Planning for the Future / Dealing with the Past
The Burley Law Office - Your Family Lawyer


Planning for the Future / Dealing with the Past

How much is a divorce?

by Betty Burley on 08/02/17

If you have ever been in need of legal services, you may have learned first-hand that it's difficult to get a straight answer about costs.  There's a good reason for that.  

As an attorney, the only thing I have to sell is time.  I don't have any widgets or gizmos to sell.  I can't advertise a "loss leader" and recapture the loss by selling you something else.

I typically offer potential divorce or dissolution clients a free consultation. One of the purposes of that consultation is to find out enough details about your case to give you an idea how much it could cost.

If your case is uncontested - meaning that you and your divorcing spouse have already made the difficult decisions regarding how the assets and debts will be divided, whether or not someone will pay spousal support and how the child issues including custody, support and parenting time will be handled, then I can generally give you a "firm" idea how much that will cost because I have a very good idea how much time it will take.

If you and your estranged spouse are not in agreement, then we can talk about possible outcomes and where it makes sense to settle and where it makes sense to fight.  Wherever there is disagreement, the price is uncertain.  I can't predict how many trips to court it will take and whether there will be a one-day trial at the end or a three-day trial.  

An approach I often offer is to begin the case as if it will be uncontested.  I will offer guidance about what is "fair" under Ohio law and draft documents to be presented to your estranged spouse.  If he or she will not sign them, it offers an opportunity to discuss what could be changed to make things fair.  We don't charge an additional fee for minor revisions to flat-fee documents.

If negotiation fails, then we need to enter a fee agreement for a contested divorce.  Your flat-fee will be applied to a retainer for a contested divorce and your billing will change to an hourly fee for time spent on your case.

While we don't generally quote fees for divorce over the phone, we certainly will discuss fees at your consultation.  We want to be your family lawyer, and we hope that you will want that too.

What are parental rights? How do I get them?

by Betty Burley on 08/01/17

This post is intended for parents who weren't married when baby was born.  In Ohio, an unmarried woman who gives birth to a child is automatically, "by operation of law," the child's sole legal custodian until a court of competent jurisdiction declares otherwise.  In a nutshell, that means that an unmarried mother has sole physical and legal custody of the child the moment the child is born until a court says otherwise.

What does that mean exactly?
* Mother doesn't need Father's permission to leave town, the state or even the country.
* Mother has the right to deny visitation entirely or to decide the terms of visitation for Father or anyone else.
* Mother decides on medical care, religious upbringing and educational issues.
* Father has the "right" (and the responsibility) to support the child financially even if Mother doesn't allow him to see the child.

"Wow!" you say, "That's not fair."  You're right.  It's not fair, but it's the law.

Fathers - what does this law mean for you?
* You must take legal action to protect your parental rights and to establish the parent/child relationship if you want to be a part of your child's life and Mother isn't cooperating.
* Even if Mother is currently cooperating, you should take action to ensure that you can continue to see your child without interruption if Mother should change her mind.
* Establishment of a child support order does not give you rights to see your child.

Some of the saddest cases that I have handled involved parents who were not married but who lived together for a long time.  Something happened to damage the relationship and the couple separated.  Suddenly, Father had no right to see his own children.  The court eventually stepped in with an order for Father to have time with the children, but it was several weeks until that could happen.  

Establishing a parenting time order can be a stressful and expensive process if all communication between the parents has broken down.  Sometimes the parents can use the services of a mediator to decide, together, what is best for their child(ren).  If the parents are in agreement, it is a process that is relatively quick to submit an agreement that the court will approve.  

Sometimes a mother is fearful of allowing the child's father have visitation because she's afraid that he won't bring the child back.  Understanding how Ohio law works in relation to unmarried parents can help with that uncertainty until a court order can be established.

Ohio courts have "standard" visitation orders that are commonly the default parenting plan.  It's important for parents to understand that it is okay to allow the other parent to have time with the child outside of the times in the court order.  Unless you are part of a children services case, the court will not put restrictions on when either parent can see the child(ren) with the other parents approval.

To summarize all of this:  
Unmarried mothers have sole custody at the time of the child's birth.
Unmarried fathers must petition the court for rights (other than the "right" to support the child.
Courts encourage parents to work together for the children's best interests.

Child custody is a complicated field of law.  This article is intended for educational purposes only.  It is a very broad, general discussion that is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.  If you or someone that you love is in this situation, you should seek the advice of an attorney.  While I would be happy to be the attorney that you consult, no attorney/client relationship exists until we have agreed in writing on fees and the required deposit has been paid.


by Betty Burley on 07/12/17

Many initial contacts with our office begin with a panicked call from a consumer who has received a Summons and Complaint in the mail from the local Municipal Court.

Typically the Complaint will arrive via certified mail.  If you do not sign for the certified mail, the documents will be returned to the court who issued them and then may be re-mailed to you using first class mail.  If the documents are not returned to the post office stating that you, the Defendant, are not at this address, then service on the documents will be considered complete and the lawsuit against you will proceed.

The first step is to ascertain if you actually owe the debt, or if there are defenses for any or all of the debt.  The creditor listed may be someone that you have never heard of.  This happens when a credit card company or other creditor sells the delinquent account to another company.  When this happens, the Complaint will list the name of the original creditor.  There typically should be some kind of a document, such as a credit card agreement or a monthly statement attached to the Complaint as well. 

