Blog: Reality Check

Are you in a contract dispute with your general contractor because of work that is so embarrassing that your house makes you cringe? The construction is so full of mistakes that you don’t know how you will be able to wake up every day knowing that it’s not the dream house you wanted. And if you wanted to sell it now you wonder if anyone would even want it because of all the work they would have to put into it to make it presentable and bring it up to code.

I have seen this happen before my very eyes. Before I was a licensed attorney who could do anything about it. I was in law school at the time and an older friend of mine bought a house. She was already done with graduate school and had started her career as a journalist for a large news organization. We’ll call her Sarah, for anonymity purposes. It was a house that she knew had potential, and she saw it as a fixer-upper. Sarah had been taught that a house is not only your home, but something that you can make a great invest in. So, she Googled some names and came across a contractor who, for anonymity purposes, we’ll call B. Contracting Company.

Some Concerns About the Construction

After speaking to the general contractor, Sarah hired an architect to produce the construction drawings. After the drawings were done, Sarah signed a contract with B. Contracting Company brought in some men. Sarah immediately had some concerns about the construction. The men were always drinking and she usually had to tell them to clean up after they finished the work for the day. She also was concerned that there was not enough insulation inside some of the walls they were starting to put up and some of the wood they were using seemed a little weak. When Sarah spoke to the general contractor he assured her that everything was going fine. He even convinced her to take out a line of credit at Home Depot and to authorize him to draw from it. I knew at that point that this was getting out of hand. As my friend told me what she was going through I felt like my friend was being taken advantage of and that this would not end well.

One day while visiting Sarah, I thought I saw the general contractor going between her house and another with a truck full of construction materials. I knew that this could not have been in the construction contract. It made me wonder how much of the materials for the other house had been bought with Sarah’s credit card and how did he ensure that her materials were going into her house and not the other. I told Sarah that I would do a little research on this company and general contractor while I was at the courthouse for my internship. I found that the general contractor had a criminal record of theft, drug possession, and drug distribution. I told her and she was beside herself. I told her she should hire an attorney because it was pretty evident that he was not someone she could trust.

Not Bonded, Not Insured

After a consultation with one attorney, named Paula, she felt so comfortable and confident with Paula that she knew he had to hire her. Paula looked into the company and found that it was not bonded, nor insured, which meant it would be harder to get money for damages when she sued. Fortunately, despite the general contractor trying to hide his sources of income, Sarah’s attorney found some assets she could go after. Paula won a $100,00 judgment for Sarah that included damages for the breach of contract and for punitive damages.

Is There Damage to Your Property? Don’t Wait. Talk to an Attorney Now!

If you’re experiencing damage to your property, and construction different than what was agreed to in the contract, Don’t Wait. Talk to an Attorney Now! Talking to an attorney now will help ensure that you don’t incur additional damage to your property. Take your judgment to a new contractor that will honor your contract and your home.

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please-dont-confuse-your-google-searchWhen you encounter a legal problem are you a do-it-yourself Googler, or looking for a lawyer who is a trickster, or looking for an honest one? Lawyers get a bad rap, but there are many honest ones, and we are here to help people.

Unlike a lay person and their Google search, we are trained, and many of us have a talent for deep analysis, systematic thinking, problem solving, and logic that the lay person does not have. It is these attributes and our training that many people often do not realize are used because you can’t see them. Most of our time is not in court using our mouths. It is all the work that led up to those moments that make us good lawyers . . . or not, and that get you the justice that you deserve.

I recently got a client favorable rulings in a battle of motions where our opposing counsel is trying to sink her case. Had she continued to represent herself in this case who knows what would have happened. It’s a lot of work to rehabilitate a case for someone who was self represented and many people think that Google or their friends’ situations will tell them all they need to know. Well, you don’t know what you don’t know and there are many nuances in the law as well as the procedures and rules that law school trains us to interpret, then the bar exam is the final check to ensure we’ve mastered this unique way of thinking.

The actual practice of law by well-trained lawyers can be quite complex because now you may throw in personalities that one will encounter. There are those who intentionally don’t play fair. The lawyers with integrity, like myself, may not be the tricksters and narcissists who don’t care if they follow the rules. Unfortunately, some people like the type of lawyer who seems like he may have some tricks up his or sleeve because they are desperate to win at all costs, and they believe that this type of lawyer will win for them by any means necessary. I would argue that that’s not the type of lawyer you want because they’re at risk of being exposed. It is also easy for some of us to see through that type of lawyer and they really are not two steps ahead. But if you do hire that type of lawyer how do you know he or she is being honest with you and looking out for your best interests in all of their dealings with you? Instead, it’s the ethical and integrous lawyer who knows how to use his or her brain to win your case that you want. Getting what you deserve because you deserve it is much more satisfying because it’s the honest way and you did it without having to sell out.

