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How to Change Your Name

The process for how to change your name is simple: get legal documentation of the change, then get all your important documents re-issued in your new name. Skipping either of these steps can cause headaches, hassles, and legal issues when you least expect them.

Step 1: Get Legal Documentation of the Name Change

Your name is given to you legally. For most people, their name is registered in the state they were born. This registration is usually done by the hospital or other entity that oversees the birth. Once they register your name and your existence, the state issues you a birth certificate with your legal name.

To change your name, you need a follow-up legal document that changes your name from the one on your birth certificate to something else. In Missouri, this must be done in court. For a child, both parents generally have to consent and/or be formally notified about the change before the court will hear the case. For an adult, the change must be published in a legal newspaper so creditors can be notified of the change.

Once a judge issues an order, you will receive a document that clearly states your new name and the date it is effective. You can proceed with using your new name from that point forward.

Step 2: Get Important Documents Re-Issued

You should stop using your old name and update your important documents as soon as practicable. This will help with a clean transition from one name to the next. Below is a convenient checklist of the documents you need to get re-issued.

You should note that you cannot truly change your birth certificate. If your state does change your birth certificat, that does not mean that your previous name is eradicated from all systems and records. Your name at birth will always be on file with the state. For adults, I have found little to no value in trying to change your birth certificate. For kids, a birth certificate with a new name helps them live without having to explain the change every time they undergo a life transition.

Frequently Asked Questions about Changing Your Name

Q: If I get married, can I change my name without going to court?
A: This depends on the state where you get married and what they include on your marriage license. If you are in a state where your marriage license includes a specific designation of what your new full name will be, then you should not need to go to court to change your name. You should check with a lawyer licensed in your state to be sure. In Missouri and some other states, the marriage license makes no mention of either spouse changing their name. In that case, the only way to legally change your name is by going to court.

Q: Social Security will change my name without a court order. Do I still need to go to court?
A: Yes. Many people are able to go to the Social Security Administration and change the name on their Social Security card without any documented proof. This is very common in states that allow a woman to use a marriage license as proof that they want to take their husband’s last name. With a new Social Security card, you can then get a new driver’s license, passport, and other important documents issued in a new name. The problem with this is that it skips Step 1, so you have no actual documentation of your name before and after the change. This means there is no way to prove that your old name and your new name belong to the same person. This has caused issues for several of my clients when providing documents and identity verifications for things like credit card fraud, adoption (especially international adoption), and claiming retirement/survivor/etc. benefits.

Need help with a name change in Missouri? Call The Lien Law Firm at 314-722-8557 or follow this link to schedule a complimentary case review. If you live outside the State of Missouri, contact an attorney in your current state of residence.

The 3 Types of Lawyers

At least once a week, someone calls my office looking for a new lawyer. Their current lawyer, for some reason, is not meeting their needs. As a client, you have every right to switch lawyers so the right person is advocating for you. But if you do not understand the different types of lawyers, your new lawyer may not be any more helpful than the old one.

A conversation like this happens all the time in my world….
Client: I hired a top lawyer, and they screwed up my case.
Me: Why did you hire them?
Client: Because they are the best.
Me: Did you talk to different types of lawyers before deciding they were the right one for you?
Client: Well…..no. I just needed a lawyer.

A dentist may be a phenomenal dentist, but would you go to them for brain surgery?
A banker is great with money, but would you have them do your taxes?

It is possible the lawyer you hired really is great. They may have been great for the person who referred them to you. They are just not the right type of lawyer for you.

So the question is, what kind of lawyer do you need?

When it comes to family law attorneys, I can generally narrow them down into 3 different categories based on what I have observed and what my clients have told me. When looking for a lawyer, it is important to know which of these types you want working for you.

The Shark

You have probably heard of lawyers referred to as “sharks” or “bulldogs.” They are the punch line in most lawyer jokes.

Sharks will squeeze the legal system for every single thing you can possibly do. They file lots of motions, set lots of hearings, and do a lot of discovery. Sharks are rarely interested in settling a case that can be litigated at trial. They focus on what aspects of your story can be used to trigger legal action.

