You have probably heard that Arkansas has one of the highest rates of divorce in the county. It is true. One significant reason for the high divorce rate is the relatively young marriage age in Arkansas: 24 for women (the lowest in the country) and 26 for men, which is also among the youngest.

So, in effect, Arkansans have continued getting married young like our grandparents but have adopted the modern culture’s easy exit: divorce. Or, put another way, Arkansans feel a strong compulsion to marry early but little compulsion to stay married. I have no hard data to back up this conclusion, but my experience has borne it out.  

Now that we’re talking about how young people in Arkansas are when they get married, we can talk about just how young you can be to get married.

In Arkansas, a male who is 17 years old and a female who is 16 years old may marry with the consent of their parents. (Nerdy aside: Surely this is unconstitutional.) Both parents must consent unless they are divorced and only one parent has custody. A court can also find that, even with the parents’ consent, it is not in the best interest of the child to get married.

The age can be even lower if the female is pregnant or has given birth already. In that instance, the parties can appear before a judge and argue their case for why they should be married. If the judge is persuaded by their arguments, she can then direct the county clerk to issue a marriage license. Arkansas law does not provide any limitation on a judge’s discretion to allow the parties to marry. So, theoretically you can get married as soon as you are pregnant.

I have not ever been hired by a teenage couple to represent them in court, but it is a task best reserved for a family lawyer. The couple must be prepared to present specific evidence regarding the female’s pregnancy and convince the judge that it is in their best interest to be married. As in the non-pregnant example above, both parents must consent to the marriage.

So, I guess the takeaway is that if you’re a female under 16 who is pregnant and wants to get married, I can help.

Whatever your exact situation is, I can’t help unless you get in touch with me.  Give me a call and we’ll get started on your case today.

How do I get supervised visitation in Arkansas?

A frequent request from clients during divorce or child custody cases is “How do I get supervised visitation?”  What they are really asking is “How do I get the judge to make my ex have supervised visitation?” This is a common request, but the fact is that supervised visitation is an exception, not the rule.  It requires specific facts that must be proven, and they must be bad enough to outweigh the public desire to keep children and parents together. Strong emotions, bad feelings, dislike and concern, alone, are not enough.

How Does Arkansas Determine Visitation?

Arkansas courts favor preserving the parent-child relationship and will maintain a custody and visitation schedule that does not involve supervision, if possible.  Prior to coming to court, it is unlikely that one parent was only allowed around the child(ren) when another adult was present to supervise. Why should the judge change that without a clear showing that there is NOW a need for supervision?  

The standard for the judge is based on the welfare and best interest of the child.  A child’s best interests are based on many factors concerning parents and the safety and well-being of the child (see below).

10 Factors To Determine The Best Interests of The Child

  1. Psychological relationship between the parents and the child
  2. Need for stability and continuity in the child's relationship with parents
  3. Need for stability and continuity in child's relationship with siblings and other family
  4. Past conduct of the parents toward the child
  5. The reasonable preference of the child (if the child is old enough to explain)
  6. Assuring frequent and continuing contact between the child and both parents.
  7. Did the child suffer physical injury or personally witness abuse (domestic violence)?
  8. Does the child have special needs and how does each parent take care of those needs?
  9. Mental and physical health of the parents
  10. Each parent’s willingness to support the child’s relationship with the other parent

The factors above are just examples and a judge will look at the facts and circumstances of each case.  In every case, a factor may be given more or less weight than the others. With that in mind, below are examples where Arkansas courts have found reason to require supervised visitation.

10 Reasons For Supervised Visitation In Arkansas

  1. Domestic violence
  2. Child abuse or maltreatment
  3. Mental illness of the parent
  4. Sex offenses or sexual abuse
  5. Drug or alcohol abuse
  6. Extended absences between the parent and child
  7. Newly established paternity
  8. Homelessness or unsafe housing
  9. Irresponsible behavior with alcohol and firearms
  10. A parent holding foreign citizenship threatening abduction

Everyone can agree the items above can be reasons for concern about the interaction between any adult and child, even a parent.  But just one of them alone may not be sufficient, if the factor does not directly impact the child.  Again, it is a balancing act.

