Areas of Practice


Areas of Practice

With many years of a wide-ranging legal practice, Terry is now focused on family law, estate planning and mediation. Terry can answer basic legal questions, in many areas of law, in an initial consultation, potentially sparing you time, worry and money.

Family law. Family law includes divorces, legal separations, paternity, child support, custody actions and grandparents’ rights. Terry’s philosophy is not to push reluctant parties into a divorce and not to take a “junk-yard dog” approach to family law litigation. Divorces and related actions are stressful and emotional enough without lawyers encouraging more fighting or deliberately taking steps to embarrass the other spouse. “Firm but fair” is the way to describe Terry’s approach.

Divorces. Called a “dissolution of marriage” in Arizona law, divorce can be among the most painful times any of us will experience, requiring an attorney who counsels as much as advocates. Although Arizona is a no-fault divorce state (which means that one side merely believes the marriage is “irretrievably broken”), stressors like financial problems, infidelity, alcoholism or drug abuse frequently complicate matters. Terry can assist everyone from “do-it-yourselfers” and uncontested to highly contested divorces.

Legal separations. In Arizona, a legal separation is the same as a divorce, except the parties are not free to marry someone else afterwards. The marriage still must be “irretrievably broken” and the final decree will separate the parties’ property, determine custody and parenting issues, and award child support or spousal maintenance. Later, either party can sue for a full divorce. If you have strong religious objections to divorce or want to ensure continued medical insurance coverage for a seriously ill spouse, a legal separation may be the choice for you.

Annulments. Under certain limited circumstances, a court will annul a marriage so that it effectively never existed. If your spouse lied about something very important to you, such as his or her financial circumstances or criminal background, or was still married to someone else, an annulment may be an option. It is important that you act quickly after learning of the deception.

Paternity actions. For children born outside of marriage, a paternity action is required in order to establish not only custody, parenting time and child support, but also the right to inherit from the other parent. Fathers are bringing the actions themselves in order to establish their rights, while mothers also may be entitled to reimbursement for birthing expenses and even an allowance for lost employment.

Post-divorce modifications and enforcement. A divorce decree doesn’t always end the conflict, and even in the most amicable of relationships, changes in circumstances will occur. Whether it’s modifying a parenting plan, managing a move out of state, or updating child support, Terry brings the same experience and sensitivity to the situation.

Custody and parenting time. We used to speak about “legal custody” and “physical custody”; now we talk about “legal decision-making authority” and “parenting time,” and the court requires a detailed parenting plan whenever minor children are involved. In Arizona, a clear preference exists for shared legal decision making and for maximizing the amount of time each parent spends with a child. However, issues of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, alcohol and substance abuse, and the parties’ mental and physical health frequently come into play. It’s a complicated and difficult area of law that requires experience and sensitivity on the part of your lawyer.

Child support. Arizona has written child support guidelines and formulas for establishing support, which takes the guesswork out of most child support awards and modifications. However, serious issues may arise with self-employment income, insurance costs, special needs expenses, outside support, and parenting time credits. Terry can help with establishing, modifying and enforcing child support orders.

Spousal maintenance. With no concrete guidelines for establishing spousal maintenance or alimony, awards can vary widely, making it important to have an attorney with experience making your arguments.

Grandparent and third-party rights. Grandparents and step-parents have the right to healthy and meaningful relationships with their grandchildren and step-children and, in some cases, may prove to be better suited to parent the children. Particularly if you have taken an important role in raising someone else’s child, you should investigate with an attorney whether it is in the child’s best interest for you to continue being involved.

Prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements. These agreements aren’t just for the rich. Retirees are finding that prenuptial agreements are perfect for second marriages as a way of keeping assets and earnings separate, particularly when adult children are concerned about Mom or Dad remarrying. And, did you know that you can be partially responsible for your new spouse’s premarital debts? A properly written agreement can help prevent your earnings from being garnished by your spouse’s creditors.

Estate planning. Everyone should at least have a will, medical and financial powers of attorney, and a living will (also known as an advance directive for those difficult end-of-life decisions). Terry provides inexpensive packages for these basic documents and also can advise whether you should take other steps, such as beneficiary deeds, “pay on death” accounts or even a living trust, in order to avoid the expenses of an unnecessary probate.