A Shark will make sure that you have done everything you can possibly do within the legal system – filed the motions, done the depositions, and subpoenaed the records. Because of this, they tend to be very expensive with varying returns. If you have enough money, then you may be able to dominate their time and attention. Running out of money during your case may leave you representing yourself in a very litigious situation.

If your case is highly contested and you want to give the other side a real run for their money, then you want a Shark representing you. Sharks also tend to play well with each other, so they work best when both sides have the same type of lawyer. Sharks will see your case as a “win” or a “loss” depending on the outcome.

I have noticed that clients complain the most about sharks for being impersonal. If you are looking for a shark, then I will openly admit that I am not the lawyer for you.

The Facilitator

A lawyer’s job is to answer questions and provide guidance while leaving the ultimate decisions in the hands of the client. The Facilitator focuses on this role and personalizes their legal knowledge to your life circumstances.

Facilitators will focus first and foremost on your goals. Once they know what you want to achieve and accomplish in family court, they will use the tools of the legal system to help you bring that about. Facilitators will take litigious action when necessary, but will focus on settling your case in a way that is conducive to your larger goals.

A Facilitator will give you the benefit of their guidance and experience, then leave all the major decisions up to you. They take charge of doing the legal work to act on your decisions. People describe the Facilitator’s fees as being reasonable. The biggest complaint I have heard about Facilitators is that they are too blunt when saying something that you might not want to hear. They work best with clients who appreciate honesty.

If you have larger goals than just getting through a divorce or custody battle, then a Facilitator may be the lawyer for you. Like Sharks, Facilitators tend to play well together, so it helps if the lawyers on both sides are motivated to reach a settlement.

I take on the role of a Facilitator when clients retain me for legal representation.

The Coach

At its core, the legal system is designed for everyone with or without professional help. The Coach helps you represent yourself in court when you just need a little bit of guidance along the way.

A Coach is only as involved in your case as you want them to be. You may meet with them just once or you may choose to coach with them regularly. Coaches tend to play well with Facilitators since clients who choose a Coach are generally looking for amicable resolutions.

A Coach will do things like review documents, develop strategy, and talk you through courtroom procedure. They seek to empower you to be your own best advocate without missing little details that only a lawyer would otherwise know to look for. Coaching is by far the least expensive option for legal help. People benefit from coaching when they are ready and willing to take full responsibility for where they are and plow forward to where they want to go. Critics of coaching get overwhelmed by the amount of action they need to take on their own. Clients who need someone else to blame when things don’t go their way will not work well with a Coach.

This is perhaps my favorite role because of the extraordinary results I see in clients who choose legal coaching.

The Right Lawyer for You

Remember: not all lawyers are created equal.

Finding the right lawyer is like finding the right doctor or counselor. You want someone who practices the area of law you need help with and someone who works the way you need them to. There are lots of very good lawyers out there, but that does not necessarily make them the best lawyer for you.

What you need may change over time, and if that is the case, then there is nothing wrong with switching to a different type of lawyer. This kind of shift happens all the time, especially if your goals for the case change over time. The most important thing is finding a lawyer who will help you the way you need to be helped.

To talk with Rachna one-on-one to see if she is the right lawyer for you, follow this link to schedule a complimentary case review call. You can learn more about The Lien Law Firm, LLC online at www.LienLawFirm.com.

The Single Most Important Thing I Learned in Law School

I’m a lawyer. I spent 4 years in college and then 3 years in law school getting the fancy degrees and titles. And in all that stuff, there were a few gems. Those gems fueled me to be here today, passionate about helping you overcome the challenges that are staring you in the face.

I am going to share the rarest, most valuable of those gems with you today.

You are a woman. You are a dazzling compilation of mind, body, and spirit that has the power to do extraordinary things. You have the potential for the greatest sense of greatness you can ever imagine.

I know this because I see you.
I see the woman in the grocery store trying to nourish her family while juggling a small child who is ready for a nap.
I see you in corporate America, working to support your lifestyle and make the most of your skills and talents.
I see you at the gym making yourself and your health a priority.

I also see you when you reach out for help, because you were served with divorce papers that you were not expecting.
I see you panicking when someone who betrayed your trust is now demanding sole custody of your children.
I see you feeling helpless when someone you love (maybe yourself) is raped or experiences domestic violence.

I am a woman, too, and I see you.