Finally, here are 10 things that just aren’t sufficient, on their own, to justify supervised visitation:

10 Things That Don’t Cause Supervised Visitation

  1. The other parent is responsible for the divorce (fault doesn’t matter).
  2. You don’t like the other parent’s girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse.
  3. You can’t stand the other parent and can’t get along with them.
  4. Payback.  This is common and sets the stage for years of grief.  Learn to get along for the sake of the child(ren).
  5. Former in-laws or grandparents that you don’t like or do not want around your kids.
  6. Concern that the other parent won’t help with homework, won’t keep the same schedule or allows too much time on YouTube.
  7. A criminal record.  Is it relevant to the child? Maybe.
  8. The other parent doesn’t provide hourly updates when they have the child.
  9. The other parent won’t let you talk to the child around-the-clock.  Regular calls with an 8 year old at 11 PM on a school night? No.
  10. The other parent took the child somewhere and didn’t inform you exactly when and how you wanted.

You may be more confused than you were when you started reading this.  We understand that these situations can be very confusing, and we are happy to help you work through any issues you may have concerning visitation.  If you have questions about child custody, visitation or supervised visitation, give us a call today and we can schedule your free consultation.

Debt Collection and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

You’re likely reading this because a debt collector is repeatedly calling you trying to collect a debt or because you’ve been served some papers saying a lawsuit has been filed against you to collect a debt.  If so, you should keep reading.

A lot of people feel trapped when a debt collector is repeatedly calling them.  They feel like if they can just make it to the next paycheck, they can start to pay down on that debt.  Little do these people know that there are a number of laws that protect people who have debts.  Knowing how those laws affect and protect you can change the game for a lot of people.

A debt collector keeps calling me.  What are my rights?

A good first step is to actually answer the phone when these people call.  Some collectors are actually reasonable people and will give you extra time to pay a debt if you make good faith efforts to communicate with them.

If you want the collector to stop contacting you, though, you have to do it in writing.  Here’s how: type up a letter telling the collector you no longer wish to be contacted.  You may have to look up the address for the specific debt collector. Make sure you reference the debt they’re trying to collect from you and the phone number they’re using to contact you.  Tell them to stop calling you. Then, make a copy of that letter and keep it for your records. Send the original letter by certified mail and tell the post office you need a return receipt.  This will give you proof that the collector actually received your mail. Once they receive the letter, they can’t contact you any more about the debt.

It’s important to know that stopping the calls doesn’t wipe out the debt.  A debt collector can still take legal action, like filing a lawsuit against you, to collect the debt.

I’ve been served with papers saying a lawsuit has been filed against me to collect a debt.  What do I do now?

This is the point at which a lot of people just give up, because they think there’s nothing they can do to fight a lawsuit.  That’s what the attorneys for the debt collector are counting on. Attorneys for debt collectors file tons of lawsuits, hoping that the people they file against never answer the lawsuit.  If you don’t answer the initial complaint against you, the court where it was filed just assumes the debt collector has a valid claim against you and grants a judgment for the debt collector.  Once they have a judgment, that’s when the garnishments typically start.

There are a number of ways you can fight the lawsuit, though, and a competent lawyer can help.  Typically, the debt collector’s attorneys fail to attach a signed copy of the contract, or they attach a contract which doesn’t have your name on it, or they don’t serve you with papers at the address where the statements for the account went.  Any one of these things can be fatal to the debt collector’s lawsuit.

Like I said above, these attorneys file a ton of these lawsuits, and they aren’t getting paid a ton for each individual lawsuit.  That means they can’t afford to spend a lot of time on one case, fighting against someone who has actually asserted their right to defend themselves.  So, when people do fight back, some of the time the debt collectors just dismiss their cases rather than spending more money to collect the debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

There are a large number of “fly by night” debt collection agencies out there whose business is dependent on trying to collect debts they don’t truly have the authority to collect, and debts they can’t prove they have the authority to collect.

When these debt collectors file these sorts of lawsuit, there are two laws which operate in Arkansas to penalize that kind of debt collection: the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the Arkansas version of the same law.

