sometimes longer, to address your Equitable Distribution issue. It is important to go into the process with patience, and again, trust in your attorney to steer you through the process. Most importantly, keep in mind that issues such as Equitable Distribution, Post Separation Support, and Alimony must be filed for with the Court prior to your divorce being complete, or you waive the right to make those claims, so make sure to address all of these issues with your attorney in your initial consultation. Remember, keep in mind throughout the Equitable Distribution process that although emotions are running high and you feel entitled to the bulk of your marital estate, your attorney will certainly present any relevant evidence in an attempt to get your more than half of the marital estate, but unless the factors weigh in your favor, the State of North Carolina considers equal to be equitable. So instead of thinking: "what's yours is mine, and whats mine is mine," try to remember that being reasonable and being patient will get you far in the process, and your attorney has your best interest at heart to get you everything that you are legally entitled to. 

Why Should I Hire You To Represent Me?


Why should I hire you to represent me?

I have practiced law for over 20 years now, with an emphasis on Family Law for the majority of that time.  When asked by friends, colleagues, and potential clients why I chose family law as my area of practice, I have to admit to anyone that asks, quite simply:  I did not choose Family Law, it chose me!

Silly, I know.  But it is true.  I began my legal career years ago as an Assistant District Attorney, traveling a 5 county area for nearly a 5 year period, prosecuting everything from the routine traffic violations to high profile capital murder cases. As a prosecutor, I spent every day in the courtroom, dealing with the public, judges, and juries, and gained invaluable experience for which I will always be grateful.  Knowing that I did not want to be a career prosecutor, I left that phase of my professional life behind to "hang out my own shingle," so to speak. 

Beginning in 1998, I opened my first law office.  Needing business, I handled almost any case that walked in my door.  Criminal defense work was easy for me, as it was simply the opposite side of what I had done for the previous 5 years. But in a short few months, it was not the practice of criminal law that was taking up most of my time. Back then, Union County had a lot fewer attorneys, and very few female attorneys, and I was the newest and youngest one.  At the time, there were very few attorneys dedicating their practice area to serving the citizens of Union County with their family law needs, so out of sheer necessity, I became one of them. 

All these years later, I am still one of them.  Sadly for me, no longer the YOUNGEST, but still one of them! For more years than I care to admit, I have spent all of my days figuring out the best way to help each client with his and her particular and unique needs. 

My relationship with a client begins with a consultation, the first appointment where the client comes in for an initial meeting.  Sometimes, the client has yet to separate and is simply gathering information "just in case" the time comes.  Other times, the client is already in the midst of their divorce battle, dissatisfied with their past attorney or with the process, and is looking for new representation.  No matter in what stage the client comes to see me for consultation, there is almost always a common question that arises:

"Why are you the attorney for me?"  Or, "Why should I hire you?"  Or, "Are you worth what you cost?"...... You get the gist.  My answer is always the same.  "Only you (the client) can decide who the best attorney is for you."  While seemingly not helpful upon first glance, what I mean (in more detail) is that only you can decide, based upon all of the relevant factors, who the best attorney is to represent you.  

I suggest the following few relevant factors to consider when trying to decide "who is the best attorney"  for you:

1.  What Kind of Experience Does the Attorney Have?

Hire an attorney with experience and expertise in the area of the law you need help with.  Do not hire a family law practitioner to help with a business dispute.  Likewise, do not hire a criminal lawyer to handle your custody case.  Hire someone with experience handling family law cases in your area; someone who knows the judges, knows what the judges expect, and knows the other attorneys in the area and how they typically handle their cases. Knowledge and experience is power, and this will give you an advantage. 

2. What Kind of Reputation Does the Attorney Have?

I consider myself very blessed, as word of mouth in Union County continues, to date, to bring me most of my clients.  But if you do not know anyone to ask for a referral, or if you just want to do your own research, get on the internet; look on the attorney websites out there, and see what other attorneys and clients have to say about the lawyers you are considering.  Outside of the firm websites themselves, there are other websites that will allow you to read Attorney Endorsements and Client Testimonials about the lawyers, so you can see for yourself what others have to say about a particular lawyer.  The best way to check out an attorney and the attorney's reputation than to read what former clients have to say. 

3. How Much Does the Attorney Charge?

Most all family law attorneys charge an initial consultation fee.  The average range in Union County currently falls between $200 and $450 for the consultation appointment.  During the consultation, ask questions about the attorney's rates.  You should expect to receive information on the attorney's hourly rate and standard retainers, and you should ask questions about how this works.  Upon employment of the attorney, you should receive a written employment agreement outlining the retainer, hourly rate, and manner of billing. Not all attorneys charge the same retainer or hourly rate, as the retainers and rates are directly related to the experience and expertise of each attorney. 

4. Are You Comfortable With the Attorney:

The consultation appointment is not only a time to ask questions and gather information.  More importantly, it is your opportunity to decide whether you are comfortable with the attorney.  I tell my clients every day that nothing I do will make them completely happy, and that complete happiness during a family law case is a fantasy.  No one ever gets everything they want.  No one will come out of a divorce case completely satisfied.  My job as a family law attorney is to offer advice and guidance in a very difficult time, no matter what the circumstances, and to advocate for my client to the best of my ability.  If you, the client, do not feel at ease with and confident in the attorney looking across the desk from you during the initial consultation, you likely never will, so keep looking!  Finding an attorney with whom you are comfortable to help you navigate through the most trying time of your life is not only critical, choosing the right attorney to represent you may just be the most important decision you every make. 

So, ask YOURSELF this question when considering hiring a particular attorney: "Why should I hire THIS attorney to represent me?"  If you know the answer to the question, you ARE hiring the right attorney!




The Ultimate Measure

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

On a day we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , I thought this was a quotation particularly worthy of mention. As a family law attorney with over 20 years of practice, I am often reminded of this great sentiment made famous by Dr. King.  If you are now going through or have ever gone through a divorce, a custody battle, a fight over money or rights, you know that it is a trying and difficult time, even on the best of days.  Your life is not likely filled with comfort and convenience, but more likely it is full of challenge and controversy.  Your "battle" with your spouse or former spouse is, on most days, the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, and one of the last thoughts filling your mind before you go to sleep at night.  

As an attorney, I am called upon daily not just to explain the law to my clients or to advocate for their position in Court, but also to counsel them through their difficult days, to encourage them to make the right choices even when met with hostile attitudes and difficult situations. One of my most important roles as attorney is actually counselor at law, for it is not just my knowledge of the law that my client's need, but on many days, they simply need my counsel to help them "stand" in times of controversy and challenge, and it is my pleasure to help them do just that.


Your Facebook Account WILL Impact Your Divorce Case!

I have practiced Family Law for over 20 years.  Divorce Cases are rarely amicable, spouses make accusations against one another, emotions run very high, and often times foolish actions can be extremely costly. As a Family Law attorney, one of the most important pieces of advice I tell my clients from an early stage is "Your Facebook account WILL impact your divorce case!"

Common sense tells us that we should not post embarrassing photos or write inappropriate comments on our Facebook pages.  But if you are going through a divorce, be aware that your spouse, your spouse's family members, your spouse's friends, and most importantly, your spouse's lawyer, WILL turn into an amateur spy and try to gain an advantage by exploiting what you post on Facebook.  

My advice to my clients during this volatile time in their lives is simple:  DO NOT POST on Facebook, period!  However, if you must post, ONLY post photos and make comments that you would be happy for your grandmother to see and read. Also be careful that your Facebook friends do not "tag" you in their compromising photos.  

I have won many cases using Facebook against others.... Do not fall victim to another attorney using your own Facebook account against you!


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