Regardless of how you feel, what you are going through, or even what you did wrong, here is the lesson I want to share with you: You are a woman, and for that, you must stop apologizing.

My Story

I was raised in an environment similar to most kids: I had parents, I went to school, I learned things, and I liked to play. I learned to be kind, to share, and to say “I’m sorry.” All good things to do and good skills to have.

I noticed that there were differences in how boys and girls were treated, but there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like the world got to control and I just had to live in it. The world was bigger than me, so it must be right, and I must be wrong.

And that, right there, was my downfall. Because as we were taught, the result of being wrong was one thing: saying “I’m sorry.”

So I started apologizing for everything that made anyone else feel bad, everything that might make them feel bad, and everything that should make them feel bad.

I apologized for asking questions.
I apologized for needing help.
I apologized for delivering the truth when it was not what the receiver wanted to hear.
I apologized so much that, eventually, I started apologizing for apologizing.

And do you want to know what the worst part was? It was so habitual that I literally had no idea I was doing it.

The Gem

I’ll be honest with you here: there was very little I enjoyed about law school. The one part that I did enjoy was connecting with the few professors who wanted to be more than just classroom instructors, they stepped up to be my mentors.

My professor in the clinic had a jar on her desk labeled “sorry jar.” Any time her students apologized, she made us put a dollar in the jar. At first we all thought it was a joke, but she was completely serious.

Every time I lost a dollar to that jar, my professor would tell me, “be unapologetic.”

I heard it when writing briefs, preparing oral arguments, and asking questions in class. She eventually stopped waiting for me to apologize. Every time I saw her around the school, she would tell me, “be unapologetic.”

I started noticing how often I was apologizing. Most of the time, I was doing it because I thought I was being nice. I also noticed that while all the girls were going broke putting money in that jar, the boys were not. When the girls started to really see the value in the lesson, the boys still thought it was a joke.

That was when it hit me.

I was training to enter a profession that is dominated by men. I was entering a world where perception mattered, where power was something to win, and where the wage gap and glass ceiling were very real. Men were taught to embrace that environment. Women were taught to apologize for disrupting it.

As a woman, I was taught to apologize for being a woman. For being myself. Looking back now, of course I apologized for every single thing I said and did. And if that was the attitude I wanted to keep, I would never achieve the success I knew I was capable of achieving. I would always be broke.

I realized that the life I was living was my own and no one else’s.

Even in situations that involved other people, I was responsible for myself and no one else.

I had to decide if I wanted to move forward as a strong, capable woman, or as a girl who would always feel guilty and ashamed.

So, I became unapologetic.

I stopped apologizing when I asked a question. Want to know what happened? I got more fruitful answers.

I stopped apologizing when I interrupted someone who was talking. I saved time on irrelevant conversation and also became a better listener.

I stopped apologizing when telling someone something they didn’t want to hear. People started to trust that I would always tell the truth.

And as I stopped apologizing to others, I also stopped apologizing to myself. Instead of feeling guilt or shame, I focused on what I could do better and how I could grow. For the first time ever I could feel my inner potential, and it fueled me into a life I never could have imagined.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I just work in the legal system. If you come to me for help, then your life as you know it depends on this system. Good arguments, solid strategies, and “lawyer tricks” will only get you so far. If you are not confident enough to be you, just as you are, then you will not feel successful in family court.

I want to make something clear here: I am not saying that you should not apologize when you legitimately mess up. If you did something wrong to someone else, then you absolutely should apologize for it.

You should stop apologizing for who you are as a person.
Stop apologizing for demanding what you need from life.
And stop apologizing for being a woman.

If someone does not like you, that is their problem. If someone thinks you should be living your life differently, that’s their opinion to keep. If anyone thinks, feels, or does anything to imply that you are not worthy of greatness, then you do not need that person in your life.

If you apologize because you were taught to be sorry for being you, then it’s time to break that habit and present yourself to the world as the strong woman that you are.

If you truly feel like you should apologize for seeking what you need, then turn inward. Ask yourself where you learned to be sorry for being yourself. Look around and see if the people you depend on are going to lift you up and applaud your success. Are you really in the environment that is going to love you just for being you?

If not, then make a change.