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objection-overruled Do you know when to say “objection” and what good legal answer to give when the judge wants to know your basis for objecting so that it is sustained? If you’re on the other side of the case, do you know how to defend against the objection to get it overruled? Do you know the reasons a piece of evidence should be objected to? Probably not unless you went to law school, passed the bar, and have experience in court as a licensed attorney. This is just one of the reasons why it does not serve you to represent yourself in court. You either need to learn what the procedures and court rules are, or you need to hire an attorney.

If your case means a lot to you it means there is a lot at stake. You will take a loan out to pay your attorney when something is important to you. Put your ego, anxiety, and trust issues aside, manage it with therapy, hand your case over and let an attorney handle it! That’s their job.

I remember a former client who had questions and doubts about the process: Why did you focus on that during trial? Why won’t that witness be able to help us? You said that’s hearsay? Why? I love questions: ask away! But there are questions to understand, then there are questions that are based on fear and doubt. The latter will land you making incorrect decisions based on false information. You think your attorney isn’t strategizing correctly, but you can’t see the logic and how it fits in with the law. You can’t see how the dots connect. Without appropriate legal training it is hard to see that. Just like I wouldn’t trust myself to know how an engineer should build a bridge, neither should a nonattorney think he knows better than his attorney what to do. In the end, it all came together, that client ended up getting from the court the exact kind of custody he wanted: 50/50 physical custody and visitation and joint decision making with the authority for veto (this is actually called tie-breaking authority).

I’ve seen way too many people file a case and represent themselves or halfway through the case stop paying their attorney. It usually has everything to do with the person’s own issues: the ego, anxiety, and trust issues. This often comes from not knowing what to expect during each stage of a case and thinking that nothing is happening. Or it is not happening fast enough. Let go of your control issues!

Or sometimes clients think their attorney isn’t acting at the right time, or fast enough because, like in the story above, there are limits to what can be understood by a lay person. If you want to get back by stiffing your attorney, you’ve basically turned him or her into a slave. No one wants to work for nothing. You don’t. And it will build resentment and mistrust on both sides, which are normal human reactions. So, if you are uncomfortable with your attorney it is your moral obligation to terminate representation or consent for him to withdraw. But remember, by law, you still must pay your balance just like any other bill.

In family law cases many litigants could benefit from therapy while their case is ongoing due to the many emotions the case stirs up in a parent. The anxiety, grief, and other emotions you will experience during your case are almost inevitable, which is another reason not to represent yourself.  Ideally, as early in the case as possible, hire an attorney to handle it so they won’t have to redo any errors that you made. Then pay your attorney to do the job you need him or her to do!

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Compliance is one of the firm’s practice areas that is of great interest to us. One of the issues that is top-secret-imagesimportant for businesses to be aware of is that they need to have an anti-insider trading compliance program in place. Certain businesses that do federal contracting have until November 30, 2016 to ensure that the political intelligence that they have or have produced, is protected, if it is nonpublic material information. They must ensure that it is not at risk for discovery by the public because it could then be used to trade investments on (For more on the new rule, read more here:

https://insights.sei.cmu.edu/insider-threat/2016/06/responding-to-new-federal-requirements-for-contractors.html). When I was a GAO employee, I wrote the legal portions of a report that discussed a similar topic, called: Political Intelligence: Financial Market Value of Government Information Hinges on Materiality and Timing (http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-13-389).

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Separation Agreements

Sometimes a separation from your spouse can be a good thing. You and your husband are not getting along, no longer spend time together, and are just tolerating each other for the sake of the kids. You know that the marriage will end. If you are in this situation and plan to get a divorce down the line, then a separation agreement might be right for you.

A separation agreement can help you settle issues of alimony, support, property rights, or personal rights with your spouse relatively easy, especially in high asset divorces. You will want to have a discussion of all of these issues with your spouse. You want to get to the point where you know that you will both be able to agree on these issues. Once you have get to that point you will want to hire an attorney, but remember that one attorney should not represent both of you. So, your spouse may hire an attorney of their own. An attorney will make sure that your legal rights are protected and that what you are wanting to do is allowable under your state’s law. It is advisable that the agreement is notarized. After the applicable separation period has passed under law you can file for an uncontested absolute divorce. After a judge has reviewed your case and your separation agreement, if all procedures are correct and no unforeseen issues arise, he or she will enter an order and give you a divorce decree.

