Frequently Asked Questions

Elizabeth Yarbrough Family Law & Mediation

Q:  How much will my case cost?

A:  This is the most common question I get from new law clients.  The answer depends upon many factors and requires that you and I meet to discuss your case.  Each case is different and each client has different goals and priorities.  For this reason, all new clients are encouraged to schedule a one hour consultation so that we can discuss the facts of your case, and evaluate possible strategies that I could use to help you resolve your legal matter.  The cost of your consultation is applied in full to your attorney fee should you decide you want to move forward with your case and hire 

After our meeting, you will have a good understanding of your options as well as the risks, benefits and fees associated with each option.  This firm uses fixed, or flat fees in the vast majority of cases. This does not mean that our fees are cheap, but it does mean that you will know the cost of your attorney fees when you hire the firm.  

You will not know the amount of settlement or award you will receive, and you will not know the amounts you may pay or receive in child support, alimony or attorney fees, but you will know how much you will spend to hire this firm.  

Q:  What are fixed fees (flat fees)?  

A:  Fixed fees, or flat fees are a method of attorney billing where the attorney and the client agree upon a fee for the case, and that fee is either paid in full prior to the attorney starting work, or sometimes paid in installments paid in agreed upon amounts at agreed upon times.  This manner of attorney billing differs from hourly billing, where the attorney's contract provides that he or she will work on the case at a given hourly rate.  We believe that fixed fee or flat fee billing benefits the client by allowing him or her to know at the outset what the case will cost, and it benefits the attorney by allowing the attorney to focus attention and resources on the legal work, not the administrative work.  For more on the benefits of fixed fees or flat fees, please read the article I recently published on this topic.

Q:  If I hire the firm for a flat fee, and the case is resolved much more quickly than we discussed, will I get part of my money back?

A:  No.  

The fixed fee/flat fee billing model involves risk to the client that the case could have cost less if it had been done hourly.  Similarly, it involves risk to the attorney that the case will require much more time than the attorney estimated when setting the fee.  It is obvious that it would be inappropriate for the lawyer to offer representation in a custody matter for a fixed fee/flat fee and then send a bill at the end of the case if the case required more work than the attorney expected.  If the case is concluded in less time than the attorney estimated, that is an added benefit to the client and in no way renders the result less valuable.  

Attorneys bring more than minutes on a clock to their value.  Attorneys invest years of intense study and immense financial commitment to becoming licensed to practice law, and the cost of doing business as an attorney is high as well.  For this reason, attorney fees are not cheap.  However, at least when the fee is known in advance, the risk of being devastated by a surprising attorney fee is eliminated.  The risk to the client of receiving a bill that is several times over that client's expectation is high in any hourly fee matter.  By choosing to pay your lawyer a fixed fee/flat fee, you are able to eliminate that risk, and know what you are paying from the start.

Q:  Do you offer free consultations?

A:  Although I know many firms do, I do not offer free consultations.  I offer an "applied" consultation which means that the consultation fee is applied in full to your attorney fees if you hire the firm within thirty days of the initial meeting.  I do understand that potential clients may feel reluctant to invest in an hour long consultation for a family law matter because they are fearful they may not like the lawyer, or that the lawyer will listen to them and then refuse to take the case.  If I decline the case for any reason, the consultation fee is refunded.  If, after the consultation, you decided not to hire me, then you will have spent an hour discussing your situation in enough detail that the legal advice I give you is of real value, and the fee is an investment in that important information.

The bottom line is that free consultations are a waste of my time and yours.  Your time is valuable and so is mine.  In thirty minutes, I can do little else than provide an incredibly superficial and generic overview of the legal issues that you want to discuss.  That information is of almost no value to you since it provides you with almost no information about what you can expect in your case.  The unique facts of your case will determine the options you should consider, and the range of outcomes you can expect.  It simply takes longer than any attorney is going to spend without payment to provide individualized advice, which is what you are after when you consult an attorney.  

If you want a basic overview of family law issues, I have provided various resources and links on this site where you can learn about family law topics in the broad sense.  You may decide that this information is all that you need, or you may decide that you want to spend an hour or so getting advice about what you can do to resolve your family law matter in the best way by scheduling a consultation.  

Q:  Do you handle pro bono cases?

A:  Yes.  I do handle pro bono cases as both an attorney and as a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Family Mediator.  Because of the immense demand for pro bono legal services, I exclusively provide pro bono services through Memphis Area Legal Services and Memphis Community Legal Center.  I unfortunately cannot accept pro bono clients who contact me directly without going through Memphis Area Legal Services or Memphis Community Legal Center.  Please do not contact me directly for pro bono representation.  If you qualify for pro bono assistance through Memphis Area Legal Services of Memphis Community Legal Center, they will assign you an attorney.  My pro bono work is restricted to uncontested divorces with children, and mediations involving families with children.

Q:  How long will it take until a divorce is final?

A:  In the case of an uncontested divorce, the time frame to finalize the case is easy to predict.  Uncontested divorces with no minor children will take a minimum of sixty (60) days from the date of filing the Complaint for Divorce, and uncontested divorces with minor children will take a minimum of ninety (90) days from the date of the filing the Complaint for Divorce, to be finalized.   This does not mean you will be guaranteed to be divorced in sixty or ninety days.  These are minimum waiting periods. Often, the divorce is finalized a week or two after the expiration of those minimum waiting periods, depending on the Court's availability to schedule the final hearing.  This is not always the case.  The fact is, life happens and it is sometimes difficult to finalize a case soon after the waiting period has elapsed.  There could be instances where the Judge assigned to hear your case is in a weeks long jury trial, or out for weeks of medical leave, and while your case is eligible to be finalized, the Court is not available.  