When you are ready to move forward, be the woman you were born to be, and be unapologetic.

At The Lien Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping you be the woman you truly are, even in the midst of a family court battle. Learn more at www.LawyerForWoman.com.

If you want to talk with Rachna one-on-one about your legal issue, simply click here to schedule a complimentary consultation & case review call. Please note, we are only licensed to talk about legal matters in the State of Missouri.

A New Way to Pay

Something has become painfully obvious: you need a new way to pay legal fees.

I have worked in family court with clients from all walks of life – different ages, income levels, and life goals.

  • Some were ready and able to pay retainers in cash, while others have struggled to make ends meet.
  • Many came to me desperate for immediate help, while others just needed some paperwork pushed through the system.
  • Some stayed closely involved with their cases, and some did not follow my advice at all.

I’ve had the honor of working with a true spectrum of people at the most difficult times in their lives. Despite all the differences, though, one thing has been consistent in almost everyone I have represented in family court: frustration about money.

  • One month, we are drafting documents and paying filing fees, so legal fees are high.
  • If we have a month of waiting for service and responsive pleadings, fees may be lower.
  • There is no telling how much time your lawyer will spend on emails, phone calls, and facilitating settlement negotiations. You quite literally give your lawyer a blank check to work your case.
  • If a testimony hearing or trial comes up, then you may need to pay large lump sums immediately. Asking to delay things while you save up the money could impact the overall outcome of your case.

If you feel anxiety about your case, you may need to get your lawyer on the phone regularly just to make sure everything is going smoothly. This can make your bill can skyrocket in no time, even if there is no movement in court.

Combined with the normal ups and downs of family court, it’s no mystery why you are so frustrated with legal fees. Even if you chose the right lawyer, you have no idea how much your case is going to cost out-of-pocket before you have a resolution.

Let’s fix this

As a lawyer, I will tell you this: it is hard to break the mold. When all of our colleagues bill a certain way and the competition is based on an hourly rate, it is common to go with the norm so that clients can compare apples to apples when choosing a lawyer.

While it may be common, I do not think it is the best way to operate.
And according to a poll I recently did on Facebook, you made it clear that you need another way.

So, I am giving you a new way to pay.

For the month of March 2021, when you retain legal services at The Lien Law Firm, you will have a choice of how you are billed.

Option #1: Put down a retainer and pay an hourly rate, just like my profession has been doing for years.

Option #2: Pay a monthly subscription fee, where you will pay a consistent amount each month. You are guaranteed weekly check-ins with your lawyer about the progress of your case.

Regardless of which option you choose, I will work with you in the exact same way.

As your lawyer, it is my job to do everything I can to help you achieve success. I hate when you stress about legal fees because I know that you have enough other things to focus on. I hope that this new way to pay helps alleviate one area of stress so we can focus on your real goals in family court.

To speak with Rachna about your case and determine if you are a good fit for legal representation at The Lien Law Firm, LLC, please follow this link to schedule a complimentary case review call.

How Alimony Sets You Up To Fail (From the Heart)

Many women (maybe even most women) are financially inferior to their husbands. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it’s not politically correct for me to say, but it is true. These women go into divorce looking for one thing: alimony.

Because the reason for the divorce is inevitably his fault. He owes it to you, right? You sacrificed the best years of your life for him only to be treated the way he has treated you, so he deserves to pay. He cannot expect you to go from being financially dependent to supporting yourself, so because you need it, he has to pay.

Here’s the problem: Women who depend on alimony are setting themselves up to fail.

No, I do not have any psychological studies to back me up on that claim. I do not even have formal statistics. What I have is 800+ clients under my belt as a family law attorney who works primarily with women, and I have noticed this trend time and time again. The women who come into my office desperate for their now or soon-to-be ex-spouse to continue supporting them financially continue to fail, both in court and in life.

Let me break it down for you

For whatever reason, your marriage is not working, and it is not going to make you happy for the rest of your life. The solution is that your partnership needs to end. That means that all the things you did as partners needs to stop and you need to design a new life. Maybe you will decide to stay single, or maybe you already have a new relationship waiting for you. Either way, your marriage, and your connection to your current spouse, needs to end. Chances are that you have already decided that on your own, and that is why you want to get divorced.

