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Top 5 Ways to Lower Your Costs in a Divorce

Many people have asked me why attorneys are so expensive. My answer is that attorneys’ time and knowledge is extremely valuable and even though our hourly rates may be high, you are getting what you pay for. Often times, it is more valuable and cost efficient to have an experienced attorney represent you in your divorce than it is to try to do it on your own. However, there are several things that you could do to keep the costs down in your divorce:

1. Be honest with your attorney

In many divorces, the parties may have embarrassing histories or other details that they do not want to share with anyone. However, not sharing or lying about these types of details could actually be detrimental to your case. You should remember that there is a confidential relationship between you and your attorney and many details that you provide to them (like a criminal charge in your past) could actually help your case if you are honest. However, if you hide this kind of information, it will likely rise to the surface eventually, but may cost you more in the long run if your attorney has to investigate the matter.

2. Do some of your own research

Before you meet with your attorney, you should organize your case into a very coherent and clear timeline and summary. Be sure to include any instances of domestic violence, issues involving your children and your financial information. Many of these facts will be dependent on your record keeping or memory. An attorney may be able to uncover some of these facts, but it will take longer and be more labor intensive. This way, when you sit down with your attorney, you have everything in front of you and can easily answer their questions about your marriage.

3. Be organized

Instead of waiting for the attorney to ask you for documentation, start collecting different types of documents even before you have filed for divorce. This can include titles or deeds to houses, cars and other property, bank statements, tax returns and your prenuptial agreement, if you have one. Having copies of these important documents will be good for you to have aside from the divorce as well.

4. Make your communication with your attorney as clear as possible

If your attorney is charging you for the time you spend on the phone, or the amount of time he/she spends reading an email, then it would be in your best interest to make sure that your communication with your attorney is concise and clear. This way, your attorney would not necessarily have to call you or email you back in order to clarify your original message.
5. Don’t take short cutsSometimes short cuts seem cheaper, but in the long run, those short cuts could end up costing you more money. It may seem like it would be more cost effective to try to dissolve a complicated divorce on your own by dabbling in different internet resources or seeking advice from attorneys on an hourly basis, but it could backfire. Although there are instances where people have very competently represented themselves in a divorce, not having the right attorney represent your interests could actually be detrimental in many other cases.

If you’re looking for a family law attorney in the Bay Area, including Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, you should contact the experienced attorneys of Howard & Fei, LLP at 510.464.8083.


What Marriage Equality in New York Means for Gay and Lesbian Couples in California

Yesterday marked a historic day in New York as the state began issuing licenses and performing marriages for same-sex couples. With this legislative decision, marriage equality has now been extended to six states and Washington, D.C., but what does this mean for gay and lesbian couples in California who want to marry now?

Since the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, marriage in California has been limited to opposite-sex couples.  While this issue works its way through the justice system, same-sex couples in California currently have the option to register as domestic partners or travel to another state or jurisdiction where marriage between same-sex partners is legal.

Registered domestic partners in California receive many of the rights and responsibilities of married couples, including community property benefits, parental rights, and rights regarding healthcare and taxes. However, they still lack many of the federal rights granted to married couples. Thus, while couples  will have many protections within California, their relationship may not be recognized in another state.

Those who choose to marry in another state will be protected by Senate Bill 54, a law that ensures that couples who legally marry outside of California after November 5, 2008 will receive all of the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage except for the name “marriage.” Therefore, the couple would maintain all of the protections of marriage, but their union would not be called “marriage.”

If you would like to discuss how marriage or a registered domestic partnership will affect you and your family, please contact the Fremont and Bay Area attorneys at Howard & Fei, LLP for a consultation at 510.464.8083. You can read more about DOMA and how it affects same sex relationships here.

Coast to Coast Custody Share– Impact on Bay Area Parents and Their Children’s Flights

Sometimes after the finalization of a divorce, a parent may choose to relocate to another city for a new job, to start anew, etc. That parent may have visitation rights to the child(ren), and this most likely means the child would have to travel between the two locations during summer breaks or the holiday season.

Obviously, the safest and most preferred way of travel for the child between parents is to have an adult accompany him/her. However, this is not the most convenient or cost effective way. More often than not, the child will have to travel on his/her own. Here are some tips for parents in preparation for the summer months and the start of the school year, when a lot of the traveling occurs:

Prepare your child: walk your child through the entire flight process, even if you will be with him during part of it. This way, the child will be prepared if something does not go according to plan. Make sure that he has cash, a cell phone programmed with emergency phone numbers and even a written card with your information and his flight information (this can be tucked into his pocket, or even hung around his neck with a lanyard).