Wills. A basic will details how you want your estate divided after your death, names one or more people to act as your executor or personal representative, and may have special provisions for underage children, such as naming a guardian or establishing a testamentary trust. The witnessing and execution requirements are very strict and should not be attempted without experienced advice.

Healthcare powers of attorney. A healthcare power of attorney names someone who can make medical decisions when you are unable to communicate your desires. Terry recommends that you name at least three such individuals in case your first or second choice is unavailable. Arizona law also requires a separate authorization—which can be included as a special clause in the basic power of attorney—for mental health care, such as admission to a memory care, drug rehabilitation or behavioral health unit.

Financial powers of attorney. A comprehensive financial (also known as a general or durable) power of attorney names one or more individuals to handle all of your financial affairs when you are unable to do so. As with a healthcare power of attorney, Terry recommends naming at least three such individuals in case your first or second choice is unavailable.

Living wills. A living will, or advance directive, goes one step beyond a healthcare power of attorney and specifies how you want end of life decisions to be made. Most choose not to have their lives extended artificially. This helps loved ones to make and carry out these very difficult decisions. This is not the same as a “Do Not Resuscitate” directive, which directs emergency personnel not to resuscitate you under any circumstances. A DNR directive should be signed only at the very end stage of life.

Trusts. A revocable, or “living,” trust is a common estate planning tool used for two primary purposes. The first is to avoid the costs of a probate action. The second is to allow your loved ones to seamlessly take over your financial care in the event you become disabled or incompetent. In the case of a large estate, a trust also can be used to minimize or avoid estate taxes. And, of course, a young couple may establish a trust that allows for the financial care of their minor children without expensive supervision by the probate court. Less commonly, an “irrevocable” trust can be established to care for a relative who may be incompetent or untrustworthy with money.

Beneficiary deeds. For many people whose major asset is their home, a beneficiary deed can supplement a simple will and help to avoid probate. The deed provides that specified beneficiaries will receive the property at your death, but not before. This is safer than adding a child’s name to a deed and/or giving them the property before you die, and allows you to change your mind or sell the property at any time without complications.

Probate. Sometimes probate is required to obtain an investment account or obtain title to real property. But consult with Terry before panicking. Probate does not need to be inordinately expensive; and oftentimes a small estate affidavit may do the job.

Small estate affidavits. For relatively small estates (up to $75,000 of cash and personal property or $100,000 of equity in real property), heirs may use special affidavits to obtain and distribute the property; and the real estate valuation is based on the tax assessor’s valuation, not market value. These affidavits can help bypass the probate process.

Formal probate. The detailed probate process is intended to protect the estate, heirs and creditors, but the requirements may seem quite confusing and the court’s supervision frustrating. Sometimes the formal process is required, such as when the original will is lost or heirs are fighting over the estate. Don’t try to complete this process on your own.

Informal probate. The probate court is still involved, but to a much lesser extent, when the probate can be opened and closed informally and the judge never gets involved unless asked. This process can be used with or without a valid will, as long as the heirs agree, thus saving quite a bit of money in fees and expenses. In some cases, an estate opened informally may become formal; or an estate opened formally may be closed informally, depending on the circumstances.

Notices of death. Owning property with your spouse as joint tenants or community property with right of survivor ship is a great way to avoid probate when the first spouse passes away. But, don’t forget that a special notice of death must be prepared and filed with the county recorder in order to fix the title to the property. Terry can help with these.

General civil litigation. Terry is available to advise and assist on a wide range of issues, from landlord/tenant law to partnership breakups and contract disputes.

Business law. Terry can help with creating corporations or limited liability companies, drafting partnership agreements, dissolving businesses, reviewing lease agreements, drafting or reviewing contracts or just answering general questions about your business plans.

Mediation. A trained mediator acts as a neutral third party and helps you explore options and reach your own agreements, preferably before you spend a lot of money on attorneys’ fees. Consider using Terry as your mediator for your divorce, post-divorce modification, or disputes over parenting, employment, HOA requirements, neighborhood arguments, partnerships and businesses, or probate and family issues. To answer more of your questions about mediation, Click Here.

Mentoring. Terry has a long history of mentoring other attorneys and is available for consultation on a range of professional and personal subjects.