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  • Dedicated to helping you

    Dedicated to helping you

    We work closely with our clients on a personal basis. We work for what is right for you – not on “cases.”

  • Experienced, Honorable, and Compassionate

    Experienced, Honorable, and Compassionate

    With over 20 years of experience on Hilton Head Island, we understand issues effecting both locals and transplants.

  • Fighting for Your Well-Being

    Fighting for Your Well-Being

    Sometimes life isn’t fair and you need professional legal counsel in your corner to fight for justice.

Our Services

Adoptions

Adoptions are generally one of the more joyous occasions in which we get to engage as domestic law practitioners. Whether it be a private adoption between individuals or adoption from some government agency, there are still legal issues for which a client needs to obtain competent advice. We are particularly happy to assist our clients in making such dreams come true.

If the adoption is from a government agency such as the Department of Social Services, said agency will assist in accomplishing many of the legal requirements necessary to complete the adoption. In some instances, such as the adoption of special needs children, they may even assist with the cost of hiring an attorney to prepare the necessary paperwork and prosecute the action in court. If it is a private adoption, then for the most part you will be responsible for meeting all requirements for legal adoption at your own expense, unless you have contracted with an adoption agency who will perform certain legal aspects on your behalf, as part of their services or the agreed-upon fee.

While certain statutory requirements must be met for an adoption to be legal, there can also arise a multitude of issues that must be addressed in conjunction with an adoption proceeding. As such, it is clearly in the best interests of prospective adoptive parents to hire competent counsel to assist them through this process.

Alimony/Spousal Support

In South Carolina an award of alimony/spousal support is gender neutral and available to whichever spouse earns less. It is not an automatic right, but is based on need, the ability of the other spouse to pay and a number of other factors, any and all of which can affect the amount, if any, of the spousal support award, as well as the nature and the duration thereof. We assist the client through this complicated process by not only applying their facts to the statutory factors, but also to the common judiciary practices in this locale.

An individual seeking alimony/spousal support needs understand that their right to alimony can unintentionally vibe forfeited. Thus, a spouse who is contemplating leaving their marriage and trying to make a claim for spousal support should be careful to avoid the potential pitfalls they could face by seeking the early advice of counsel.

Auto Accidents

This is probably the most common type of personal injury action given the multitude of vehicles on the road and the prevalence of inattentive driving that leads to accidents. Such cases revolve around the failure of one driver to fulfill their duty to operate their vehicle in a safe and appropriate manner (negligence) coupled with resultant damages to the operator passengers in the vehicle that was struck as a result of their negligence.

These cases are generally handled on a contingency basis, which means that the client does not have to pay for the lawyer’s services unless and until the lawyer recovers an award of damages from the adverse party. This can be an extremely important aspect for clients, especially those who do not have the money to otherwise afford legal services.

Such cases can range from being very simple to extremely complicated. The most important thing is to seek legal advice as soon after the accident as is practical, and to adhere to that advice throughout the period of one’s recovery. Only after one has recovered to the fullest extent possible, should a formal claim be submitted to the adverse party or their insurance company. Individuals injured in an automobile accident should NEVER talk with the other party’s insurance company without first having consulted a lawyer of their own, and having that lawyer present throughout any such phone call or interview if the lawyer thinks that is in the client’s best interest.

Child Custody

Under South Carolina Law, the number one factor courts consider in determining a child custody award is the “best interests of the children”. While the law has moved toward favoring shared parenting relationships, with each parent having the children half of the time, many times other factors lend themselves to quite different determinations. With terms such as “joint custody” and “sole custody” this is a very complicated and confusing part of the law, which requires a great deal of advice from competent counsel.

It is imperative for the well being of children that parents engaged in a custodial dispute not attempt to utilize the children as pawns in the battle between the parents. We pride ourselves on being there to always help our clients avoid such pitfalls and thereby protect children from the unfortunate consequences of a marital dissolution/custody battle. Custody fights are extremely expensive and can have far-reaching consequences on a couple’s children such that they should not be entered into lightly, but only when necessary to affect the best interests of the children.

