I focus on providing affordable representation in Missoula and Ravalli Counties, in Western Montana.
I also focus on establishing a professional and personal relationship with clients. Family law issues are intensely personal to the client and often highly emotional. Many clients have never retained an attorney or navigated a dissolution of marriage ("divorce") or a challenge to their parenting ("custody"). It is important to me that my clients trust me to guide them through a legal maze for which they have no road map.
I believe that family issues do not belong in an adversarial court setting. I am a strong believer in allowing clients a chance to meet with counsel in a safe environment to fully discuss their goals and, with guidance from the attorney and a mediator, to craft an agreement that is mutually beneficial to both parties and their children. Most important, mediation allows the parents to craft a parenting schedule that is uniquely suited to their children, rather than fighting in court and relinquishing their choices to the presiding judge.
I established a solo practice in 1993. My officemate and I were remodeling and painting our office space while we were waiting for our bar results. We had to be busy to keep from chewing our fingernails to the quick.
As different as family situations are, their family dynamics and difficulties are equally different. The easiest case I've had was resolved before the client hired me. The parties had thoroughly and amicably discussed every aspect of their dissolution, and then one party hired me to present it to the court. We received the final decree within 30 days of filing the petition.
The most difficult cases took more than four years, hindered by threats, hidden assets, withholding the children, falsely accusing one parent of abuse. It is not unusual for one or both parties to be hostile with each other, or one party is an active or recovering substance abuser who tries to hide relapses, or the opposing party to be dangerous enough to require an order of protection, to dissolutions and parenting matters in which the parents put their hurt aside to work as a team to create a parenting plan that first meets the children's needs and then the parents' needs. Some cases involve clients who have been clean and sober and could have successfully petitioned the court for increased parenting time until they were arrested for the third or fourth relapse (alcohol in one case, methamphetamine in another). Most cases are not so dramatic. In most cases, my clients use mediation to settle their disputed issues. Occasionally, parents can put their hurt aside to work as a team, creating a parenting plan that is best for the children, with the parents' preferences come second.
P.O. Box 999
Lolo MT 59847
I offer a 30 minute and a 60 minute consultation at my hourly rate.
I usually charge by the hour because family law cases vary in complexity and length of time involved. For uncontested dissolutions, parenting matters, and child support matters, I sometimes charge a flat fee for each stage of the matter. For service members on active duty, and after some discussion of the case, I offer a flat fee based on the complexity of the matter.
$150 per hour, $125 per hour to service members on active duty.
Monday through Thursday
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Family law was not so much a calculated decision as it was a natural progression, a foregone conclusion, that I would have a practice helping clients navigate life events, whether as a counselor or a counselor at law.
The easy answer is: When a client understands the matter's legal issues, the procedures involved, and the possible outcomes, the client is equipped to intelligently discuss the case, provide necessary documents, and make informed decisions.
Consider the nature of family law cases. Family law is highly personal to the individual. My client is not just a consumer of legal services. My client's role and responsibility is to make life decisions. My role and responsibility as attorney is to educate my client about the law, to correct misinformation from friends' war stories, to advise my client on Montana law, to discuss legal and procedural options, and to discuss my client's proposed decisions. An important part of my job is education.
I always review my clients' documents. My clients do not draft legal documents, but I do ask them to provide a written narrative of their parenting backgrounds, and a proposed parenting schedule. I also ask them to keep a journal of parenting issues that arise between the parents. I occasionally review documents prepared by pro se litigants. Because they did not retain me for legal services, and because I do not know the underlying facts of the case, I cannot give legal advice specific to that person's case. I limit document review to proper format, whether the document contains vague or ambiguous language, whether the person needs to be more specific.
Yes, I am willing to coach, as long as the person understands that pro se means the person has not retained me to represent him or her in the matter. I will provide a consultation during which I briefly outline Montana law that applies to the case, propose some general suggestions, and give some instruction regarding proper format and content of documents.
My first job was as a riding instructor at Angelico Creek Farm Riding School in Vienna, Virginia, teaching very young children, children with disabilities, and children and teens without disabilities. Before and after each day's class, I was responsible for cleaning stalls, bringing the horses in, helping students brush and saddle their horses, and I guided them through the process of caring for their horses after the class. Aside from fresh baked bread, there's nothing like the smell of a horse barn, of hay and clean leather.
After high school, my worked moved indoors. I worked as a secretary at Documentation Incorporated, Bethesda, Maryland. I had a lot of spare time so I also learned how to assemble and wire microfiche readers when they were still new (yes, a long time ago).
I later moved into an apartment in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.), and worked through a temp agency for a variety of employers, including the German owner of a camera and photo equipment shop, whose German typewriter typed German characters (that made for some very interesting letters).
Secretary, print production assistant, technical editor at Bird Engineering-Research Associates, Inc., Vienna, Virginia.
Moved to Missoula County, Montana, in 1974. First job was swamping a bar. I will not describe what that was like, but I will say that it taught me never ever complain about housecleaning!
Secretary and general assistant at Rock & Roll Promotions.
After my first child was born, I was a full-time mom, child educator and nursemaid, organic gardener, landscaping and yard maintenance, caretaker for stock, field hand, food preservation and preparation specialist (canning and freezing the garden produce, cooking, baking), residential heating specialist (splitting firewood for the woodstove), laundress. All this was considered "not working" back then because it wasn't a paying job.
Returned to school on the drop-edge of 30 to complete my Bachelor of Social Work, worked part time as an academic adviser for students on academic probation or suspension.
Attended law school, interning for a year at Montana Legal Services Corporation in Missoula, Montana. Immediately upon graduation from law school, opened a solo practice, sharing office space with a fellow graduate for the first few years. I have a solo practice. Although it's still an indoor job, I have a wonderful view of the Sapphire Mountains and, at this moment, the wind buffeting the trees as it pushes a spring snow along the valley.
I already had a great deal of life experience and interrelational experience when I entered law school in my early 40s. I had taught riding students from age 5 to 50, some with physical or mental disabilities and some with athletic coordination. I was married and had children. I was an at-home parent managing a household and later a parent employed in town. I was a divorced parent dealing with parenting and child support issues while I was in school. My clients experience the same emotional and practical issues that I experienced. They often comment that I "get it" because I have experienced it. My course work and experience as a Social Work undergraduate student, my senior advising project, and my internship at Montana Legal Services in Missoula were not only valuable education, they also confirmed that I was suited for and would enjoy working directly with clients. I focus my Continuing Legal Education on legal and psychological issues in marital and parenting matters, mediation and alternative dispute resolution skills and techniques, guardian ad litem training, children's psychological development and needs, and practice management issues.
I am a good listener. It is vital that the client have solid footing during the uncertainty of a dissolution and parenting case. Most clients need some time at the beginning of the case to tell me about him or her, the client's philosophy of parenting, whether the client is angry at the spouse or grieving at this moment, whether the dissolution is causing a crisis in the client's religious/spiritual life. They need for me to know them at least that much.
I am also not afraid to share a bit personal history with a client. Few clients have been in this situation before
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