Family Law, Domestic Violence, and Restraining Orders - Part 4
The law surrounding domestic violence in North Carolina is deceptively complex. In this episode, North Carolina Attorney Bill Powers answers the questions that matter to you when you when you or a loved one is involved in a domestic violence matter.
If it seems pretty obvious that it's criminal plus, meaning, "I've got a 50B protective order hearing and I need some help. I want to get separated from this person," or, "I just got out of jail and I am separated from the person because I now have been told not to contact them." I'll talk to them initially about that, and then I'll say we probably need to have a larger conversation about legal representation and what you want our law office to do, meaning do you only want us to handle the 50B and the criminal charges, which are both criminal and civil, or are now talking about separation agreements, support agreements, child custody, visitation? Because that transitions into hourly. Normally, family law attorneys in North Carolina charge hourly rates. Criminal defense lawyers, while we can charge hourly rates for legal fees, tend to charge flat rates.
Similarly, for 50B hearings, protective orders, it can be both where the ... And this is what I tell everybody. The criminal lawyers tend to go with the idea of free consultation, everything is confidential, flat rate, and if it gets continued, same rate.
Civil lawyers, if you use one of the databases, you click a little thing on your computer and a clock starts ticking and they bill. Most lawyers bill in six-minute or ten-minute increments. So, the perspective how these things are handled are different. That's why, well, I really enjoy doing these types of cases because it's both. It's not just limited to one side or the other, which I think as part of legal representation, makes four an interesting presentation because if you fully understand how criminal courts work in North Carolina or criminal charges in North Carolina work, and if you fully understand the implications of those criminal charges to civil actions, be it 50B or the other family law divorce-related cases, you start to see the level of complexity and the number of iterations, or to use the mathematical term, the number of permutations and combinations of options.
So, how you start off on the front end, introducing yourself to the client, being personable to the client, reassuring the client is so, so important and developing parameters. I know that's ... If this were, the law were dungeons and dragons, I would be the biggest, geekiest guy that has all the die in his bag. This kind of stuff jazzes me. It's so procedurally technical and interesting and factual. It's perfect for someone who has an interest in doing multiple things in the law.
Robert Ingalls: Now, if someone has an issue like this come up, obviously it tends to be pretty serious and they need to talk to someone relatively quickly, what is the best way or what are the ways that they can contact you and consult with you?
Bill Powers: Right. That's a great question. You used a word that I don't know if you meant to use, but serious criminal charges. So, we get these questions. Is an assault a misdemeanor in North Carolina? Are assault and battery charges felony or misdemeanor charges in North Carolina? The key is the word serious because they're almost always serious when it involves a physical altercation.
What I like to tell people is before they call even and when they call is most people want to talk on the phone at least initially, and I say let's get you in here relatively quickly and I promise I will listen to your concerns. I'll have a bunch of questions to ask you, but let's meet face to face, develop that relationship, because relationship is so important in the practice of law. At least at our law office, the relationship is very important. I want to sit down with you and kind of draw ... I physically, I take a piece of paper and a pen and I draw out how the court system works, because even in criminal cases, a defendant just sees court. They see the officer. They don't realize maybe there's a DMV implication to something. They don't understand, and when you have the complexity of family law issue, I literally draw the court house and I say floor one and floor four in Charlotte criminal courts are the criminal proceedings, and floor eight or whatever the civil proceeding may be, whether it's in Charlotte or somewhere else has to do with the divorce.
Now, here's what's really interesting and it kind of makes my point. Domestic violence charges in Charlotte, allegations of a 50B violation in Charlotte or trying to get a protective order in Charlotte are done on the fourth floor, which is traditionally a criminal courtroom floor in Charlotte, as opposed to divorces which may be higher up in the courthouse.
So, that's why a lot of criminal defense lawyers handle them because they're already there on the floor. That doesn't mean tat civil lawyers can't do it, but I think the important thing is to start just reassuring the client from the outset that it's going to take some time to get through all the information and explain the system because it's so incredibly complex.
Robert Ingalls: Okay. Any last words on this issue?
Bill Powers: Talk to a lawyer, really. Trying to put the genie back in the bottle is so, so, so difficult and you can have big-time consequences financially if you just kind of willy-nilly sign off on something without ... You see a separation agreement that's filed and I didn't know I was doing that for the rest ... I'm like, "Well, you didn't limit it to temporary." There's a lot of contract. In fact, family law, there's a whole theory that family law is nothing more really than contract law versus litigation law. There are lawyers in family law in Charlotte who never, ever, ever go to court or don't want to litigate court or associate [inaudible 00:25:23] lawyers with family law issues because they don't want to litigate custody or battle over alimony where they want to do everything in a collaborative process. In fact, it's called collaborative law in family law issues in North Carolina.
Then, there are some, and I'll be honest with you, I tend to gravitate ... I'm a litigator. My experience has been to go to court, so I tend to have a comfort level going to court. So, either way, talk to a lawyer before you sign anything. Talk to a lawyer before you take any action.
I say this, I think I've said it in every podcast, so I'm going to say it again. In life, people oftentimes say don't just stand there. Do something. In law, the direct opposite is often true. Don't just do something. Stand there.
Robert Ingalls: Alright. Thank you, sir.
Bill Powers: Thank you very much.
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