Pam Blackshire and her family law partner, Bree Kennedy, meet clients for the first time at what can be the most vulnerable and emotionally challenging point in their lives. Blackshire said that’s where the duo’s 40-plus years of combined experience comes in most handy. “That initial consultation is completely confidential, and we can lay out what the process ahead may look like in light of their unique situation,” she said. “We are there emotionally, but our primary goal is to equip people and to give them every possible tool in their toolbox to have a positive outcome, whatever that looks like in their specific case.”
While the first meeting is just the beginning of the process, it is important to both establish rapport and to provide potential clients with information. “We put all the cards on the table, whether that’s emotional or financial, and we lay out the legal road ahead,” Blackshire said. “Knowledge is power. The more information we can gather upfront, oftentimes that planning on the front end can have a significant outcome on a case.”
Sometimes, that means there is no case. “Maybe that means this is the last time you ever see me, or that I can refer you to a counselor who might give you direction on how to mend a relationship,” Blackshire said. “But whatever we hear in that first meeting, we want folks to leave feeling empowered and informed, confident and at peace no matter what hurdles are ahead. Our goal is that the potential client might have the tools in their toolbox to gain control and put themselves in the best possible position.”
What does planning and information gathering look like? The reality is there are few generalities here. Each case involves specific events and factors that impact a plan.
“If we’re facing a custody or parenting battle, we talk about what’s going on in your life. We talk about how the judge may see these particular circumstances,” Blackshire said. “Maybe that’s being aware of and changing behaviors, documenting parenting responsibilities, or tracking financials, particularly in a divorce where one person is the primary wage earner.”
South Carolina is an equitable distribution state, which means that no matter who is earning what in a marriage, the end goal is to distribute whatever assets and debts accrued while a couple is married.
“What is marital in nature? What if assets are in my spouse’s name and not mine, what is non-marital? What things might happen that inadvertently make an asset marital? It’s all stuff we unpack,” Blackshire said. “The fact that an asset is only in one party’s name doesn’t necessarily preclude the spouse from receiving a portion of that asset. For example, just because a retirement account is solely in a spouse’s name doesn’t make it non-marital. Inherited money is typically non-marital, but if you put that money in a joint bank account, that may convert it to marital property. There are a lot of fuzzy areas—a lot of muddy water that is specific to each situation and subject to the interpretation of a judge. We assess what a client’s rights are, what their exposure may be and work toward a plan to protect them.”
The scariest part of the process often can be the idea of a client putting their fate in the hands of a complete stranger: a family court judge. “The judge has so much to interpret and consider. This is where we say help us help you. The more information we have, the better we can present the fullest picture for the judge to consider,” Blackshire said.
If you can’t figure out a way to avoid a separation, an amicable outcome is the next best step. But even if your spouse says they want to be amicable, it’s crucial to know your rights.
“Remaining amicable is important, but it’s key that amicable is not a one-sided discussion,” Blackshire said. “Both sides must agree that a settlement is fair and equitable, and no matter what two sides agree, it’s not official until it’s a court order of the family court. We help the client decide what is that truly amicable and equitable result.”
If a breakup is contentious, information gathering to know the full picture is even more crucial. “Is a spouse being dishonest with financials? Is a spouse cheating? We can help assemble resources on our end to bring full truth to the situation,” she said. That can be financial planners or private investigators, depending on the situation.
Each state has specific guidelines on each facet of family law, so your process in South Carolina will likely be different from your friend’s separation in New Jersey. For example, South Carolina has a specific formula and calculations for child support but no specific calculator for alimony.
Perhaps the most unique example is when adultery is involved. This state’s adultery laws are known to be among the harshest in the country. If adultery is proven, alimony is banned for the spouse shown to commit the adultery. Because of this state’s unique laws, gathering information from an experienced South Carolina family law attorney can be critical to a successful outcome.
The more information and sharing that is done between lawyer and client upfront, the more Blackshire, Kennedy, and their staff can prepare clients for how to best navigate the mess.
“That begins with compassion. I’m most proud that our staff has the experience and the compassion to listen and to make clients feel that we have their back and that they do not have to go this alone,” Blackshire said. “Bree and I set the standard, but we are so grateful to have assembled the team we present to our clients. Clients will get patience and understanding from us to know this isn’t purely transactional for us.”
After earning her law degree, Blackshire began her career in corporate and medical malpractice defense litigation. While she loved being part of those early-career firms, she needed a more personal payoff. “At the end of the day, my former job was just about money. Here, in family law, we create relationships with people, and I feel like my work matters,” she said. “Bree and I have the same mindset, and we truly want what’s best for every client. We faced each other in court before we decided to become partners. When we both set out to create our own firm six years ago, we respected each other above all for our skills in effectively helping people.”
It’s an emotionally charged situation, but their job is to make sure emotion does not impact strategy in a case. “We understand and appreciate the need for hand holding, but we are also here for the big picture, to help our clients keep their integrity intact, to rise above the mud,” Blackshire said. “Sending an ugly text is going to negatively impact how a judge sees a situation. We want to keep the kids out of the crossfire, stay on higher ground, and let the judge know you are ready for the best possible life after this breakup.”
For more information or to schedule your initial consultation, visit kennedyblackshire.com or call (843) 341-5555.