When severing that connection, you demand alimony. Not just what the court considers to be reasonable, but enough to pay your rent and other necessary expenses for a prolonged period of time. Without that money, you have no other way to make ends meet.

In severing the marital connection that is holding you back, you are creating a powerful financial dependence that makes you inferior in the relationship you are trying to leave. For many women, this can be just as bad, if not worse, than still being married.

Are you getting divorced to break free from a controlling spouse?
Just imagine the field day they can have with sending your payments late, sending only partial payments, or not sending payments at all. You may have legal recourse, but that will take time (and usually money) to initiate. In the meantime, you are the one left with unmet needs.

If you end up facing an eviction, collection agencies, or bankruptcy because you cannot pay your bills, that will be on your record, not on his.

Let me tell you the real root reason I think alimony sets you up to fail: It keeps you in a mindset of depending and relying on others instead of allowing you to grow into a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman after your divorce.

Alimony is not justice

Alimony certainly has a purpose. When two people with significant discrepancies in their incomes get divorced, alimony is meant to help ease the shift in economic disparities between the two. It is there to help you get on your feet and figure out a plan during the major life transition. That means that it does not last for very long and does not pay very much. It is there to soften the blow, and that’s all.

So many women I have met try to turn it into an issue of justice. They think he has to pay because of how rude, awful, and inconsiderate he is. The truth is, no amount of money is ever going to make you feel compensated for the emotional pain you have endured. If that is what you are expecting, then you will be sorely disappointed.

Even if you get an award of alimony in your divorce, I just described above some of the ways I have seen it used to exercise power and control over someone. If anything, this may fuel the injustice you feel rather than alleviating it.

How to Succeed

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not telling you to forego alimony in your divorce.

If you are entitled to it, and if you need it, then you should absolutely talk with your lawyer about it.

What I am saying is this: Do not rely on alimony to sustain your life after divorce.

Here is what I tell my clients who want to achieve success after divorce:

  • Budget as though he will not pay. When figuring out your post-divorce budget, do not factor in your alimony payments. Come up with a plan to make your expenses without that payment. That way if it does not come, you are no worse for the wear. If it does come, then you can put it into savings, use it to pay down a debt, or spend it on something extra. Either way, you are not dependent on it for your basic needs.
  • Plan for self-sufficiency. What are you going to do to meet your long-term income goals? Are you going back to school to start a new career? Are you going to start a business and be your own boss? Whatever it is, plan to be self-sufficient, without relying on alimony payments or any other financial support from anyone. This may be incredibly hard and may even seem impossible, but with the right attitude, it can be done.
  • Ask for the right kind of help. If you have a wealthy friend or family member, you can choose to approach them for help in one of two ways. You can ask them for money when you need help, or you can ask them how they achieved their wealth and if they can mentor you to achieve a similar result. One of these options puts strain on the relationship and only offers a temporary solution while the other builds long-term strength and success. Which will you choose?

Let me leave you with one last tidbit.

If you are going through a divorce, then you already know someone who has achieved a state of mind that generates success: your lawyer. Whether they work for a large firm or started their own, your lawyer has probably been through the financial ups and downs that come with getting to where they are now. If you are one of my clients, then helping you be successful is quite literally the reason I am here. I already know all of your personal business, too. I will happily give you my advice if you ask, and I will even turn off the time clock while we talk about it.

The Lien Law Firm’s “From the Heart” blog series focuses on our lawyer’s true feelings about family law issues based on personal experience and perception. You can read more at www.lienlawfirm.com. Want to talk to a lawyer who gets that family court is an emotional place? Call 314-722-8557 to speak with a friendly Missouri lawyer and get honest answers to your unique questions.

How to Background Check Your Date

As a divorce lawyer, I work with a lot of women who are stepping into a new found freedom. As soon as they are free of family court drama, they are eager to start their lives as single, independent women. Some are ready to start dating again while others are already looking at a new long-term relationship. I give every single one of them a crucial piece of advice: Background check every single person you date.

Did you chuckle at that? It’s okay if you did, because it may sound a bit ridiculous.
Many women hear that and say something like, “maybe some people need to do that, but I’m very careful about who I date.” To these women, I say one thing:

Background check every single person you date.