The time frame to conclude contested or collaborative divorces cannot be accurately predicted, but the time frame will typically range from the minimum waiting periods (sixty/ninety days) to about six to nine months if the parties are able to achieve an agreed settlement.  Without knowing whether the parties will reach an agreement, or knowing how long negotiations will take to achieve an agreement, there can be no definitive answer to the question of how long it will take.  The more reasonable the parties and attorneys are, the shorter the time frame.  Unreasonable demands made by either party will significantly increase the chances that the case will have to be litigated and that process will typically last several months to even years.

Q:  Does your firm handle cases in other states besides Tennessee?

A:  No.  I am licensed in Tennessee and I handle only Tennessee family law cases.  If you are unsure if you have a Tennessee case, feel free to contact me to inquire.  I will be glad to vet your case for jurisdictional purposes without your having to pay for a consultation.  If you already know that you do not have a Tennessee case, you may email me to request a referral to a lawyer who handles matters in other states.  I have many colleagues in other states who I know to be highly skilled, diligent, and ethical.  I am happy to refer cases to lawyers with licenses in other states, if I know the lawyer to be skilled, diligent, and ethical, and I am happy to suggest ways for you to find a good attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction if I am unable to offer help in Tennessee.  

Q:  Does your firm handle Adoptions?

A:  Yes!  I have represented many clients in step-parent adoptions and agency adoptions by consent.  I am available to provide representation to birth parents who are surrendering children to adoptive parents as well.  I offer reasonable and predictable fixed (flat) fees for adoptions done by consent.  Because contested adoptions carry the potential to require a tremendous and unknown number of attorney hours, I am unable to offer fixed fees in these cases.

Q:  What is the formula for alimony in Tennessee?

A:  There is no set formula for determining alimony.  The court first determines whether there is an economically disadvantaged spouse, and then the analysis becomes largely focused on the need of the "economically disadvantaged" spouse and the ability, after meeting his or her own reasonable expenses, to pay alimony.  The factors the Court must and may consider in determining the type, duration and amount of alimony to award, if any, are statutory.  Alimony analysis is a complicated area of the law and you should certainly consult with an attorney prior to agreeing to a settlement if alimony is requested or needed by either party.

Q:  What is the formula for child support in Tennessee?

A:  The formula for determining child support is fairly complicated and generally attorneys and courts use a child support calculator.  The calculator can be found here, and the child support guidelines can be found here.  Prior to using the calculator it is essential that you understand how to determine the values that you include on your worksheet.  The guidelines contain the definitions and explanations for how The court will calculate child support based upon many factors including the gross income(s) of the parties, the expenses related to the children including health insurance, work-related child care expenses, uncovered medical and mental health expenses, extraordinary educational expenses, the number of days each parent has the children, and other factors.  Child support may seem more straightforward than it is, and the way that the Court determines what values to include in the child support worksheet can be the topic of intense argument in court.  When a parent is unemployed, underemployed, or owns a business, the amount of income can be very difficult to calculate and prove, for example.  You should consult with an attorney prior to reaching any agreement as to child support, to ensure that you understand the factors the Court would consider in calculating support.

Q:  What can I do if my co-parent will not follow the parenting plan?

A:  If your co-parent will not follow the parenting plan, you may pursue a contempt action against that parent.  Filing a petition for contempt is the way that one party can notify the Court that the other party is not obeying the Court's orders, and request that the Court punish the other party with either monetary sanctions or confinement in jail, depending on the nature of the issue.  Examples of issues appropriate for contempt would be failure to pay child support, failure to allow the other parent access to the children per the terms of the parenting plan.  Unfortunately in family law, the emotional factors may make it difficult for some parents to co-parent peacefully for the benefit of their children and it is necessary to ask the Court to enforce its orders.  Often the Court will award the moving party their attorney fees and expenses incurred in bringing such a petition to the Court.  If your co-parent is not following the parenting plan, you can also consider whether modifying the parenting plan would be appropriate.  The process of modification is different than the process for a contempt action, and may be completed outside of court through mediation.  If mediation is not successful and the issues remain unresolved, then a petition to modify the parenting plan can often be filed in lieu of or in addition to, a petition for contempt.

Q:  How can I move away from Tennessee and relocate with my children?

A:  The Tennessee relocation statute requires that a parent seeking to relocate with a child must provide notice to the other parent, and sets forth the requirements of timing and content of the notice.  Relocation cases are difficult and it is essential that you obtain legal advice promptly if you are considering a move, or if you are concerned that your co-parent may want to relocate with the child.

Q:  What should I do if I am served with a complaint for divorce?  

A:  Once you have been served with a complaint or a petition for divorce, you will need to act promptly to answer to respond in an appropriate manner, so you can avoid a default judgment.  A default judgment is when the Court determines that the defendant's failure to respond means that he or she has forfeited the lawsuit and the Court will then generally grant the relief sought in the complaint or petition.  You should consult with an attorney to determine the best manner of response, and you should do it promptly, as time is of the essence.