Time to call a lawyer

WHEN LIFE REQUIRES THE HELP OF A LEGAL PROFESSIONAL

Expert legal services are not a dime a dozen, despite advertising you might see on television. One call doesn’t necessarily mean that’s all. Nor will it necessarily mean your complicated legal scenario will end well.

If the decision you’re facing is whether to contact a lawyer, don’t assume you can handle the issue yourself. Legal issues, laws, regulations, statutes and provisions are more extensive and sometimes more confusing than you’d think — and in many cases, they should be left to the professionals.

Except for a simple tickets for things like a traffic violation or littering, or other disputes like a small claims court case or a minor lawsuit you don’t plan on contesting, there is no black and white in the legal system. Interpretation, nuance, paperwork, case files and judicial process all come into play. Even if you know what your objective is in a legal matter, you don’t necessarily know how to reach it. Contact a lawyer who specializes in your situation.

You should also contact a lawyer if you are filing immigration applications to bring a loved one into the country, facing divorce and child custody issues, are buying or closing on a real estate transaction, are experiencing cyberspace conflicts, are charged with driving under the influence, or have suffered unfair workplace termination.

Once you’ve made the decision to contact a lawyer, don’t look for the biggest ad in the yellow pages or the flashiest webpage on the Internet or rely on how many times you’ve seen the lawyer’s ad on TV.

The checklist for doing your due diligence in selecting a lawyer should include reviewing their credentials, experience, education, cost, accessibility, company size, referrals, specialization and reputation in the business community. Less tangible aspects to consider are the lawyer’s compassion, passion and trust. Certainly contact your local or state bar association if you have any questions.

Here’s a handful of real-life legal circumstances that require a lawyer.

All in the Family

Family law in Beaufort County covers a lot of ground, from divorce and child custody to child support and visitation rights. Add on adoptions, name changes, guardianship, spousal support, palimony, domestic violence and property settlement — which means there’s a lot of room for a labyrinth of complexities.

In South Carolina, the average divorce rate is about 8 percent per 1,000 inhabitants. There are five legal grounds for divorce in our state: adultery, desertion, physical cruelty, habitual drunkenness or drug abuse, and living separate and apart. Fault or no-fault grounds are allowed, or you can base your divorce on the fact that you’ve been separated from your spouse for at least one year.

Your divorce judge is required by South Carolina to make an “equitable distribution” of your marital property. This means you will receive what the judge decides is “fair” in your circumstances. A skilled divorce attorney may be able to get a better divorce settlement for you.

When it comes to child custody, South Carolina courts begin with a presumption that it’s best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements.

The state requires all parents to support their children. The amount of child support depends primarily on each parent’s income and other resources and how much time each parent spends with the children.

Closing on the Real Deal

State law requires that a fourth party attend the closing on a residential or commercial property: a real estate lawyer. The buyer, the seller and the lender also will be present. Most closings are smooth and over within an hour or two.

But complications can implode the process in an instant. State law requires that sellers provide a disclosure form to buyers that includes details on the property, including:

  • defects in the roof, foundation and electrical systems,
  • information on the heating source and water supply,
  • conditions such as termites,
  • nuisances such as noise or odor,
  • lawsuits that could affect title to the property, and
  • built-in systems and fixtures, such as a pool or sump pump.

In addition, if your house was built before 1978 you must comply with federal Title X disclosures regarding lead-based paint and hazards. 

None for the Road

OK, don’t drink and drive. Pretty simple, pretty prudent.

Pulled over and know you’re buzzed, if not loaded? If convicted, expect to spend between 48 hours and 30 days in jail, as well as community service, $400 to $1,000 in fines and a six-month license revocation. If you’re busted for second or third time, you can kiss your life as you know it goodbye.

Job Dissatisfaction

Have you ever felt you’ve been treated unfairly because of your race, age, gender, nationality, religion, sexual discrimination, harassment, disability or familial status?

Generally, this means you feel you are being treated differently than your work peers without performance issues or may be overlooked for promotions despite having the necessary qualifications.

Protect your legal rights in the workplace and consider filing a claim.

Paper Trails Across the Border

Whether you’re trying to get a loved one into the country, are a business owner who needs help with employment-based immigration, or are being detained in a contested immigration proceeding, you should seek help from a law firm with attorneys who are experienced and specialize in this field.

One of the most obvious examples, enacted a few years ago, is that South Carolina police are no longer allowed to detain someone simply to check their immigration status.

If you want to come to the United States, immigration lawyers can help determine your eligibility for various types of visas and guide you through the application process. If you've already arrived in the United States, an immigration attorney can determine whether you're eligible for permanent residency and if you can bring family members into the country to live with you. Immigration law firms can also work with individuals who have entered the country illegally, overstayed their visas or violated the conditions of their visas and are facing deportation.

The percentage of immigrants living in South Carolina has nearly doubled over the past dozen years to 5 percent in 2012, census figures show. And about one-quarter of the state's 222,000 immigrants are believed to be living here illegally.

Immigrants make up 6.3 percent of our workforce, and 3 percent of them are unauthorized, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Amendments to the South Carolina Illegal Immigration and Reform Act in 2011 requires all employers to enroll in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system and submit information on all new employees within three days of hiring.

Intrigue on the Internet

There are three types of internet law: information technology that governs the digital distribution of data and software; cyber laws that involve issues related to the use of the Internet; and computer laws that relate to patent and copyright uses of computer technology and software.

Another host of rules involve access, privacy, spamming, censorship, intellectual property and encryption. The unique globality of the Internet also involves jurisdictional issues. That can make prosecuting hate crimes, cyberbullying, fraud, e-commerce violations, cyber-terrorism and other online issues difficult, and best left to lawyers.

Just remember that Internet law moves faster than a click on the keyboard.