When a debt collector violates the FDCPA by suing you to collect a debt they don’t actually own or can’t prove they own, you can sue them back, even if you actually owe the debt.  The two laws listed above allow for you to get an award for $1,000 under each law (a total of $2,000), payment for your attorneys, and any other actual damages you suffer because you had the lawsuit filed against you.

We vet every complaint that comes through our door to see if the FDCPA has been violated, and we know how to make these debt collectors pay for breaking the law.

At Wilson and Haubert, we have experience defending people against debt collectors and getting these lawsuits dismissed.  If you’ve been served with a complaint and don’t know what to do, give us a call and we’ll get started defending your rights.

If you’re having trouble paying bills but haven’t yet been sued by a debt collector or if a garnishment is keeping you from being able to pay your other bills, click here.  We have experienced bankruptcy attorneys who can assist you with getting a fresh start, free of debt.

What is Title 9?

Title 9 is a group of federal statutes that governs rules of conduct for individuals enrolled in educational institutions, among other things.  Title 9 deals with sexual harassment, dating violence, discrimination, stalking, and sexual misconduct. The group of laws forces a university to investigate and respond to any of the above types of incidents.

What happens in a Title 9 hearing?

First there is an opening statement by the appealing party (the party who didn’t like the school’s response to one of the above listed incidents), then opening statement by the non-appealing party (usually the school), next witnesses for the school will be called in whatever order the school wishes to present the witnesses, then closing statements by both sides. In most cases, all witnesses will be asked to leave the room until it is their turn to testify.  Rulings are usually taken under advisement and handed down within ten days following a formal hearing. That just means the court usually thinks about how to decide the case for a few days after the hearing, and likely won’t make a decision on the spot.

What is the legal standard in a Title 9 hearing?

In an Arkansas Title 9 hearing, the standard of evidence is preponderance of the evidence. This basically means the court will choose the side of whichever party is more likely to be telling the truth, based on the evidence.   

What does an attorney cost for a Title 9 hearing?

Most Title 9 hearings are full day hearings.  Our firm charges a flat fee of $3,000 to represent you through a Title 9 hearing.

Who is in charge of a Title 9 issue at an Arkansas University?

The Title 9 coordinator at a university is in charge of the university’s compliance with Title 9 of the educational amendments of 1972. The Title 9 coordinator works with the university staff and students to ensure compliance with Title 9.

Do I need an attorney for a Title 9 issue?

Yes, definitely. Title 9 violations run parallel with multiple criminal violations. Also, the police can use anything that happens in a Title 9 investigation or hearing in a criminal investigation.  An experienced Title 9 attorney will be able to advise you on your rights and how a Title 9 case may affect a looming criminal case. It is important to have someone who is knowledgeable about criminal law and Title 9 standards when you are preparing to fight accusations of violating Title 9.  

What can happen if you violate Title 9?

An experienced attorney will be able to weigh and assess the Title 9 violation evidence presented against you. The university has many options to deal with a Title 9 violation. All the way from ordering treatment of the violating individual, to expulsion of the violating individual.  

If you’re facing possible Title 9 accusations or you’re an individual who feels your university has not adequately addressed an incident involving sexual harassment, dating violence, or other sexual misconduct, call us today so we can assess the severity of your case and advise you on your next steps.

If you own an IRA, eventually you will need to start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) from your IRA, unless it is a ROTH IRA.  ROTH IRAs do not require RMDs as they were funded with after tax money and therefore enjoy special treatment under the tax code.

The following chart pulled from the IRS website may be helpful in understanding the rules for RMD.  The italicized remarks are our comments on the IRS information.

  1. IRA required minimum distributions

If you’ll be age 70½ or older by the end of current taxable year, you must withdraw a minimum amount — a required minimum distribution (RMD) — from your non-Roth IRAs for the current tax year. Withdrawals are not required from Roth IRAs until after the owner’s death.

This means that in whatever year the IRA owner turns 70 years and 6 months old, the IRA owner must withdraw an RMD from the IRA for that tax year.  Typically, this is done by December 31st in the appropriate year.  As you will see from the next paragraph, you may delay the distribution for three months as stated below.