Here’s the truth, ladies: In today’s day and age, you cannot trust anyone to be completely open and honest with you. You cannot expect that your intuition will tell you all you need to know. And, if you have been caught in a manipulative or abusive relationship once, then you are at risk of being sucked into another one, even if you are super careful. It does not hurt to check your date’s background before giving them your home address to come pick you up. If you don’t find anything, that’s wonderful! If you do, you’ll be so glad you looked.

Here are my top 3 free ways to check someone’s background before going on a date with them.

1. CaseNet

Checking someone’s history of court action is easy. CaseNet keeps a database of civil and criminal cases filed in the State of Missouri. Follow this link, click on “Litigant Name Search,” and type in their name. It will pull up a list of all the cases involving a person with that name. You’ll be able to see what kind of case it is, when it was filed, and in most cases you can look at the court’s docket to see who their attorney was and how the case was resolved. This is a great way to know if someone has a criminal history or if they have been through messy civil cases.

Be careful, though, because CaseNet is not fool proof. The information you find on there will be very reliable, but you won’t find absolutely everything. Cases that are closed to the public will not pop up on your search, like child abuse/neglect cases in juvenile court or certain orders of protection (aka “restraining orders”). If the person you search has a common name then you may also need to narrow it down by their birthday or where they live. CaseNet is also limited to cases in Missouri, so if your date has lived in any other state, you’ll want to see if that state has a similar database.

2. Missouri Sex Offender Registry

The sex offender registry gives you a listing of sex offenders by name or by address. You can even see a map of where registered offenders live. This allows you to check out not just the person you are considering dating, but also the areas you may be going with them. You want to make sure you are going to safe places, especially if you plan to spend the night. To search the registry, follow this link and then follow the prompts.

3. Google/Bing/[Insert Search Engine of Choice Here]

You will be amazed what you can learn about a person on the Internet. Search for their name, maybe throw in the city you live in, and see what you find. You’ll learn things about them (good or bad) that you can’t easily find through any of the more “official” checks, such as appearances in the press, personal websites, social media profiles, etc. This will not just give you background information, but it will give you general information on their character that you can use to lead into your dating relationship.

With the Internet at your fingertips, do not leave your safety to chance. Even if you just pick one of the methods above, be consistent about checking every person you date. While you’re at it, search yourself out on these databases as well and see what you find. And, of course, trust your gut – if someone seems unsafe, follow that intuition and be safe.

Press Release: Alarming drop in Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline calls

Department of Social Services stresses importance of reporting suspected child abuse and neglect concerns of children unsafe at home.

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – Since March 11, 2020 the Department of Social Services (DSS) has experienced an approximate 50 percent drop in Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline Calls. “As a law enforcement officer for more than 20 years, I understand when a household is unsafe how vulnerable children can be,” Governor Mike Parson said. “This dramatic drop in Hotline reports is truly alarming.  I know Missourians are very focused on COVID-19, but we must remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure every Missouri child remains safe from abuse and neglect.”

“This low number of calls is very abnormal for the Hotline and our worst fear is that children are unsafe while at home, said Jennifer Tidball, Acting Director, Department of Social Services. “Teachers and child care providers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect and are often our state’s best radar on a child’s well being because children are in school or at child care each day.”  Educators and child care providers make the largest number of Hotline reports and without that daily contact with a child, a child’s safety could be seriously impacted. The Department of Social Services, Children’s Division is also very concerned that social isolation and the unprecedented pressures parents and families are experiencing are elevating the risk for child abuse or neglect. “If you are an educator, child care provider, or anyone who has concerns for a child you think may be at risk, please call the Hotline,” Tidball said. “Children’s Division workers are still out there connecting with families, providing assistance, and making sure kids are safe.  But we can’t help that child if we don’t get a report to the Hotline.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Social Services urges every Missourian to be especially attentive to the safety and wellbeing of children, and strongly encourages anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect to call our toll-free hotline at 1-800-392-3738. The Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is answered 24-hours a day, every day, all year round. Callers can report anonymously.

The Department of Social Services is committed to serving the needs of Missouri citizens during COVID-19 pandemic.  Information regarding the department’s response to the pandemic is available online https://dss.mo.gov/covid-19.

