Skip to Content
Family Law - When to Lawyer Up and Why Choosing a Multipractice Law Firm is a Wise Move
January 13, 2023

Family Law – When to Lawyer Up and Why Choosing a Multidisciplinary Firm is a Smart Move.


Today’s topic is Family law, when to lawyer up, and why.

We talk about why an attorney can be beneficial in a number of different family law situations, when you should consider getting an attorney involved, and why hiring a family law attorney from a firm with a multidisciplinary practice is a smart move.

Landon Van Winkle is an associate within the firm’s Construction Litigation practice group where he assists clients with pre-suit negotiations and litigation in matters involving construction, equipment leasing and financing, and bankruptcy. His areas of practice are Bankruptcy, Business Litigation, Appellate Law, Construction Law, and Equipment Leasing & Finance.

Michael Denning is an accomplished jurist and former District Court Judge for Judicial District 10 in Wake County, North Carolina. In his capacity as Of Counsel in Smith Debnam’s Mediation and Arbitration Practice Group, he focuses his mediation practice in the areas of Business Litigation, Corporate and Business Law, and Family Law. Michael is a certified family financial mediator through the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission and a North Carolina State Bar and Wake County Bar member. He is admitted to practice in all North Carolina State Courts and U.S. District Court in all North Carolina Districts.

Landon Van Winkle: Hello and welcome to the podcast series Creditors Corner Legal Thompson, presented by Smith Debnam Attorneys at Law, where we explore a range of legal topics impacting businesses and private individuals.So be sure to hit subscribe so you never miss an episode.My name is Landon G. Van Winkle and I’m an attorney in the firm’s consumer Financial Services section.I will be your moderator today.Today’s topic is family law when the Lawyer Up and Why.We’re going to talk about why an attorney can be beneficial in a number of different family law situations, when you should consider getting an attorney involved, and why there may be a benefit to you to hiring a firm that has a multidisciplinary practice.Before we begin, I want to note the information provided in this podcast does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice.Instead, any and all information shared is for general informational purposes only.Listeners should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.With that out of the way, let’s now turn our attention to this episode’s topic.With me today is Michael Dinning, and Michael is an attorney in our firm’s litigation section, which is primarily family law.Thank you for joining me today, Michael.

Michael Denning: Thank you, Lane. It’s great to be here.

Landon Van Winkle: So, before we get into the meat of it, just tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, your professional background.

Michael Denning: Well, I’ve been an attorney for 14 or 15 years.For a majority of that time.I was actually on the district court bench in Wake County here, and I spent a majority of the time on the Wake County bench as a family law judge handling everything from custody,post separation support, Equitable,distribution, and anything that you can imagine that would come up in relation to family law.Prior to that, I was a litigation attorney with Shanahan Law Group here in town, which is a boutique law firm which handle a variety of different litigation issues.Before becoming an attorney, I was a United States Marine for about eleven years.And so I came back and finished college and law school a little later than most.

Landon Van Winkle: Well, thank you for your service.And so, having been on the bench, it sounds like you’ve you’ve kind of seen all this before.

Michael Denning: I wouldn’t say I’ve seen all of it, but probably about 95% of it.Sure.I’ve seen enough not to be surprised of whatever comes through the door or ends up in front of the judge.

Landon Van Winkle: That’s fair.So, as I previewed earlier, one of the things we want to convey to the listeners here is why should they hire a family law attorney when they have a family law situation come up and maybe just kind of back up a little bit?Let’s kind of unpack a little bit what we talk about when we say family law.So you mentioned equitable distribution and a couple of other things.Can you just unpack a little bit, kind of what type of family law issues or matters that you would handle?

Michael Denning: Sure. When people talk about family law, probably the first thing they think about is a couple splitting up who has kids who aren’t older or out of the house and well, what are we going to do about custody?The next thing you probably think about is,well, if we’ve been married for however many years, it is, whether it’s 510, 20 or 40 in one of the cases and one of my clients, well,how are we going to distribute our property?And then you worry about how is one or both of the spouse is going to move forward and how are they going to be supported?Those are the three main things that legally that you deal with in a family law case and in and of themselves.They’re pretty simple and they’re pretty straightforward.The fact that it’s your spouse that you’re leaving makes it a bit more difficult.Valuing things practically is not hard at all.Everybody can figure out what a car is worth or what a house is worth at the time that you separated and how much somebody’s going to if they’re going to get 50% of the equity.The actual value is not hard.The emotional value is very difficult in most of these instances and really drives how the situation unfolds and proceeds.And typically at least one of the parties has a much higher emotional value than a practical value of the situation.And that’s what you need a family law attorney for is to help you navigate all the intellectual and emotional issues to get people to the practical place of dissolving the relationship.