The longer you wait to get a separation agreement in place before you get a divorce, the more you risk your spouse getting more emotional and bitter toward you. He or she may be less willing to compromise, become unfair, hide money, and you may lose your chance to obtain an uncontested divorce. The only option left will be a more costly contested divorce. So, save yourself some money, time, and stress, and seek a separation agreement to set yourself up for a clean uncontested divorce where you can save some of your property whether you are in a high asset situation or not.

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image-of-apartment-buildingWhen you live in rental property it relieves you of the maintenance and upkeep that homeowners have. Ideally you never have to worry about what can go wrong with the upkeep of your rental space. However, when something does go wrong it is important to know your rights.

There are landlord and tenant laws and ordinances that landlords must follow whether they are in the lease or not. Some common issues that lead people to consider seeking an attorney are:

  • bedbug and roach infestations
  • failure to maintain premises in habitable living condition
  • failure to return security deposit

Bedbug and Roach Infestations

Bedbugs and roach infestations can become serious issues. Other than the unsightliness, they can affect your health. If the landlord fails to take proper measures to remedy these issues you can use landlord and tenant court to enforce your rights and may be able to cover your medical bills if any health issues resulted.

Failure to Maintain Premises in Habitable Living Condition

Your landlord has a duty to provide living conditions that are safe and up to housing code. If there are inhabitable defects, such as mold, a roof leaking, no lights, improperly working plumbing you should first notify the landlord. The landlord must then make the repairs within a reasonable period of time. If the landlord does not make repairs and takes months to address your concerns or never does you should seek legal remedies.

Failure to Return Security Deposit

Unless there was some damage beyond normal wear and tear caused by you the landlord must return your security deposit within 45 days of you moving out. The security deposit that you paid should have been kept on record, but do not rely entirely on the landlord. You should also have maintained your own records the unfortunate circumstance that a dispute arises and you must prove your case in court.

We have experience dealing with these and other landlord and tenant matters. If you want compassionate advocacy and an attorney that will fight for your cause, contact us. (202) 870-3021

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prenup-agreement-18003283

A prenuptial agreement, commonly called a prenup, is simply a contract for an engaged couple that outlines the expectations for what will happen to your property, assets, and income during the marriage and in the event of a divorce or death. Given that the future is unpredictable, they are wise to have so that the couple can set expectations early on and there are no surprises in the future. Keep these 10 things in mind when considering whether you want a prenuptial agreement.

(1) Without a prenup you are at the mercy of the DC or Maryland family court.

When you get a divorce from your spouse, generally, your case will be heard in family court in the state of your residence, and that state’s law will apply. So, unless your case is uncontested and there are no disagreements, property rights upon divorce, alimony rights upon divorce, and property rights upon death benefits will likely be fought out in a protracted legal battle. If you want to avoid that get a prenuptial agreement.

(2) You don’t have to be rich to have a prenup.

One of the first things that comes to many people’s minds is that only the rich and famous get prenuptial agreements so that they can protect their assets if the marriage ends. Although that is the norm, prenuptial agreements can be used by individuals of middle class or moderate means. Consider the following scenarios: An entrepreneur who created a new business that may or may not take off, but she wants to maintain possession over all income it yields. A writer who wants to keep all royalties to his book no matter how large or small. A couple who agrees that any family gifts that are given to the future wife shall remain the wife’s and those given to the future husband shall remain the husband’s.

(3) Prenups can set expectations for what happens to pets.

Legally, pets are considered property. Without a prenuptial agreement they will be treated as such if the marriage ends. So, to avoid fights over who gets the family pet a prenuptial agreement can help establish that. For a recent news story about this click here.

(4) Prenups do not expire unless you want them to.

Sometimes we hear about a married couple having a prenuptial agreement, but all the entitlements that a spouse would have had are expired because the couple put those terms in the agreement. For example, they can agree that on a date in the future he wife will no longer be entitled to alimony or part of the husband’s business profits.

(5) It is a myth that the fiancée with less money will have to sign away their entitlement to their fiancée’s assets and property.

Generally, you get what you agree to. So, if you are the future wife and you and your future husband agree that you will not waive your rights to alimony from your wealthy husband, should the marriage ends, then you do not have to. This applies to many other rights and entitlements one would otherwise have under the law as well.

(6) You cannot agree to remove your potential future child support obligation.

Family courts retain jurisdiction to decide matters over child support. This makes practical sense because there are several factors that go into determining a child support obligation that cannot be predetermined.

(7) You cannot provide for who gets custody of your children.

Family courts retain jurisdiction over child custody as well. However, in a prenuptial agreement a couple may express their intentions. Given the many unforeseen variables that may come into the couple’s lives over the years it may not be practical to set up expectations for such an emotional issue as custody over children.

(8) You might have to ratify the agreement after the initial execution.

