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Timelines, Deadlines, and Costs in Your Case

You’ve decided to seek a divorce and perhaps to seek child support for your children, or you’re looking at equitable distribution of your marital assets. You’ve researched, met with, and retained your attorney. Now the attorney or a member of the attorney’s staff is calling or sending emails asking questions and seeking what seems like an endless list of documents. You hired this attorney to represent you; why are they putting so much work on you and asking for all this information?

Believe it or not, your attorney can become just as frustrated as you are about all the documentation that they request from you. Each North Carolina county has its own set of local rules that attorneys are required to follow, depending on the type of case you have filed. While some counties may have similar filing requirements, others may be vastly different. Your attorney is required to follow the local rules of the county or could potentially face sanctioning by the court. The state rules of civil procedure set many deadlines for producing documents and other required information.

A client may not realize that their attorney could have thirty or more clients from the surrounding counties with varying types of cases requiring vastly different deadlines and timelines. When your attorney or a representative from the firm reaches out to request documents, they often give you a deadline to return the documents to them. This deadline gives the attorney time to review and analyze the information you have provided before producing the information to opposing counsel.

In an equitable distribution case, the attorney must often take the information provided by the client and incorporate it into a county-specific form. Your attorney may need to make complicated calculations as to the values of specific pieces of real or personal property and retirement plans. Waiting until the last minute to provide the documents to your attorney creates increased stress and often leads to increased expenses to prepare the information. If the attorney or staff is required to work extra hours on your case to get the information together in the required formats, it can also increase your legal bill.

Your attorney relies on you to provide the information needed to move your case along. Failure to provide the documents requested by your attorney can severely slow your case. Failure to provide the documents required under a court order can put you in contempt of court. Being found in contempt of court can cause further delays and an increased expense for you as it requires the attorney to work with you to purge yourself of contempt. You could even face having to pay the attorney’s fees of the opposing party for their having to bring the contempt action to compel compliance.

If your attorney asks for financial or other documents, here are a few tips to make the process more efficient and may prevent additional costs in your case:

  • Unless specifically asked to do so, do NOT write notes on the documents.

o   If you need to provide notes about documents to your attorney, write them on a separate piece of paper and reference the document by date or name.

o   Writing personal notes on the documents may make them unusable or require the attorney or their staff to redact information, creating more work and adding expense.

  • If you are sending electronic records to your attorney, try to name the documents by the type of documents and dates provided.

o   Examples of naming documents include:

  • (Bank name) statements for account ending (last four digits) (date range)
  • (Credit card company name) statements for account ending (last four digits)(date range);

o   Try not to scan hundreds of pages for large date ranges. Often this requires the attorney to print out the file, separate the file, and create new files for production. For example, make each month’s bank statement a separate file.

Small tips like these can make sorting, reviewing, and producing the documents much more efficient for your attorney. Doing more work yourself can help keep your costs down by not creating extra work for your attorney and their staff.