Getting divorced is a daunting task and an intimidating proposition. In many, if not most cases, hiring an experienced attorney to help you through the process is a sound strategy. That in itself can be an overwhelming experience.
Finding the right lawyer—more specifically, the right lawyer for you and your case—is tough on its own. And then you have to meet with your attorney. Fortunately, there are ways to prepare for your initial consultation.
Remember You’re Both Meeting For The First Time
Remember, while you’re meeting this attorney for the first time, the initial consultation is also an opportunity to meet you. This provides a chance for both sides to make sure this is a good fit. How this goes often differs from firm to firm. You may meet with a solo practitioner, where he or she is the only attorney.
When it comes to firms with multiple lawyers, things may vary. For example, at Goldberg Jones, after an initial consultation with our managing attorney, he pairs you with the attorney he feels is the best fit for you and your case. Overall, however, having someone you’re comfortable with representing you is key.
Make Sure You Can Communicate
Divorce is a traumatic time. You may not always think straight. Being able to accurately communicate your needs is a hugely important part of the process. If your lawyer doesn’t know what you want, it makes the job and getting an optimal outcome that much more difficult.
Your initial consultation is the time for you to gauge this connection. You don’t need to be best friends, but your divorce lawyer is someone you’ll work with closely. Making sure you can accomplish that and effectively communicate is vital to the success of your case.
Is Your Lawyer Experienced In Your Area?
Some attorneys work in many areas. But if you’re going through a divorce, it makes sense to hire a divorce attorney. Even then, there’s a great deal of specialization and the initial consultation is the time to suss that out.
- Do you have kids? If so, a lawyer with experience in child custody cases may be best suited to your case.
- Is there a great deal of shared property to divide? An attorney with knowledge of high-asset divorces might be just what you need.
Whatever specific criteria you have, make sure to ask about it. It can relate to taxes, military service, pensions, or maybe you and your spouse own a business together. It’s important to find a divorce lawyer who fits your criteria.
Ask About Fees And Billing
An initial consultation is a perfect time to discuss fees. Part of finding the right divorce attorney is being able to afford the right divorce attorney. Right out of the gate, make sure to ask your lawyer to explain the billing practices.
- Do the costs break down hourly, by the half hour, in 15-minute increments?
- Do you get charged for work done by support staff or for making phone calls and sending emails?
What To Bring To An Initial Consultation
The more information a divorce attorney has, the better idea you’ll get about your case. As such, you likely want to bring a number of documents to your initial consultation.
- Recent tax returns and lists of assets and financial obligations are pretty standard—the more complete your records, the better.
- Bank statements, credit card statements, mortgages, and auto loans are also typical.
- If you own a business with your spouse, bring any corporate tax records.
Basically, collect any pertinent documents ahead of time. This includes prenuptial agreements, any existing court orders, and more. It’s better to have information and not need it than the other way around.
After The Initial Consultation
After your initial consultation, you have a great deal to do. There are forms to file, a spouse to serve (or service to respond to), and a case to prepare for. If you hire a lawyer, he or she will most likely help guide you through a tricky process. That said, there are ways to prepare that may streamline things and cut down on costs.
- Educate Yourself: Whether you go through mediation, arbitration, or a full trial, it’s good to know what to expect. Understanding the process, you can do some of the legwork on your own. And in general, knowing what’s going on helps ease stress in a stressful time.
- Organize: Collecting and organizing all the pertinent documents and information will save you and your divorce attorney time and hassle. And if you gather financial papers, tax documents, and more, that’s time your lawyer doesn’t have to spend chasing them down and billing you.
- Know When To Fight And When Not To: Know going in what’s important to you and what you can live without. Divorcing couples often spend time and money battling over items of little consequence. Do you really want to spend $500 in attorney’s fees fighting over a shoebox full of cookie cutters? Don’t be a pushover, but know where you’re willing to compromise. Save the fight for things that have a lasting and substantial impact.
- Your Lawyer Is Not Your Therapist: Your divorce lawyer is on your side and probably knows very intimate details about your life. But that doesn’t mean you should use your time together like a therapist’s couch. You want them to empathize with you, but they’re not for unburdening your deepest thoughts. That gets expensive and it’s not why you hired a legal professional in the first place.
Your initial consultation with a divorce attorney can be a stressful experience. But knowing what to expect ahead of time goes a long way towards preparing you. It helps to know what to ask and what to look for. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it provides a better idea of what’s in store.