Consulting a divorce lawyer is never an easy task, but you can make it less stressful by coming to your initial consultation fully prepared. Knowing what to expect and bringing the proper documentation with you to this first meeting will help you separate the emotional aspects of a divorce from the legal aspects and will help your lawyer start to plan and prepare the case as early as possible.
Planning For The Initial Meeting
The biggest point to remember when planning for the initial meeting is to give yourself plenty of time to get all of your questions answered. Expect to spend at least one hour with the attorney and don’t be afraid to ask for more time if you need it. You’re spending money on the consultation, so make sure you get what you need out of it.
Questions To Ask Your Attorney
Many people come to a divorce attorney with questions swirling in their heads, but have trouble articulating them at the time of the meeting. That’s why it’s best to come prepared by writing down your questions ahead of time so that you don’t forget to ask them. It’s also a good idea to take notes during the meeting so you remember the answers and can keep track of the next steps and what you need to do to move the process along.
In addition to any personal questions or concerns you have, you’ll want to ask the attorney questions such as:
- Have you handled a case like mine before? What are the possible outcomes?
- What’s your experience in this area of law? Are you familiar with the judges in the county?
- What is the next step for my case?
- What documents do I need to get together for our next steps?
- How long could the case possibly take?
- Who else from your office will I be working with? Is there someone to cover my case if you are unavailable? Can I meet them?
Don’t forget the basics like:
- What are your fees?
- When and how do I pay you?
- What are your hours?
- How do I contact you?
Think about what kind of service is important to you and make sure the attorney can provide that. For example, if you’d prefer to communicate via email, find out whether the lawyer will accommodate that preference. Some won’t. Likewise, some attorneys are a strict 9-5, weekday operation, whereas others will answer your calls or emails after hours or even on weekends. Will it bother you if you have to wait until Monday to get an answer to your question?
Important Documents To Bring To The Meeting
Documentation is important in all legal situations and divorce cases are no different. Even if it is the very first meeting, bring the following documentation with you. It can help the lawyer get a better grasp of your situation and give you a better idea of what to expect.
- Any court documents received such as Summons, Petitions, Complaints, etc.
- Most recent tax return
- Recent W-2 forms for you and your spouse
- 3 most recent pay stubs
- Statements of assets and liabilities
- Mortgage statements and information
- Bank statements, account numbers and the names of your banking institutions
If you’re unsure of what to bring, ask the attorney ahead of time. He or she will be glad to know that you want to come to the meeting prepared and will be only too happy to tell you what they need to see.
Information The Divorce Attorney Will Need
There are some pieces of additional information the attorney will need to put together a case. Bring this information with you to the meeting:
- Date of the marriage
- Location of the marriage (county and state)
- Whether the marriage was a civil or religious ceremony
- Social Security numbers for you, your spouse and any children you may have
- Birth dates for you, your spouse and children
Be Prepared To Talk About The Marriage
The attorney will need to know details and circumstances surrounding the marriage, so be prepared to share that information, even if it is uncomfortable. Your initial consultation is protected under attorney-client privilege, so you don’t have to worry that the discussion will get back to your spouse or your spouse’s attorney. Holding information back from your attorney at any point in the process will make it harder for him or her to develop the case and may wind up coming back to haunt you, depending on the information you withheld. Even if you don’t think it impacts the case, share it with your attorney. This is especially true if you’ve been married before, have children from another relationship or have ever had any run-ins with the law.
Start The Process Early
Arrange the consultation for as early in the divorce process as possible. The earlier you have this first meeting, the sooner you will have an idea of your options and you’ll be prepared if your spouse moves the process along quicker than you expected. Many initial consultations can be done over the phone, which can be a useful option if you find yourself having trouble finding a time to meet in person.
Don’t forget that the initial consultation is as much about you asking questions of the attorney as it is the attorney asking questions of you. Take this opportunity to get all of your questions and concerns addressed and see how you feel about working with this particular attorney. That’s what first consultations are for: to determine the attorney’s expertise as it relates to your situation and to figure out how comfortable you are personally with the divorce lawyer. After all, you’ll be sharing some very private information with this attorney. You want find one you can trust and with whom you feel comfortable.