  1. RMD deadline

You must take your current year RMD by December 31st of the year.  If you reached 70 years and 6 months of age this year, you can delay taking your this-year RMD until April 1st of next year.

This paragraph modifies the general RMD requirements that a RMD must be taken by the end of the year in which the IRA owner turns 70 years and 6 months old.  This provision gives the IRA owner until April 1st the year after the IRA owner turns 70 years and 6 months old to withdraw the RMD.  

RMD amount

Your RMD is your account balance as of the end of last tax year divided by a distribution factor from the IRS’s “Uniform Lifetime Table.” A separate table is used if your spouse is your sole beneficiary and is 10 or more years younger than you. You can use the chart below to calculate your RMDs.

The way to use the chart below is to take the age of the IRA owner and identify the Distribution Factor given in the chart.  Then determine the balance of the IRA account in question at the end of the last taxable year. Once you have the IRA account balance you divide it by the Distribution Factor.  The quotient is what you must withdraw.

Example: A 70 year old would divide lasts years IRA ending balance by 27.4.  The quotient is the amount that must be withdrawn to avoid penalty.

First, I guess we need to talk about what an Arkansas estate plan can include. It can contain the following:

Living Revocable Trust, Irrevocable Trust, Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Living Will, Personal Property Memorandum, Funding of the Trust, deeds, and an LLC

Now, your estate plan can also include single parts of the above list. We try to provide Clients only the services they need. We will provide a free 30 minutes consult to answer your questions and ask questions of our own to try and figure out how best to address your estate planning needs.

Here are the flat-rate costs for the typical estate plan (and each individual piece of a plan):

Joint Trust Estate Plan $2,150.00

Individual Trust Estate Plan $1,750.00

Trust Plans include: Trust, Certificate of Trust, funding instructions, and the following: pour over will, power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, living will, assignment of property, personal property memorandum, and the initial funding of the trust for all assets provided in the first 90 days.  

Joint Wills Estate Plan $950.00

Individual Wills Estate Plan $600.00

Will plans include the following: will, power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, living will, and personal property memorandum.

Joint Powers of Attorney $275.00

Individual Powers of Attorney $175.00

Includes: powers of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, living will.

Deeds $150.00

If you are interested in making a plan for your estate, it is very important to get started early.  One of the most common issues that drives a wedge into families is the distribution of a deceased family member’s estate.  To avoid any strife among your family members, it is important to make a definite plan so that no one feels the need to fight over your possessions.  Call us today, and we can set up an appointment to determine what type of plan will best suit your needs.

How much does a criminal lawyer cost in Arkansas?

Of all the questions lawyers are asked, the only question we get every time is “how much does a lawyer cost?” Traditionally, lawyers do not have flat-rate, across the board pricing, and many things will dictate the final price of a case.  While this is fine for the lawyer, this is less than desirable for the client, especially clients who are on a tight budget. By providing a “menu” of representation to choose from, the client is able to calculate the final cost up front. This way, the client can decide if they can afford the service without ever having to go through a lengthy consultation and they can easily figure out how the case will impact their budget. While certain factual situations can certainly change the price of a case, in the vast majority of cases the following prices will apply:

What does an attorney cost for misdemeanor?

Misdemeanors are broken into several levels: A, B, C and Unclassified. “A” misdemeanors are usually things like Battery, Theft of Property, or Criminal Mischief. “B” misdemeanors are crimes such as Assault, Prostitution, and others. “C” misdemeanors are crimes such as Public Intoxication and Disorderly Conduct. The most common Unclassified misdemeanor is DWI or BWI.

What does an attorney cost for a felony?

Felonys, like misdemeanors, are broken into levels. The levels denote how serious or how high the risk of prison time for the defendant is.  

Misdemeanor A B C
$1,500 $750 $500
Felony Y A B C D
Consult Needed Consult Needed $5,000 $3,500 $2,500

 

What does an attorney cost for a DWI?

For DWI cases, we offer an option where our firm will review your arrest file and provide an assessment of your case for $750.00. If after the assessment, you decide to take your case to trial, an additional fee will be agreed upon at that time.

What does an attorney cost for a Prison Rights issue?