Landon Van Winkle: Perfect.So you’re just as much a counselor at all as you are a lawyer, so to speak.

Michael Denning: That’s absolutely correct.When you see counselor at the end of that name, it very, very much applies to a family law attorney.I would say.You talk to any family law attorney and a great deal of their time is spent counseling their clients.As you well know, your clients pay you a good fee or sum of money for your advice doesn’t mean that they have to take it.And in family law sometimes that emotion will always get the better of them.And regardless of whether or not you’re giving them really good advice, they will choose not to take it.They’re operating from the front part of their brain, as we say.

Landon Van Winkle: So in addition to the kind of the value you add as an attorney by helping people navigate, as you say, the emotional and intellectual aspect of a separation, what other benefits are there to hiring an attorney?In other words, why should I pay you to help me get the divorce when I could just go on a legal zoom where I can go on the internet and get up whatever papers I need to get it final?

Michael Denning: Well, there’s a number of reasons for that and to unpack it.I think I got to address quite a few of them.With any lawyer, when you get to a settlement of something, the whole point of settling something is so you don’t have to come back and revisit it.Family law more than any other discipline of law, when you settle something, it’s important to treat it like it’s a vampire and put a stake through it’s hard.You do not want to come back and revisit anything next to the death of a loved one or a child.If you think about it, a long marriage, it’s the same thing psychologically.There’s a lot of articles on that.When your marriage is done.It’s the death of something that’s integral to you emotionally and mentally only you don’t bury it and go to a funeral.Spouse to separate and they go on.Sometimes they stay in the same town and they see each other, and now they have to drop their kids off.So it’s very tricky to do that.What an attorney allows you to do is get to a place where you can move forward the shortest and most effective possible way to do it and ensure that you’re not going to be one of those couples that ends up in court for the next 16 years having custody discussions about your children.When you separated and a good family law attorney, it may take three years, but it won’t go on for 16.

Landon Van Winkle: Sure. Another thing is, I guess if I’m going through a divorce or I’m having a fight with my wife, for example, when is a good time?When should I know that I need to get an attorney involved?

Michael Denning: That is a very individual,specific question.But I would say it’s been my experience when you sort of dissect these things and you hotwash them at some point in every relationship or marriage that is going to dissolve, one of the parties knows that it’s over.As soon as you come to the conclusion that your relationship might be dissolving, you really need to sort of fight through.Some people feel guilty because they’re going to be the one that’s leaving a relationship.And so one natural response that is, well,I’ll just give up more property, I’ll give up more support, I’ll give up more money, I’ll give up more time with my kids, or I won’t put up a fight because that’s sort of the emotional tenants that I need to pay for leaving the relationship.As soon as you think you’re going to leave a relationship or you know it’s dissolving, you should go talk with an attorney and have a good long consult not only about what’s going on mentally and emotionally with you and how you’re going to disengage, but where are you property wise?Where are you debt wise?Where are you with your children?Where are you with your work?Family law attorney can sort of flesh all of those things out quickly from a 10,000 5000foot level and tell you, okay, this is what you can expect with your property.If everybody’s rational you’re here in Wake County.I know all the judges practice here all the time.The attorney can tell you, here’s what you can expect with your particular judge.They can help you navigate it.And what they should really do.And what most family law attorneys try to do is tell you what you need to know.Not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.And they can generally do it in such a way that you can listen to it.It’s really important not to try to beat somebody over the head with poor choices.They already know that there’s already a disaster going on in their life and it’s already a crisis.You don’t need to pump any oxygen into the fire.You just need to get them through it as quickly and as stably as possible.