Prenuptial agreements can make provisions for the amount of retirement that the future spouse will be entitled to, if any, but it the provision will not be ripe for execution until the couple is married. So, this will require that the couple remembers to execute this provision after the wedding.

(9) It is not too late to have an agreement made once you’re married.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-do-you-agree-plan-close-up-image-businesspeople-discussing-company?s-cafe-image35747274
A prenuptial agreement is appropriate before marriage. After marriage, provisions for property rights upon divorce, alimony rights upon divorce, and property rights upon death benefits can be established if the couple never obtained a prenuptial agreement. The agreement is called a postnuptial agreement.

(10) It may be wise to include a social media clause.

You can include a social media clause to prevent your spouse from posting information about you that might embarrass you or have some other negative impact. This video explains more.

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Going to court in “street clothes.”

Although perhaps it shouldn’t matter what you look like, it does. Show that you take your serious court matter seriously by dressing in a professional or at least business casual way.

 

Having arguments with the other party during a hearing.

You may be mad, they may be lying, but wait, you will get your opportunity to speak, but only to the judge.

Not bringing supporting evidence for your claims.

If you say the other party did something bring a photograph or a bill or a witness who saw the event. Otherwise, it’s the ‘ol “he say, she say.”

Raising your voice, getting heated, talking out of turn, talking under your breath, or storming out in the middle of your hearing.

These are just not appropriate behaviors in court, you won’t be as effective in getting the important points to the judge, and the judge will likely see you as “acting up.”

And finally, if you do not know what to bring to court, what to say, or how to be most effective in representing your case, please consult a lawyer and consider hiring one.

Lawyers are trained to put on the best case for you that they can.  See our services: we offer full representation and unbundled services, including coaching, drafting or reviewing documents you draft, and any combination of these.

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*This is a brief guide and not intended to be legal advice. Please contact us at (202) 870-3021 to discuss the particulars of your situation.

Myth: Mothers get sole custody and fathers only get visitation.

If a father wants joint or sole custody there is nothing preventing him from seeking it. He may actually be awarded sole custody when it is contested by the mother if there are facts present that warrant it. For example, there may be circumstances that make the mother an unfit parent.

Myth: If I have more money than my child’s other parent I will gain custody from the court.

The amount of money one parent has compared to the other is not the deciding factor of who will gain custody. The court will analyze various facts from each side to ascertain if it will be better for your child to live with you or the other parent.

Myth: If I file for custody before my child’s other parent I will gain custody from the court.

Who files for custody first has no bearing on the outcome of a child custody case. There are a number of factors that the court will apply to the facts that each side presents in the case. The court will use these to ultimately determine what is in the best interest of the child: custody with you or the child’s other parent.

Myth: We have to go to court to determine who will have custody.

Although a “custody battle” is commonly thought of as litigated in court, there are other methods to settle the matter. Courts favor parties settling outside of court. It will save time and resources, especially the increased cost to your attorney who advocates on your behalf.

Myth: If I still live in the marital home the court will decide I should have sole custody because it is what my child is used to.

The court considers a number of factors in determining who should have custody. If your goal is to have sole custody of your child, and it is up to you to bring in persuasive facts to overcome the presumption that you and the other parent should have joint custody.

Myth: I am stuck with the child custody arrangements.

A parent may file for a change in child custody arrangements at any time. This change is called modification of a child custody order. Keep in mind though, although you may file for a custody modification, it doesn’t mean that the court will decide in your favor. Important questions to think about as you and your lawyer consider if it is worth filing for a change in the custody arrangements are: Has there been a substantial and material change of circumstances with the other parent to warrant a change in custody? Would this change in custody be in the best interest of the child? Answering those questions and consulting with your attorney will help lead you in the right direction.

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You set up a custody arrangement in court between you and the other parent. It is no longer working for you. You or the other parent moved out of D.C., the other parent doesn’t have a safe environment for your child, the other parent is living with someone who is a bad influence…There are a variety of reasons that you could want to file for a change in the custody arrangement (also called a custody modification). The court will consider whether there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances and it is in the best interests of your child. There is no cut and dry case where the court will definitely decide in your favor that there should be a change in the arrangement. But you can advocate strongly for one. If the other parent has moved out of D.C. then you will likely be able to file for a custody modification in D.C. as long as you still live in D.C. If you move to a new state and want to have the case heard by a court in the new state then you can ask the D.C. court to decline jurisdiction before you can file the case in the new state.

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Copyright © 2017 Pawnee A. Davis Law Firm PLLC. All rights reserved

The information on this web site is advertising for Pawnee A. Davis Law Firm PLLC; it does not serve as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship may be established once you have signed a retainer agreement with an attorney and pay any required retainer or fees. Please contact us for information about having an attorney from the firm represent you in the District Of Columbia or Maryland.