Once you have determined whether or not the debt that you are being sued upon is legitimate, you need to decide how you will approach the lawsuit.

My office typically advises people to take one of three approaches:

1)      Answer the lawsuit and attempt to fight it on legal grounds;

2)      Answer the lawsuit and attempt to negotiate a settlement for less than the amount demanded; or

3)      File for bankruptcy protection and avoid paying the debt.

You will notice that “do nothing” is not on the list.  If you fail to answer the lawsuit at all, the Court may enter a Default Judgment against you for the full amount of the debt plus interest.  Even if you are unemployed and currently unable to pay the debt, your situation may improve, in which case having a judgment against you already may enable the creditor to garnish your wages until the original debt plus interest and some collection fees are paid in full.

If you plan to fight or negotiate settlement on the lawsuit, you will need to file an Answer before the default date (typically 28 days after you were actually served with the Complaint).  You will use the same heading as on the Complain, listing the name of the court, case number, judge’s name, and the names of the parties.  You will answer each numbered paragraph with “Admit”, “Deny” or “Deny for lack of knowledge.”  Answering a Complaint without assistance of a lawyer can be perilous, as your answer can be used against you if you admit all allegations, yet you are expected to answer truthfully. 

The Court will set your case for a pre-trial hearing.  If you are able to make an offer in settlement of the account, you can communicate this to the creditor’s attorney before the pre-trial hearing, or you may wait until the pre-trial hearing to present the offer.  Many larger collection law firms will hire a local attorney with little knowledge of the case to appear at the pre-trial.  For this reason, our office finds it is generally better to attempt settlement prior to the hearing because we can deal with the lawyer handling the case instead of a substitute.

If you owe other creditors, or if you are simply not able to make an adequate settlement offer, you may consider filing for bankruptcy protection.  The lawsuit cannot proceed while a bankruptcy case is pending, and filing for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 may discharge your liability on the debt entirely, or allow you to pay back a lower amount over time.

Whether to fight, settle, or file for bankruptcy protection is up to you.

 "We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code."

Bankruptcy A to Z: E is for Exemptions

by Betty Burley on 01/16/17

This series of blog posts discusses some of the aspects of personal bankruptcy.  This information is meant for educational value only, and you should talk with a lawyer if you are considering filing for bankruptcy.  Many of us give a free initial consultation where you can ask your specific questions.

Here's the required legal disclaimer:  "We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code."


Exemptions are laws that protect certain property from creditors. When you file a Chapter 7 "fresh start" bankruptcy, you are allowed to keep property that is protected by Ohio's bankruptcy exemptions.  When you file a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the exemptions are a part of the formula that allows your attorney to determine how much you will pay to creditors.

Commonly used exemptions protect equity up to the exemption limit in your home, your automobile, household goods and furnishings, jewelry, cash and wages. Other exemptions protect your pension or IRA, and your earned income tax credit or child tax credit.  

Certain valuables that aren't otherwise on the exemption list can be saved through use of a "wildcard" exemption.  

Many of our bankruptcy clients are surprised and relieved to learn that much or all of their property falls within the Ohio bankruptcy exemptions.  

If you are curious about how filing for a bankruptcy would affect you, and how exemptions would apply in your case, we are happy to provide a free consultation.

Call 440-967-1529 today to schedule your free consultation, or email 

Bankruptcy A to Z: D is for Discharge

by Betty Burley on 01/12/17

This series of blog posts discusses some of the aspects of personal bankruptcy.  This information is meant for educational value only, and you should talk with a lawyer if you are considering filing for bankruptcy.  Many of us give a free initial consultation where you can ask your specific questions.

Here's the required legal disclaimer:  "We are a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief under the Bankruptcy Code."

D is for Discharge

Debtors (another D word!) are how we refer to the people who are filing for relief under the Bankruptcy Code.  Debtors are generally looking for several kinds of relief:  
1) A halt to legal action, including garnishment of wages for their debts;
2) An end to harassing letters and phone calls from their creditors and;
3) Discharge of the debts that they are no longer able to pay.

When a debt is discharged, the Debtor no longer has any personal obligation to pay it.  A discharge does not completely erase the debt, however.  If you have a co-signor or a co-debtor who does not file for bankruptcy relief, that person will still be liable on the debt.  Your discharge does not protect them.  

If you have debt that is secured by a lien, such as on your home or on a motor vehicle, your liability on that debt is discharged, but if you want to keep the property, you will need to continue to pay for it.  

A discharge in bankruptcy also does not extinguish debts that haven't occurred yet.  For example - if your mortgage is discharged in bankruptcy but the deed is not transferred back to the bank, you may still be liable for property taxes, home owner's association fees and assessments on the property that become due after the bankruptcy is filed.

Certain debts cannot be discharged.  Most student loan debts survive bankruptcy as do most tax obligations.  

If you have mountains of medical or credit card debt, or if you are paying too much money for a car that needs expensive repairs and you're caught in the negative equity trap, schedule your free bankruptcy consultation with Attorney Betty Burley to see if your debts are potentially eligible for Discharge.

You can reach us at 440-967-1529 or email us at

"We want to be YOUR family lawyer!"