Landon Van Winkle: Sure. Speaking of disasters and crisis, if a separation happens, if it unfolds in more of a crisis mode, say,unfortunately, and this happens, if there’s spousal abuse or if there’s something where somebody is feeling threatened, do you handle that?And is there something that people can come to you and get some type of relief?

Michael Denning: I will certainly advise people on that.Domestic violence, sometimes more times than we’d like to experience, is an integral part of an initial breakup.It’s important to know who the other spouse’s attorney is.A lot of times people come they’ll come in because of spousal abuse.And if there’s bona fide spousal abuse or partner abuse going on, it’s very important to handle that the right way and to navigate it the right way.Because some lawyers and some people to get a leg up, especially if custody is involved,will go file a DVPO.And if you don’t have an attorney or you can’t afford one and you say, well, okay, I’ll just accept the Domestic Violence protective Order with no findings of fact, it doesn’t seem that bad.There is a lot of collateral consequences and a lot of far reaching consequences for having one of those orders entered.You lose some very substantial rights and it can affect how your custody unfolds.It shouldn’t.Case law is clear on it, depending on what the domestic violence is.It shouldn’t, but it can.And it can lengthen the entire process.A good attorney can help navigate you around those pitfalls.Perfect.

Landon Van Winkle: So one of the things you mentioned is collateral consequences.I want to kind of focus on that so people we don’t live our lives in a vacuum, right.A divorce can affect all different areas of life.If I own a business as a co owner with my spouse, for example, and we’re getting divorced, one of the big things that comes up is, okay, what’s going to happen to the business?Are we keeping it.It’s almost like I’m having a marital divorce and a business divorce.And so one of the things I wanted to explore a little bit with you is what type of collateral consequences can there be outside of just what we traditionally term as family law and how can a multidisciplinary law firm help to assist the client to get a better outcome in those scenarios?

Michael Denning: Well, there’s a lot of collateral consequences.You just mentioned a family business and that’s not uncommon.A lot of times we’ll have a closely held or a family held business or a business that was started during the marriage that both of the spouses participated in and the lawyer, they either incorporated it themselves or they went and they had a lawyer incorporated.And lo and behold, the business is a 50 50business and now you’re getting divorced.Well, property in a divorce is not necessarily that hard to take care of.Okay?We know for instance, that this particular business is it’s marital and so what’s left to do is, well, how do we value the business and how do we distribute it?The valuing is probably not that hard if it’s a small business.It’s probably got some assets, some cash in the bank and it generates some revenue and it’s the distributing part that becomes an issue.And more so, getting through that process with two people that are dissolving their marriage,if they both have to make decisions to run that business and keep it going is a concern and they’re at odds personally, they can devalue it.And where a law firm like ours helps you both before marriage.Dissolving the marriage and going through equal distribution is that we have disciplines that can look at your incorporation.Whether it’s a simple incorporation or you have articles in corporation and business rules that tell you what’s supposed to happen in certain instances, we can give you considered advice as to okay, here’s what’s going to happen with your business.You know what, you’ve got assets in this business like a truck that you signed for personally, that you’re jointly and severally liable.And you know this from doing creditor services.There’s a lot of pitfalls with that.But what we can do with somebody like you, you can look at it and say, okay, well, this is what’s going to happen with that if you don’t pay attention to it.And here’s the best way to navigate around it so we can plan, we can be proactive rather than reactive.In any legal situation, particularly in family law, if you become reactive, things can go downhill quickly and they can get very expensive quickly.Lawyers are expensive enough without having to extend the time that you need to engage them to get out of the problem that you have.And where we have an advantage is we can compress the time that you have to spend addressing your problem so.

Landon Van Winkle: That ultimately ends up saving the client money.Because instead of if you go to a single practitioner that just does family law, they may have to send you down the road or across town to deal with some of these business issue or a bankruptcy issue or if there’s an ongoing lawsuit.And here we can kind of deal with it all under one roof.

Michael Denning: Absolutely.And part of that has to do with one of the most precious resources we all have, which is time.And so we can deal with things under one roof which really minimizes the amount or compresses the amount of time that you have to deal with it which resolves the situation much quicker.Family law, as I was fond of saying when I was a judge, is not like wine.It does not get better with age.The longer the problem goes on, the worse it gets and some of them get very bad.So the quicker that you can deal with something and the faster that you get really good information and advice on how to manage something, ultimately the better your outcome is going to be.

