Siemens Family Law Group celebrates marriage equality under the law

Siemens Family Law Group - NCSiemens Family Law Group has always advocated for equal protection under the law.  Same sex marriage in North Carolina will offer same sex couples the equal protection of the law of marriage that benefits heterosexual couples.  From a legal perspective, this is a just and proper result, and one we fully support.

See The Citizen-Times for the story and pictures from Friday’s Buncombe County marriage celebrations:

Supreme Court paves way for same-sex marriage

Same-sex marriages begin in Asheville Friday, Oct. 10

Shared Parenting for Parents Living Apart

The opinion of Robert E. Emery, PhD, on the benefits of shared parenting is consistent with the perspective I have heard expressed by psychologists in North Carolina educating the Judges we appear in front of. These paragraphs in his recent New York Times article are particularly significant:

“Today, close to half of first marriages end in divorce. About 40 percent of children are born outside of marriage. Custody is routinely shared by parents living apart. Many states have dropped the term ‘custody’ altogether for more family-friendly terms. You no longer win or lose custody. You develop a parenting plan.

Psychologists and decades of research support this shift. Cooperative parenting benefits children, whether parents live together or apart. Just ask any kid whose divorced parents are at war, ‘What are three wishes for your family?’ You can bet that one will be a version of ‘I wish my parents would stop putting me in the middle.”

We see that shared parenting and parenting plans are favored by the Buncombe County Family Court. There are exceptions to that trend, and we can help you evaluate whether your situation might be exceptional.

Read the full New York Times article, “How Divorced Parents Lost Their Rights”:

Merits of Mediation in Dispute Resolution

This post is about the merits of mediation, and the role I can play as your lawyer when you are thinking about using a mediator to resolve issues with your partner, spouse or former spouse. While I mediate disputes when asked, there are many good mediators in town, and I’m as happy being a lawyer as I am a mediator. Mediators mediate. Lawyers advocate and advise. No lawyer/mediator can be both in one case; there are rules of professional conduct that now prohibit this practice. Understanding the difference between the role of a mediator and the role of a lawyer will serve you well.

Mediation is, in my estimation, the most cost effective means for resolving disputes of all kinds, and family law disputes in particular. When I say cost effective, I am talking not only about money, but also emotional expense. When families change in configuration (separation), when new households are established, and when children are forced to navigate new environments, airing grievances in a public record (a court file) and in a public place (the Buncombe County Courthouse) can be destructive. Sometimes there is no alternative, and there are members of the Siemens Family Law Group that are highly skilled litigators when the only alternative is court.

Back to money. If you would prefer to spend your money on yourself or your kids, rather than a legal battle, here is my advice:

1. Find a family law lawyer for initial consultation. Ideally you will find a specialist like me, or an associate working under that specialist. You should expect to pay for that consultation (I charge $300, my associates charge less). What you should expect to get at that consultation are answers to all your questions. Prepare as many questions in advance as you can. What you should also expect to get is an education regarding family law in North Carolina, how that law might be applied to the facts of your case, how you might settle your case in mediation, and how the Buncombe County Family Court might view your case if you can’t. At a good law firm, you should get good counsel. This counsel might go beyond the law. If you meet with me, I’ll give you my honest perspective as a lawyer with 20 years of experience in Buncombe County; as a single parent of a now 7-year-old; and as man in mid-career who enjoys the ability to provide clear, seasoned, sound advice.

2. Go to mediation. Sarah Olson is a seasoned lawyer and mediator with a background in psychology, accounting and parenting. She has an informative website at Other good mediators include Gary Cash, Rebecca Knight, Sarah Corley, Michael Drye, Barbara Davis, Rhonda Moorefield and Patrick McCroskey. We can help you get in touch with any one of these individuals. The mediator you choose should have a working understanding of family law in North Carolina, the Buncombe County Family Court in particular, an ability to assess financial matters, and if children are involved, some life experience or training related to child development. Ideally, the mediator you choose will facilitate a conversation that results in a meeting of the minds, otherwise known as an agreement. At the conclusion of mediation, the mediator must ensure that any agreement that is reached is summarized in written form. The written summary of the mediator is a road map for settlement, but not the actual legal settlement document.