The mission of the Department of Social Services is to empower Missourians to live safe, healthy, and productive lives.  Visit dss.mo.gov to learn more about the Department of Social Services and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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You NEED this, and here’s why

Let’s get the disclaimers out of the way right off the bat:
I am a lawyer. I make a living helping people with legal issues. I am passionate about what I do, dedicated to my clients, and expensive. I write blog posts to market my business and make money. And yes, I am trying to sell you something.

If any of that turns you off, you can stop reading right now.

But, if you want to hear a story that completely changed my outlook on life, then by all means, please keep reading.

First, a little about me. My practice is focused on family law and child welfare. I work with families at some of the hardest times in their lives and help them reach resolutions that will help them reach their dreams. It is draining work, and sometimes, it makes me think that lawyers who are not litigators get off real easy with a prestigious title. My place has always been in working face-to-face with clients and advocating in a courtroom.

Now, the story.

I was recently in court on a child welfare case. We had a young boy, barely school-aged, who had been severely abused and neglected by his mother. The situation became so horrendous that we were in court having a trial on whether the mom’s parental rights should be terminated and the boy put up for adoption. This is not necessarily an uncommon type of case for me to be working on, but it is certainly one of the most serious in nature. Terminating someone’s parental rights is not something to be done lightly.

Whenever I have a case like this, I make a point to become familiar with the background story of the family. For this little boy, he was born to two married heterosexual parents. They both worked, they had a small savings, and they rented a place to live. They were just fine financially, probably what someone would consider a typical middle class family. They were sharing a car, saving for their first house, and making dreams for their family years down the road.

Not long after the child was born, the dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. Without his income, the mom couldn’t afford the rent and ended up living in her car until that broke down. She turned to a life of begging and prostitution just to feed herself and her child. She no longer had health insurance, so she could not afford medicine or doctor’s appointments. Someone she encountered living on the streets raped her and her son. Between the grief, trauma, and her untreated anxiety and depression, she became what a medical expert described as ‘psychotic.’ She hurt her child both physically and emotionally. When this was discovered and reported, the child was taken into foster care. He had been living with a foster parent for over 4 years.

Are trials to terminate parental rights a normal part of my job description? Yes, they are.

Are stories like this common? Absolutely not.

As the trial went on, I watched this mother in the courtroom. What started off as “just anxiety and depression” had, without treatment, turned into much more dangerous diagnoses. She watched as her counselors and psychiatrists testified about her lack of ability to parent her son because of her health. She heard each of them say that if she had only been on her medications consistently, it may never have gotten this bad. My heart broke when I heard them say that no matter how much treatment she were to get now, she would most likely not be able to parent her son by herself until he reached adulthood.

Now remember, I’m a lawyer. I played my role in the trial, did my job, and compartmentalized my emotions. When I got home, I hugged my husband, looked him in the eye, and said, “we need to look at our estate plan.”

Yup, that was me. The litigator, the lawyer who can handle any emotion, and the breadwinner of my family. I always thought estate planning was boring. Sitting behind a desk drafting documents and working with numbers all the time is not something I ever really enjoyed. Sure, I have at times felt professionally obligated to advocate for everyone to have a will and a healthcare directive, but I only truly saw the benefit in very certain situations.

Not anymore.

If you can tell me with complete confidence that you could never fall into the same place as the woman in that story, then stop reading and go about your day. I’ll tell you right now, though, that I don’t believe you. The truth is that any one of us could end up in that situation. This woman was living an honorable, ‘normal’ life until an unexpected event through her routine up in flames. That could happen to any of us at any time.

Maybe you don’t have a mental health diagnosis like she did…but are you certain that you could handle immeasurable grief without needing some help?

Maybe you have more in savings than this woman did, or you have more income-earning potential. Do you have enough in the bank right now to get you through from today until the day you die, especially if you would be a single parent?

Maybe you have friends and family to help you, and that’s great. But have you actually talked to them about what you may need from them one day?

The truth is that no one can ever be truly prepared for everything this woman had to deal with. Life is all about throwing wrenches in our plans and throwing us for loops. That being said, there are some things that may have saved her from going as far down the hole as she did. It’s possible that if she had even one of these things, she may not have been sitting in a courtroom at serious risk of losing her son.