Documentation: dropping your child off for a flight as an unaccompanied minor is significantly different than giving your friend a ride to the airport. You will have to walk him through check-in and security. Some airports will allow you to even walk with him to the gate and wait for the flight there. You will have to have documentation present, including your ID, his flight information and anything else that the airlines have requested.

Food & Entertainment: if the flight is short, your child will likely not get a meal. Flight attendants may be busy with other passengers or other unaccompanied minors to tend to your child’s needs all the time, so make sure that he has enough food to last the duration of the trip. Check with your local airport to see what items are restricted, such as containers of liquid over a certain size. You’ll be surprised to discover what is actually considered to be a liquid! Be sure to pack enough entertainment through the entire flight. This can include coloring books, games, dolls, and even a portable DVD player. Just be sure that the entertainment will not be a distraction to other passengers.

Costs: make sure that you are aware of all of the costs involved when you are booking the ticket. Some airlines may charge an additional fee for an unaccompanied minor for each way of the trip, and sometimes each leg of the trip. Even though it may be cost effective to schedule layovers in a cross country trip, it might be wiser to shell out the extra money so that your child won’t have to try to figure out how to get to his connecting flight.

Having your child travel across such great distances is tough, but the time that your child will spend with the other parent will more than make up for any stresses caused by the trip.

The attorneys at Bay Area law firm Howard & Fei, LLP can help you with your child custody and visitation plans, so call us at 510.464.8083 for a consultation today!

How DOMA Affects Same Sex Couples

The Williams Institute is a think tank in the UCLA School of Law, and produces research and data on sexual orientation law and public policy. Recently, the Institute submitted a written testimony on the the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on American families.

Under DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, the federal government is not required to recognize same-sex marriages as such, even if that marriage is legal in the couple’s home state. This produces many hardships and consequences for married same-sex couples, which are enumerated below:

1. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Benefits: FMLA allows for individuals to leave their employment for a specific amount of time to care for their family members or different-sex spouses, but it does not allow for an individual to take that time off for their same-sex spouse.

2. Benefits for Spouses of Federal Employees: DOMA prevents the spouses of federal employees in same-sex marriages from receiving the same benefits as those in different-sex marriages.

3. Veteran Partner Benefits: different-sex spouses of veterans are eligible to receive certain benefits, including pensions, educational assistance and vocational training; however, same-sex partners of veterans are not entitled to any of these benefits.

4. Taxation of Employee Health Benefits: generally, when a different-sex spouse of an employee receives benefits, those benefits are tax exempt. However, when a same-sex spouse receives those same benefits, the federal government will impose a tax. Furthermore, many of the tax exemptions claimed by different-sex couples are not available for same-sex couples.

5. Medicaid Long Term Care (LTC): federal law requires that states allow for different-sex couples to retain income and assets if one of the partners goes into Medicaid LTC, but same-sex partners are not entitled to the same protection.

6. Estate Taxes: inheritances for different-sex couples are generally not subject to inheritance tax; however, same-sex couples are treated as if they were legal strangers and are subject to different inheritance tax provisions.

7. Income Taxes: many states allow for same-sex couples to file jointly as a married couple so that they can reduce their tax burden. However, because the federal government does not recognize such unions, same-sex couples must submit separate tax calculations from state returns as if they were single.

8. Social Security Survivor Benefits: same-sex spouses cannot continue to receive their spouse’s social security payments after the spouse’s death, while different-sex spouses can.

Aside from these astronomical differences between same-sex and different-sex couples, there is also the social stigma related to the inability to get married, or the challenges of having their marriages recognized by different states and the federal government. If you would like to read more about this study, please click here.

If you would like to speak to an experienced Bay Area attorney about your options as a same-sex spouse, you should call Howard & Fei, LLP for a consultation at 510.464.8083, or email us at

Jennifer Lopez & Marc Anthony Divorce After 7 Years of Marriage

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On July 15, 2011, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced that they were separating and would be filing for divorce. The couple wed in 2004 and have three year old fraternal twins, Max and Emme.

Both J.Lo and Marc Anthony came into the marriage with substantial assets. It is unknown whether there was a prenuptial agreement, but there are rumors that the two wed without one. There will likely be many assets at issue in their divorce, including homes in Long Island, New York and Malibu, California. Depending on how long they spend at each residence, and where they are actually domiciled, the pair could file for divorce in either California or New York.