3. So, after mediation, go back to the lawyer you consulted initially with the agreement your mediator has reduced into writing. The lawyer you consulted should be able to pick up on your last conversation with him or her, take the mediator’s road map (the mediator’s memorandum), and get you to the destination (a binding legal document). We call that binding legal document a contract of separation and property settlement agreement. The legal document may have custody provisions in it. The legal document may, or may not, provide that it is to become a court order upon divorce. Your lawyer should be prepared to talk with you in detail about these procedural nuances.

If you follow these steps, you will come through the process of separation and divorce in the best way possible. You will expend less emotional energy. Your children will avoid unnecessary wounds. And, you will save money. I’d like to talk with you in more detail about this approach in an initial consultation. If you don’t talk to me, talk to one of my associates, or try to find someone equally qualified.

Thanksgiving 2013

As the Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us, we here at Siemens Family Law Group feel it is right to give thanks to our clients, past and present.

It has been with your support that 2013 has brought growth and opportunities for us to give back to our communities.

Attorneys Brenda Coppede and Ana Prendergast joined the firm this year and have brought with them new energy and influence. It has been a wonderful time incorporating two new attorneys into the firm, and we have seen our practice flourish with their input.

Also in 2013, we have donated pro bono hours to the “4 All” Campaign of the North Carolina Bar Association and to Pisgah Legal Services.  We have provided financial support through donations and sponsorship to the Genesis Alliance, Asheville City Schools Foundation and Asheville Youth Cycling, among other organizations.  One of the most rewarding giving back experiences of 2013 was Jim’s travel to Haiti in October to assist in pediatric medical clinics with the Consider Haiti program.

This year has brought some challenges and successes for which we are grateful.  In April, Jim argued in front of the North Carolina Supreme Court on an access to justice issue directly affecting dependent spouses throughout the State.  Jim also continues to advocate for his clients both in trial and in mediation, successfully helping clients resolve issues in the best interest of their families and children. Brenda appears weekly in Buncombe County Family Court, where she has achieved many victories and positive outcomes through advocating zealously for her clients. Ana passed the North Carolina Bar and is building an elder law practice which complements our family law focus. Ana also associates with Jim on family law cases.

Justice, kindness and humility – we value these attributes and give thanks for the chance to put them into practice every day.  Happy Thanksgiving from Siemens Family Law Group.

Jim Siemens featured in NC Legal Leaders

Earlier this year Jim Siemens achieved the peer reviewed 2013 rating of AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbell® for his professional excellence in providing legal services to the Western North Carolina community.

Jim is featured in the NC Legal Leader”s magazine and on www.lawcom. To view the current edition of NC Legal Leaders online magazine, click here.

Jim’s NC Supreme Court Appearance

On April 16th of 2013, I had the privilege of arguing before the North Carolina Supreme Court in the case of Duncan v. Duncan.  The case has a long procedural history and I have previously blogged on the concept of interlocutory appeals.  The Supreme Court took up this procedural issue on April 16th, 2013.  No appellate court has yet reached the merits of the Duncan case, looking only at the question of whether the case is ripe for appeal.  It is hard to believe that a case that was filed in 2005, and which I have been engaged in since 2007, is still winding through the appellate courts.  Here is an article I wrote for the Family Forum newsletter, a publication of the Family Law Section of the North Carolina State Bar Association, addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Duncan v. Duncan, and new legislation permitting the appeal of individual claims as a family law case progresses through the trial court.

2013 is a year of change in the rules of appellate jurisdiction for Family Law Lawyers.  On June 13th of 2013, the Supreme Court, in Duncan v. Duncan, ruled that an unresolved attorney fee claim is not a substantive claim rendering an appeal of substantive issues interlocutory.  Duncan v. Duncan, 732 S.E.2d 390; 2012 N.C. App. LEXIS 1132 (N.C. Ct. App., 2012); hereinafter, Duncan 4.  And, on August 23rd, 2013, NCGS 50-19.1 became law, authorizing the maintenance of appeals of individual family law claims, notwithstanding pending claims in the trial court.

Beginning with the Supreme Court ruling in Duncan 4, Justice Newby characterized an unresolved attorney fee claim related to alimony as “collateral” to a final judgment and “not part of the substantive claims”.  Justice Newby’s opinion effectively reverses the Webb case, wherein the Court of Appeals characterized attorney fees in the context of alimony to be a “claim”, the disposition of which is necessary before an entire controversy is determined and an appeal ripe.  Webb v. Webb, 196 N.C.App. 770; 677 S.E.2d 462; 2009 N.C.App. Lexis 518, 2009.

