Ten Simple Tips to Prepare For Your Initial Divorce Consultation and Your Divorce Case
It is important to properly prepare for an initial consultation with a family law attorney so your potential attorney can properly assess your case, strategize regarding your options, and so you can get the most out of your first meeting.
When clients come for an initial consultation with a divorce attorney, they come from different points during the breakdown of their relationships. Some clients come in when they only have a small inclination that they may want a divorce, some clients come in following a big "blow-up" argument when they just cannot take it anymore, some clients come in long after they have been "mentally divorced" and have already been living separate and apart for some time, the list goes on. Despite these different backgrounds, all clients can make the most of their initial consultation with a divorce attorney, and their divorce cases generally, by following the foregoing suggestions below.
- If either you or your spouse has already commenced the divorce process, bring any paperwork already filed, including a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation, Summons, Request for Temporary Orders, etc. If your divorce is well into the process, bring only the pertinent documents, including all orders and important pleadings and declarations.
- Bring in any pre-marital agreement that you and your spouse signed, whether or not you agree with the pre-marital agreement and want it enforced. The attorney needs to examine this document to determine its validity and what limitations or rights it creates that are pertinent to your case.
- Prepare a list of all of your and your partner's assets and debts (including approximate current fair market values and the amount of any debt owed on the property), regardless of whether you think they are your or your spouse's separate property or community property. In the beginning of your case, you and your spouse will have to prepare "Declarations of Disclosure" which, among other things, identify all of the assets belonging to the Parties individually and/or jointly. Providing your attorney with this list will highlight what some of the property issues may be and what you and/or your spouse may be entitled to and/or liable for.
- In order to assist the attorney with understanding your and your spouse's financial situation and in advance of preparation of your Income and Expense Declaration, another document required under the Declaration of Disclosure, additionally helpful documents for your attorney to review at the initial consultation include the following:
- Copies of the most current statements for all of your financial accounts;
- Your tax returns for the last 3 years;
- Deeds to real property;
- Your estate planning documents;
- Divorce decrees from your previous marriage(s); and
- Your three most recent pay stubs.
- Be aware of the fact that your attorney handles only the legal aspects of your divorce. Most clients would benefit from seeing a therapist or mental health professional to assist with the emotional aspects of a divorce. Although your attorney will likely empathize with the difficulty of your situation, being cognizant of the attorney's role will help keep your attorneys fees down and allow your attorney to focus on your divorce case.
- Do not post anything about your case to Facebook, Twitter, a personal blog, or any other media outlet. Likewise, do not post anything about your ex, your financial circumstances, your new love interests, or any other personal matters. These matters are personal and should be kept that way. In recent times, evidence found on litigants' Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs has been used in family law proceedings regarding such issues as custody, support, visitation, and property division.
- Do not raid any of your community bank accounts or make any major purchases or sales (such as those having to do with a car, real property, etc.). Before you take any of these actions, it is important to consult your attorney to make sure that you are not violating any court orders, including the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROs), which are automatically effective once one of the Parties files for divorce.
- Do not use email as a method of castigating your spouse or making a record of all the terrible things he or she has been doing. In fact, do not use email to communicate with your spouse at all, except as is necessary to effectuate a parenting plan or in cases of true emergency. Too often we see these lengthy emails attached to a Party's Declaration and it is not pretty. It never turns out to help the person who wrote the email. Also, sending lengthy emails to your attorney will end up not being read (because it gets buried in the inbox, as it cannot be addressed quickly) and/or cost you hundreds of dollars when a short telephone call or meeting could give you the full attention of your attorney and faster results with much less pain.
- It is important to be mindful that if you wish to bring a support person to the initial interview you will perhaps be surprised by your attorney asking you to leave that kind person sitting in the waiting room during your entire meeting. The reason for that is because including a "stranger" in the meeting will effectively waive any attorney-client privilege that might be put into play, for any of a number of reasons, some time in the future. Usually, attorneys will not let you tape a conversation either, for a similar reason. So come prepared with a notepad and pen, or perhaps a laptop computer, which will also have your financial data or other pertinent information.
- Finally, please understand that most family law attorneys who value their experience and their time will charge for the initial consultation. Sometimes an attorney will advertise a free consultation, but what that will mean generally is a discussion in very broad terms, both about the attorney's prior experience and/or approach to handling the type of case you are bringing to him or her, as well as about the type of situation with which you need help. But if you want the attorney to ask detailed questions, take copious notes, understand the underpinnings of your crisis and form opinions about what will need to be done and what it will cost to initially hire the attorney, you should pay for the professional's time, just as you would pay for any other professional like a doctor or psychologist. Truly, you will get what you pay for and usually the amount will be deducted from the initial retainer amount. It is unfortunate that this may mean a significant outlay of money if you consult with several attorneys, but sometimes you can ask for a free half hour and if you like the lawyer enough to go forward, agree to pay the hourly rate.
Commencing and going through a divorce proceeding can be overwhelming and expensive, but you do not need to navigate the process alone. The more work you to do prepare yourself, the easier it will be for your attorney to assess your case and manage your attorneys fees. The attorneys at Cooper-Gordon LLP would be happy to assist you with your case and answer any questions about how to prepare for your initial consultation.