Child Support

This is one of the few areas of a domestic action in which the award is very easy to determine in advance. Absent unusual circumstances, there is a formula that will be applied by the court based on the two parties’ gross income, to which will be added expenses for health insurance premiums and childcare. However, based upon circumstances the courts will often approve something other than the mandated amount if the parties both agree upon it.

Should the parties want something other than the standard, it is critical that they enlist the assistance of competent counsel who can fashion the presentation to the court in such a way that the court will be inclined to approve the deviation from the standard guidelines.

Divorce

The pursuit of a divorce (dissolution of marriage) should be the absolute last resort after one has exhausted all efforts to heal a broken marriage. We will first discuss with you your overall situation, and help you explore options you may not have tried to resolve the problems in your marriage. If you have tried everything and are convinced that there is no hope, our goal is to assist you in obtaining a divorce in the least expensive and most amicable way possible.

A divorce decree will address and resolve ALL issues (rights and obligations) arising out of your marital relationship. Because it is permanent and addresses all issues one should not enter into discussions regarding the same without the advice of competent counsel. If the issues can be resolved by agreement, that is best for all concerned, especially if there are children involved.

The most common form of divorce under South Carolina law is one based on one continuous year’s physical separation of the parties. However, the law does provide for divorce without waiting an entire year if a party can prove one of four fault-based grounds for divorce. They are adultery, physical cruelty, habitual intoxication (alcohol or drugs) or desertion. Should you believe you have grounds for a divorce based on one of the four fault-based statutory grounds, the specific elements of such will be fully discussed in your initial consult.

Estate Planning and Probate

Whether simple or complex, estate planning is one of the most important preventive legal measures that can be taken by an individual. Proper planning can save thousands of dollars in court fees for the appointment of a guardian/conservator by the simple execution of proper home care and general durable powers of attorney. Anyone who has children should at least a simple will directing who will care for their children in the event of their death and under what terms. An attempt to prepare and execute any of these legal documents without proper counsel, can be extremely risky, because if they are not properly executed or do not accurately dictate what is to happen, it may be impossible to carry out your wishes if you are suddenly incapacitated, or worse yet die. As such, periodic reviews of a will to ensure that its provisions still reflect your desires regarding the care for your minor children and the disposition of your assets at the time of your death is strongly recommended.

Probate is simply the carrying into legal effect of your desires as expressed in your will. If you have a properly executed will, such can be a fairly simple process, at a fairly minimal cost to you for the assistance of counsel. Failure to have a properly executed will can make this process both complicated and expensive, and could result in your desires not actually being carried out by the court. Surviving spouses, or designated personal representatives should contact counsel shortly after someone’s passing, to obtain advice on how they can perform their obligations under the law in a manner  which minimizes the stress upon them, while at the same time assists them in obtaining any benefits and relief to which they are entitled under the will or otherwise.

Medical Malpractice

This is a very complicated area of the law arising out of the breach of a physician’s duty to adhere to a local, and often times national standard of care. Such actions require the hiring of multiple experts, the cost for which can be staggering. While there certainly are many lawyers within the State of South Carolina who are very talented in this area, it is also not uncommon to seek the services of a nationally recognized malpractice attorney. Over the years we have associated ourselves with a number of nationally known attorneys who specialize in this area, and who have been able to assist our clients in obtaining outstanding results on their cases.

If you believe you have been a victim of malpractice on the part of a doctor, it is important to document exactly what happened in your case as soon as you are physically able. While the medical records provide the initial basis for evaluating such a case, detailed accounts from you as the patient, as well as anyone in your immediate circle of family or friends who witnessed firsthand the treatment, or lack thereof, which forms the basis of your complaint, is essential to aid an expert in evaluating all aspects of the case to determine whether or not it is viable to pursue.

Under South Carolina law, there are numerous requirements which must be met before a malpractice action can ever even be initiated. Failure to understand these requirements could have disastrous consequences as concerns your case. While in obvious cases of malpractice an insurance company may reach out to you with an immediate offer of settlement, you should not entertain any such offer without first consulting competent counsel, because if you do, they may have you sign a document which precludes you from seeking further relief to which you would otherwise have been entitled. Also, once signed, you could be precluded from obtaining further medical treatment which might be absolutely necessary to a complete recovery, or you might have to pay for such treatment on your own, which could be extremely costly.