When Simplicity is the Solution for Family Law

During weekend reading, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that confirms principles and practices that set Siemens Family Law Group apart from the rest.

The article is titled “n” and in it, the authors, Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn, suggest that lawyers and technologists are the “taproots of complexity”.  I think that is a fair charge.  The authors go on to say that “complexity is a coward’s way out”.  I think there is truth in that too.

Family Law is complex, and it’s a good family law lawyer’s job to distill and clarify that law so that his or her client really understands how the law will meet the particular facts of their case.  Complexity really doesn’t serve the client.  At its worst, complexity can be used as artifice that serves the lawyer to the disadvantage of a client.  I see that sometimes, and I don’t like it.

In previous posts, I have mentioned the word empathy and the concept of empathic listening (the groundwork for effective communication).  Siegel and Etzkorn mention that word too.  They define empathizing as the perception of others needs and expectations.  That definition seems right to me.  They go on to say that empathy is “the only way to shorten the distance between an organization providing services and the individual receiving them.”

We want to shorten the distance between complex law and our clients.  Not with gimmicks and forms.  But with effective communication with each of our clients, so that they understand the process, the law and how the law applies to their unique set of facts.

Incidentally, I find that the same kind of communication works in mediation and the courtroom.

I’ll be sharing this article with my team, and we will be talking about how to keep the in play at Siemens Family Law Group.

Siemens Family Law Group Continues to Contribute in 2013

We have always found it important to give back to the community, with money and talent, but 2013 looks to be our best year yet.

We have renewed our commitments to WCQS, Pisgah Legal Services, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Asheville Bicycle Racing Club and Asheville Youth Cycling.  And, we will be doing service work for Mission Manna, Habitat for Humanity, and for two new entities-Mentoring Matters and Call 4 All.

In October, Jim will be taking his first trip to Haiti with Consider Haiti.  Our firm has, in the past, hosted a fundraising event for Consider Haiti.  This year, in addition to making a financial commitment, Jim will donate his time and energy to the cause of delivering food and medical assistance to Haitian children.

The 28th Judicial District Bar Family Law Section has been instrumental in Bar sponsorship of a Habitat House.  Our firm has made a financial commitment to the house, and members of the firm will help raise the walls later this Spring.

Mentoring Matters is a new initiative in Asheville, aimed at matching volunteer mentors with boys in middle school and high school who are without male role models in their homes.  Mentoring Matters will be working in partnership with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.  Jim will be meeting the legal needs of this program.

The Call 4 All program is an access to justice program that Jim has agreed to participate in.  Once a month, Jim will set aside time to consult with an individual in need of Family Law legal advice, screened by the Call 4 All program.  This access to justice program is a collaborative project by the North Carolina Bar Association and Legal Aid of North Carolina.

We are proud to be able to share our time and resources for a stronger, healthier community.  None of these efforts would be possible without the concerted efforts of all Siemens Family Law Group members and the support of our clients.

Brenda Coppede joins Siemens Family Law Group

We are pleased to announce that Brenda Coppede has joined Siemens Family Law Group.

Brenda attended North Carolina State University where she graduated cum laude in 2002, with a major in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish Language and Literature.  She then graduated from The Dickinson School of Law at The Pennsylvania State University in 2006 where she was a member of the Woolsack Honor Society.   Brenda received several distinctions and awards in law school for her pro bono work at the law school’s Family Law Clinic, including the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Eric D. Turner award.

Upon her graduation from law school, Brenda was privileged to have a one-year clerkship with three family court judges in Sussex County, Delaware.  In 2007, Brenda was admitted to practice law in the state of Montana and clerked for the Honorable Holly Brown, a district court judge in Bozeman, Montana, working again primarilyon family law cases.  Following her clerkships, Brenda began private practice with Kasting, Kauffman & Mersen in Bozeman, with a primary focus on family law.  In 2010, Brenda was admitted to practice law in the state of North Carolina.  She has practiced family law in Asheville since November of 2010, joining the Siemens Family Law Group in February 2013.

Brenda resides in Asheville with her daughter and German shorthair pointer, Clem.