If J.Lo and Anthony file for divorce in California, a community property state, and if there is no prenuptial agreement, then their assets and income acquired during the marriage would likely be split 50/50.  Obviously, this analysis could change based on the details of their marriage.

Another major issue would be the custody of their twin children. Since the pair travel frequently for their careers, and may end up residing on opposite coasts, deciding the custody and visitation schedules for the kids may be an uphill battle.

If you have a child custody or divorce issue in Alameda County or Contra Costa County, you should call Howard & Fei, LLP for a consultation with one of our experienced and knowledgeable attorneys at 510.464.8083.

Bay Area Family Law Firm Participates in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer!

On October 22nd and 29th, American Cancer Society will have their annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walks in San Francisco and San Jose (respectively). Family law firm Howard & Fei, LLP will be participating with a team!

Please go to our event website to donate to our team or to participate in the fun!


Medical Journal Suggests Government Step In For Morbidly Obese Children’s Welfare

In an article by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it was suggested that the government should become involved in families with morbidly obese children. The authors, David Ludwig and Lindsey Murtagh, suggest that approximately two million morbidly obese children should be put on a diet by the government and removed from their parents if they do not show progress.

Morbid obesity is defined as a person whose body mass index (BMI) is over 40; morbidly obese children can suffer from diabetes, breathing problems and other issues that may shorten their lives. The authors have suggested that state laws for child abuse and neglect should be modified to include protection of children in these severe cases.

In California, and a handful of other states, the government actually has some capacity to intervene in cases in which children are malnourished to “overnourished” and severely obese. This is not to say that the government will intervene each and every time, but that the case worker would have the discretion to intervene in a particularly bad case.

There are many criticisms and issues that arise from the proposal made in this article. The main issue is that the government may only compel medical treatment of a child against the parents’ wishes if the child is at imminent risk of death. Although it is unfortunate that some children are so overweight that they start to develop health problems, those health problems are usually still treatable and they are not in imminent risk of death.

Another major issue is when to draw the line for government intervention. Lawmakers would have a tough time deciding when a social worker or government official should intervene, and for what length of time. This could potentially result in overburdening the foster care system, which is already feeling the strain.

Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., in this article suggests that perhaps the solution to the problem is addressing the cause. Our food culture is completely out of whack–almost all of the food commercials on TV are for unhealthy food, school cafeterias are serving subpar lunches and more often than not, the junk food at stores are more inexpensive than vegetables and fruits.

Even though public policy will likely not support government intervention in every case of childhood morbid obesity, perhaps it’s time for society and parents to step up together and save our children.

My Journey as a Family Law Attorney

Several years ago, I worked as a clerk in a small prestigious law firm in San Diego. I was only an undergraduate in college but I knew my way around the various courthouses and the legal world. My primary job at the firm was to be the initial point of contact between new and potential clients, our existing clients, and the attorneys. 

One day, I received a call from a woman who was near hysterics. It turned out that she had just given birth to a beautiful baby boy and now was in a custody dispute with the baby’s father. After she came in for her initial consultation, a preliminary hearing was scheduled for the following week. When I arrived to work on the morning of the hearing, there was a flurry of activity and the family law partner asked me to go to the courthouse with her.

It turned out that our client could not find childcare for the baby, so I stood in the lobby of the courthouse, holding a two week old infant in my arms while his parents determined custody in the other room. This was the most poignant moment of my entire experience in family law. I realized that in most other cases, the benefits and consequences were not tangible like this sweet little baby. I was holding a living, breathing, completely innocent being while the attorneys and the legal system worked to determine his fate.

From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping families through their roughest years, and even though I know that not every case will have a happy ending, I can at least do my part in making sure that it is not a painful ending.

Welcome to Howard & Fei, LLP!

Hi Everyone!

So glad you are reading this post, and I hope that you’re enjoying our website. Our BLAWG is a way to be more interactive with the public, our clients, and our friends and relatives. Posts on here will include current events, new developments in family law, current happenings with our firm, and maybe even a few posts about who we are as normal, everyday people. I hope that you’ll stay tuned by adding us to your RSS feed, or Google Reader, or even if you want to sporadically check back here for more posts.

East Bay Divorce & Family Law Firm Opens Doors

Attorneys Desiree Howard and Jenn Yan Wen Fei are pleased to announce the opening of their new family law firm, Howard & Fei, LLP! The firm focuses on divorce, domestic partnership dissolution, child support & custody, spousal support, adoptions and other family law issues.

If you have been served divorce papers or are in need of an attorney in a family law matter, you should call for a consultation at 510.464.8083. Our attorneys are experienced and can help you find a resolution to your case!