Name Changes

A name change is most commonly obtained by a spouse undergoing a divorce who wishes to resume their maiden name. It is an extremely simple process in conjunction with a divorce action as one need only request that relief from the court and prove that is not being done for improper reasons.

To change one’s name in a separate proceeding is not quite as simple as doing it within a divorce proceeding. However, so long as it is not for improper reasons, it is for the most part not overly complicated, and the relief requested is usually granted.

Paternity Actions

With the advent of DNA testing, this area of the law has become much more sophisticated and reliable. Such actions are commonly instituted by both mothers and fathers seeking to establish who as the lawful father of a minor child. Mother’s most commonly institute such actions when they are not receiving child support or other benefits to which the child should be entitled. Father’s most commonly institute such actions when they are being denied rights of access to their children by the child’s mother.

While this type of case is not overly complicated, the consequences of such an action can be life changing. A client needs to be completely advised by experience counsel as to not only what rights they stand to acquire by virtue of paternity case, but also such consequences as might arise from the case before deciding whether to in fact institute such an action.

Prenuptial Agreements

Such agreements most commonly arise out of upcoming marriages where there is a great disparity of wealth between the parties who are about to be married, or when it is a second marriage and the parties both have children from their first marriages. The former situation can cause a lot of strife in the relationship if great care is not taken to include provisions whereby the less wealthy participant does not feel neglected or demeaned. Great skill is required to fashion an agreement by which both parties feel as if they are being treated fairly.

In the latter case, where both parties are trying to ensure that their own wealth passes down to their own children, there is much less likelihood for domestic strife between the parties. However, significant consideration must be given for the quality of life of the surviving spouse, for example the right to utilize the marital residence for a reasonable period of time, after the death of the first of the two parties. Given the multitude of issues that can exist, it is incumbent for a client to choose the right lawyer who knows how to ask all of the important questions, so that the agreement is set up to cover almost any situation that might arise.

Separate Maintenance and Support

A separate maintenance and support action is available for those individuals/couples who do not have fault-based grounds for divorce, but cannot afford to live separate and apart for one year without a resolution of their rights and obligations arising out of their marriage. The parties by agreement, or the court in a contested proceeding, can address all the issues found in a normal divorce action, and award all of the same relief, except for the actual entry of the decree of divorce. A decree of separate maintenance and support is also permanent relief, such that an individual should not enter into discussions regarding the same without the advice of competent counsel.

Typically, one of the parties to a separate maintenance and support action will ultimately go back after the one-year period of separation has run and get a simple divorce, addressing only the issue of divorce, since all other issues were resolved by the decree of separate maintenance and support. However, there is no requirement that the parties ever obtain a divorce, such that some people for religious or other reasons choose not to pursue an actual divorce after the entry of a decree of separate maintenance and support.

Separation and Property Settlement Agreements

This is probably the most important aspect of domestic relations practice. It is in the best interests of both parties to reach an agreement if at all possible, because it will save them a lot of money, while at the same time giving them control over the outcome of the proceedings. Even more importantly, an amicable resolution often allows the parties to continue to get along separately in a cordial and positive manner that is certainly best for their minor children.

While all lawyers have what they might refer to as their standard boilerplate agreements, it is in the adapting of those basic agreements to the facts and circumstances of an individual client’s case where we most help our clients in obtaining the best possible resolution of what is otherwise an unfortunate situation. Negotiating is a fine art that takes years of experience to master, such that this is an area where a good lawyer can be invaluable to their client.

Termination of Parental Rights

An action of this nature is extremely complicated and viewed by the courts as an action of last resort. Great care should be taken to thoroughly discuss the difficulties associated with obtaining such a decree from a court before embarking on such a course of action. Otherwise, a party can spend a good deal of money only to have the court deny the requested relief.