Many individuals are currently incarcerated in either county jail or the Arkansas Department of Corrections.  These individuals have rights which must be protected, just as individuals living outside of these facilities.  We have the experience and resources to help ensure incarcerated individuals rights are protected.

Some of the services we can offer inmates are:

Initial Evidence Preservation and Assessment $500
Inmate Counseling (by phone) $150/(In person consultation rates are higher)
Parole Hearing $2,000
Parole Rewrite Hearing $1,000
Probation Revocation Hearing $1,000
Terminating Probation Early $1,000
Terminating Sex Offender Registration $1,500
Sex Offender Notification Appeal $2,500

In addition to the listed services, we offer many others, and even offer customizable services and payment plans.  If you or someone you know needs representation of any kind, please contact us so we can start helping you today.

Pretty much everyone seems to agree that there are too many lawyers around. (This actually isn’t true, but it definitely feels true if you know any unpleasant ones.)

And if there are too many lawyers in general, it follows that there are too many family lawyers—folks who focus on things like divorce, child custody, child support, and adoption. We are everywhere. On any weekday, I could throw a rock and hit a dozen, and that’s just in Little Rock.

I receive multiple calls a day from people who are looking for a family lawyer. Most of the time, the person hasn’t made a decision about who they’re going to hire—or even if they need to hire someone. The looming question in nearly everyone’s mind is obvious, whether they’re explicitly thinking it or not: “Who is the best family lawyer?”

The self-serving answer is obvious: “Me.” And there was a time (regrettably, not that long ago) when that would have been my answer. Having talked to hundreds and hundreds of people looking for a family lawyer, however–and having represented many of them–I’ve learned to be a little more honest. It’s just better to admit that a lawyer is not a one-size-fits-all thing.

There is no “best” family lawyer. There is just the one that is best for your situation. The “best” way to figure that out is to ask a bunch of questions, starting with some questions about yourself. (There’s also some questions you should ask the lawyer, but that’s for another day.)

I have never hired a family lawyer, but I think these are the questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. How important is it that I be able to get a hold of my lawyer quickly?
  2. How important is it that I know exactly how much I am going to pay?
  3. What is most important: Getting everything you want or getting most of what you want and preserving relationships?
  4. What is my best case scenario? If I could have anything, what would it be?
  5. Which two of these are most important: A good lawyer, a cheap lawyer, and a fast lawyer? You can only have two.

My job as an estate and elder law attorney brings me into contact with people on a daily basis who have decided to begin their end-of-life planning. As a part of the initial conversation I have with clients, I usually ask what made them decide to do this planning now. After all, many of them have lived 70+ years and haven’t done any planning. I am often fascinated by their answers. Frequently, watching a close friend or family member experience a crisis with an undesirable outcome drives people to make plans for themselves. Fear of repeating that crisis for themselves is a big motivating factor in seeking advice. So, I have made a list of the fears that drive seniors to do planning. This is my second blog in the series. If you are experiencing the same fear, please seek legal counsel. I believe you’ll find many of your concerns can be addressed in simple ways that will bring you some peace of mind.

Losing Control of Finances.

One of the first signs of cognitive decline that affects older folks is the inability to manage personal finances. A personal observation of mine is that most people don’t manage personal finances well even when in perfect health. But when a person with a history of managing well, suddenly struggles at managing, there is reason to be concerned.

Such problems are usually discovered by a family member. It’s very rare that an aging person admits that they’ve having trouble managing their finances.. But, by the time something is discovered, it is usually too late for the incapacitated person to make well-reasoned judgments about who should be managing for them if they no longer can.

What are your options?

So, what are the options one should consider? Many choose to have a family member, such as a trusted child, a sibling, or possibly a close friend serve as a trustee or power of attorney. You may be fortunate enough to have more than one good option, or you may not have any of these options. Assuming you do have good choices, do you really want to burden these people with your responsibilities? They probably won’t mind or at least never voice any complaint, but wouldn’t you rather continue your relationship as family or friend without the added complexity of having them managing your budget and paying your bills? The dynamic of your relationship will likely change at the first sign of disagreement. Remember, you are not going to be in total charge of your cognitive faculties, so who knows what you might say or do?