Do you have a life insurance policy that pays out enough to keep your loved ones financially protected if you die? Does it cover your major debts, funeral expenses, and living expenses for those you support?

Do you have guardians established for your children, and even yourself, so that you know exactly where to go for help? Have you talked with them about what would cause you to reach out to them for help, and what you expect from them when you do?

Do you have a healthcare directive (or living will) and a healthcare power of attorney so that your loved ones know what you want in case of a medical emergency? Have you had uncomfortable conversations about life support and life-altering medical procedures with those closest to you?

Have you talked to your partner about what each of you will do if the other one dies? Have you written down your plan so that you remember what you agreed to in moments of intense grief and other emotions?

If you haven’t done these things, then you need to. And I want to help you, because as much as I love going to court, I don’t want to be a lawyer in a courtroom watching you lose everything in your life that you love.

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At The Lien Law Firm, we help you develop a complete plan for emergency preparedness. Our flat-rate estate planning package includes a simple will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare directive (aka living will) to help you be prepared for an emergency. We will also provide you with specific resources and recommendations for any non-legal tools that will help you be prepared. To speak with our lawyer, call 314-722-8557 or click here to book a free phone consultation.

What I learned about lawyers while buying a car

I recently decided to get a new car. I started the process just like I recommend clients shop for a lawyer – I did my research, knew exactly what I needed, and asked questions of experts to make sure I understood the specifics (I’m really not a car person). Then came the hard part: getting what I wanted without getting ripped off.

I consulted friends and colleagues who were experienced with buying cars. I called multiple dealers, told them what I was willing to pay, and told them the best deal someone else could offer me. It took over a week of back and forth phone calls before I finally got the car I wanted at the price I wanted.

And you know what? All the dealers were giving me prices on the exact same car.

Not just the same make and model, but the same physical set of wheels. They were all going to get it from the same out-of-town dealership. When one told me there was no way to get it any cheaper, another dealer would undercut them. I had to go through 6 different sales reps at different dealerships before I finally found one who was honest with me, who took my budget seriously, and got me a great deal. And even now, I still have no idea if I actually got the best deal I possibly could have or if I was just so exhausted from the process that I went with the best offer I could get when I was at the end of my rope.

The process made me think a lot about the people who call my office looking for legal help.

Looking for a lawyer is a lot like shopping for a car, but with one notable exception.

When shopping for a lawyer, you should do your research. Make sure you find a lawyer who knows the area of law you need assistance with. They should have knowledge, experience, and in some cases (like family law), they should have a focused practice that shows they are truly dedicated to certain areas of the law. When you meet with a lawyer for the first time, you should be confident that they have everything you need to help you succeed. Talking to them on the phone or meeting them for a consultation should be like taking a test drive – you know they have what you need, just need to make sure it feels right.

Here’s the difference: Lawyers should not haggle when it comes to their fees.

If you need a lawyer, then chances are you have an underlying situation that is stressful, unpleasant, and/or undesirable to deal with on your own. You are probably on some kind of deadline and you have a million questions. With family court, you have probably heard myths, rumors, and horror stories that leave you wondering exactly what is going to happen with your case and your family. I have never, in 800+ clients, had someone approach me without some degree of nervousness. Hiring a lawyer is more than just seeking professional help or opinion. It is asking someone else, someone you probably don’t know, to help you solve intimate problems and craft a family life that you will be living with every single day.

A service like that should not come with negotiable fees.

You should have complete confidence that they are just as focused on and dedicated to you as they are to every other client.

You should get the feeling that while your lawyer is going to charge you for their services, you are more than just a source of income for them.

You should be able to see that your lawyer’s primary goal is to help you achieve success on your terms, regardless of how much your bills are each month.

My new car gets me from point A to point B so that I can do the things I need to do. Did I get the best deal I possibly could have? I will never know. But in the end, it is what I do at those different points that matters far more than the vehicle that got me there. When you are shopping for that professional “vehicle” to help you create the life you want, focus on who will help you get to your destination without leaving you with unanswered questions.

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At The Lien Law Firm, all clients have the same options for financing legal services. Call us at 314-722-8557 for a no-cost consultation where you can have a frank, honest conversation with a lawyer about your case and your budget.