Most people fail to appreciate that a court is not going to terminate someone’s parental rights unless the other party can demonstrate that it is clearly in the best interests of the minor children, and that they will not suffer financially in any way by the action of the court. There are far less stringent ways a court can protect children from a less than sterling parent, while not depriving them of the financial support to which they are entitled, including social security benefits, should that parent pass away.

Tractor Trailer Accidents

Normally such accidents are very complicated and require the services of not only a lawyer who understands the requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, but also of an expert who will testify as to any violations of the standards which contributed to the accident. While in some rare instances there is an obvious act or omission by the driver of a tractor-trailer that clearly establishes their liability in the accident, more often technical violations of these rules and Regulations provide the best basis for establishing liability on the part of the tractor-trailer company as being at fault for the accident.

Due to the complicated nature of these federal laws, rules and regulations, no individual should ever try to resolve a case of this nature without the assistance of a competent lawyer. The resolution of these cases are seldom if ever as simple as portrayed in television advertising by various lawyers. Time, attention to detail, and effort in fully investigating all aspects of potential liability on the trucking company is what is necessary to yield just results for an individual injured in a tractor-trailer accident.

Visitation

A parent’s visitation rights will in large part be dependent upon what type of custody is awarded to each of them. Visitation rights when arrived at through agreement should be tailored in such a way as to maximize the quality of the experience between the minor children and the visiting parent. All too often visiting parents become too focused on how much time they get with their children, not the quality of the time they are spending with them. We are here to assist our clients in discussing all aspects of visitation and then obtaining that which is best for them and their children.

Courts start out with standardized visitation arrangements, so it is important for parties to agree on this issue if at all possible, so that the visitation can be structured in the way that works best for their children and their situation. We have a great deal of experience in negotiating visitation arrangements based upon the unique situations of our individual clients.

About US

The Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C. established in 1994 has continued to provide exceptional, trusted and compassionate legal services to our clients for over twenty (20) years.  The Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C., is a General Practice Firm that handles all aspects of litigation including civil litigation, contract disputes, personal injury, medical malpractice and family law.  In addition, the firm also handles real estate transactions, business formation, as well as estate planning and probate matters.  Our attorneys take pride in developing long lasting relationships with our clients in order to handle various legal matters for them throughout their lives.

Our Team

jamesberl

James F. Berl, Esquire

Jim Berl is the President of the Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C. Jim started the firm in May of 1994. He practices in all areas of civil litigation, including personal injury, family law and contract disputes. He also handles residential real estate transactions, business purchases and sales, as well as construction law and related contract matters. He is a graduate of Furman University with honors and of Washington and Lee University School of Law. Jim served for six years of active duty with the U.S. Army JAG Corp. Upon leaving active duty, he was an Associate with the law firm of Hughes and Wieters, P.A., where he eventually became a Partner. Jim is a member of the South Carolina Bar Association, where he is a member of the family law and real estate practices sections. He is also a member and past president of the Hilton Head Island Bar Association and is also, a member of the Beaufort County Bar Association.

 

amy

Amy C. Nardi, Esquire

 

Amy Nardi provides services as an Associate Attorney at the Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C. Amy currently practices in the areas of family law, wills and estate planning, probate and real estate transactions. She is a graduate of Villanova University and received her Juris Doctor, with honors, from Vermont Law School. She was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 2000 and has practiced in the Low Country since that time. Amy is a member of the South Carolina Bar Association, Beaufort County Bar Association, Hilton Head Island Bar Association, as well as the South Carolina Women Lawyers’ Association.


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The Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C.
70 Main Street
Hilton Head Island
South Carolina 29926
p. (843) 689-5771
f. (843) 689-5772

Disclaimer

The materials contained in this website have been prepared by the Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C. for informational purposes and are not to be considered advertising or legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, create, an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and/or any lawyer in this Firm with any reader or recipient of this information.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.  Do not send us confidential information until you speak with one of our attorneys and get authorization to do so.  Any reference or link to a third party found on our internet site is not an express or implied endorsement by the Law Offices of James F. Berl, P.C., as to that third party or the information provided.

For further information, contact:
Amy C. Nardi, Esquire
Tel: 843-689-5771
Email: amy@berllaw.com