Landon Van Winkle: And you mentioned that I do creditors work.So kind of to that .1 of the things that I think you guys have brought me in to consult a couple of times on bankruptcy issues because I guess when you’re doing the and obviously I don’t practice family law, but when you’re doing your property settlement agreement,there can be real consequences.If one of the spouses later files for bankruptcy as to how those awards or how those settlement amounts are treated, whether it’s categorized as a property distribution or whether it’s categorized as alimony or child support or what we in the bankruptcy world call a domestic support obligation.So that I think is another good example of where it pays to be proactive and to have kind of what we do here at Smith Debnam is knowing how we know how to not just do the family law piece but to do all of the other collateral consequences.We can mitigate those because we have the multidisciplinary people in the house that can help navigate those issues.

Michael Denning: Sure. And I don’t think that should be underestimated.For example, I’ve seen situations and had situations where somebody comes in you’ll always see the closely held family business and divorces tend to get some divorces get high conflict and people can go scorched earth really quickly in some ways since if they’re not going to have it, nobody’s going to have it.So they’ll just pour vinegar in the wine, so to speak and they’ll try to run the business into the ground or get it into bankruptcy so it can’t be valued and distributed and you can hold up the whole equitable distribution process.If you have a good lawyer and you can understand collateral consequences, you can take proactive steps to prevent that from happening.For instance, if your LLC was set up appropriately or the business rules allow, you might be able to shut the other spouse out to maintain the value of the business long enough to be able to get it valued and distributed.As you all know, once you get something into bankruptcy, it might take six months to get it out.It could take a year and a half.And again, particularly in family law, if mom and dad are fighting over the closely held business, that tends to spill over into their custody battle, which rolls downhill to the kids, and it spills over into somebody’s ability to actually support the other spouse or to support their children.So it has negative effects all the way around.And we have enough lawyers and experience where we have a really good concept of what all those negative effects can be so we can help you plan to avoid them.

Landon Van Winkle: That’s a great point,Michael.So if anybody in the audience is listening,how can they reach out to you to get it set up a console or to kind of follow up on any of the things we talked about?

Michael Denning: Well, of course, we’re on the Internet at have a very easy to navigate website.My name is up there as an attorney.You can email me, you can call, get put through to one of the family law paralegals who will talk to you and get all your information, which really sort of flattens the hill and the curve for the attorneys.And we’ll set up a consult for you.And I’m happy to consult by zoom, by phone, by snail mail.Generally prefer to do that in person because that relationship is a very tactile relationship and people need to kind of be able to assess each other and make sure that it’s going to work out awesome.

Landon Van Winkle: Well, thank you so much for participating, Michael.This was very useful.And I think this gives some good pointers and some food for thought for people listening in the audience.So I want to thank the audience for listening,and obviously, if you do have questions, you can visit our website.You can call our main number at 919250 2000and ask for Michael Dinning or somebody in the family law section.And don’t forget to check out our other websites and don’t forget to subscribe.Thank you for listening and I hope everyone stays well until we hear from you again.

Michael Denning: Thank you, Landon.

Creditor's Corner

Smith Debnam’s Creditors’ Corner Legal Talk Podcast Series explores regulatory and litigation trends impacting the consumer financial services industry. Become well-versed in state laws, federal laws, news from the supreme court, and the latest updates and trends in consumer financial services litigation. This podcast is a must-listen for those working in financial institutions, consumer finance, consumer credit, mortgage servicers, auto finance companies, litigators, and more. Listen to great topics on consumer protection laws, regulatory compliance, and consumer lending, as well as legal updates in the area of Tax Law, Trusts & Estates, Real Estate Law, and Equipment Leasing and Finance.

Hosted by Smith Debnam’s experienced legal team – this podcast provides practical analysis and helpful insights from leading attorneys in their respective fields of law.

Personal Representation - Smith Debnam Attorneys at Law
At Smith Debnam, we are more than just lawyers.

We are problem solvers, negotiators, and trusted advisors for our clients. Contact us today to experience the Smith Debnam difference.

Contact Us Today