Years of experience have taught me that a professional trustee or professional power of attorney most often serves you better. Bank trust departments or brokerage house trust departments are generally skilled at managing these situations. They understand the importance of proper budgeting, tax filings, and general administrative issues that family and friends are just not likely to know anything about.

Another reason I like the professionals is they are required to be licensed, insured, and bonded in most cases. This means they are regulated and if they do something foolish with your money you stand a good chance to recover. If your child or friend does something foolish with your money, all bets are off as to recovery. I want to be able to recover if my funds are mis-managed, I don’t ever want to be in a position to need to sue a friend or my family.

What are the fees?

Professional trustees charge around 1% per year of the funds they manage. If they are investing well, they should average 4% over a multi-year period. You pay no fee for having them in line to manage. They only charge you once they actually take control of the funds.

Make a decision about these questions now while you have good judgment, not later when your judgment may be challenged or impaired. In other words, have a plan. Get the basic legal documents in place first. Then seek legal counsel on more in-depth planning best suited to your needs. Learn about your options from a skilled advisor.

I will write about other common fears in upcoming blogs. If you are seeking experienced senior legal services, please give us a chance to help you. We have the experience and knowledge to take the fear and anxiety out of end-of-life planning. Getting started on these things before you need them is a sure-fire way to prevent anger amongst family members, and can give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy your twilight years. Give us a call today, and we’ll be more than happy to guide you through the process.

The Quick, Easy, and Cheap Arkansas Divorce

I talk to a lot of people who need divorces. Everyone wants them to be quick and easy, and most want them to be cheap. To that end, many of these people don’t have much money and want advice about whether they can complete their divorce without an attorney to save on divorce cost.  You can try to complete it without an attorney, but you might hit some bumps in the road. Here is pricing for the uncontested divorce:

Full Representation for Uncontested Divorce
  1. $985 - Uncontested divorce (the full package) it covers the filing fee, all the documents, and up to 4 hours of time. If the divorce becomes contested the price may go up.

What is an uncontested divorce?

Many lawyers use the terms differently—to distinguish tough divorces from easy divorces. So, a divorce where the parties agree on everything will be an uncontested divorce in Arkansas. In many instances, anything else is a contested divorce. (And once something is contested, the divorce cost automatically goes way up, of course.)

Limited-Scope Representation - buying one piece at a time.
  1. $250 - Drafting documents to file for divorce.
  2. $200 - Drafting documents to respond to a divorce filed against you.
  3. $100 - Drafting a waiver of service.
  4. $250 - Drafting a divorce decree.
  5. $200 - Drafting or responding to a motion.
  6. $400 - Drafting discovery.
  7. $200 - Represent you at an uncontested divorce hearing.

How Much Does a Contested Divorce Cost in Arkansas?

Divorce is expensive. The biggest divorce cost is obviously the emotional toll. No matter how difficult a marriage has been, it is hard to end it. The financial cost of an Arkansas divorce can also be significant, but it doesn’t have to be. However, we are trying to make it easier for the Average Arkansan to afford a lawyer.

The Flat Fee Divorce
  1. $3,000 - Flat fee for a divorce that ends in a half-day hearing. This includes the filing fee and service.
  2. $5,000 - Flat fee for a divorce that ends in a full-day hearing. This includes the filing fee and service.
  3. $2,000 - Flat fee each additional day of hearings.

Full Representation consists of Drafting and filing of a Summons, Complaint, Decree and other motions the attorney deems necessary, as well as performing discovery in contested matters. Depositions are not included in the full representation. However, if the client decides a deposition is necessary, the client will approve and pay for the costs of the court reporter, the transcript, and an additional $500 flat fee for the attorney to perform or defend the deposition. Not every divorce will fit into categories, but 95% will.  These figures don’t factor in things like experts or private investigator fees, which might make it significantly more expensive. (Many experts are more expensive than lawyers.)

The most important thing you need to know about Arkansas divorce costs is that a) they are manageable, and b) your lawyer should be completely up front with you about costs. If you think that he or she is not being completely upfront with you, you need to hire someone else.

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