Once you have done your research and narrowed down your search to just a few attorneys who seem like they would be a good fit for your case (you usually want to meet with at least 2-3 before making your choice), it is time to begin setting up initial consultations.
These meetings are crucial not only because it is your first opportunity to get an idea of how divorce will work with your unique circumstances, but also since you need to figure out which attorney you feel most comfortable with handling this process that will have a major effect on your future.
While attorneys will typically charge a flat rate for these meetings, the information you can get out of initial consultations is invaluable.
However, like every aspect of divorce, putting time into your preparation beforehand will help you maximize what you get out of these meetings — and your dollars spent.
Learning how divorce affects YOU
You should have already spent some time researching the laws and procedures for divorce in your state, but it can often be difficult to determine exactly how these convoluted statutes will affect your specific case.
Judges in family courts are given a very wide discretion when it comes to applying the laws, meaning what happens in one case will generally not result in the same outcome for another — there is really no way to tell with any certainty if your interpretation of the law is correct.
So many factors are unique to each divorce, and each will have the potential to affect other areas of the process. This makes it very difficult for someone who is not proficient in family law to understand with any degree of accuracy what will happen once the divorce has begun.
At an initial consultation, you are not only able to figure out the basic information regarding filing deadlines and your local jurisdiction’s divorce procedures, you are also able to lay out the major facts surrounding your marriage and let the lawyer give a general explanation of likely outcomes and scenarios.
Consequently, the more information and details your provide, the more accurate the information you get out of the consultation will be. This means you need to come organized, which is where preparation is critical.
You are able to save a lot of time digging through paperwork by having important documents readily available, such as bank statements, tax returns, mortgage papers, retirement account info, prenuptial agreements or any court documents that have already been filed.
You should also come prepared with a list of questions to go over (which should not be very difficult due to the complex nature of divorce).
These can cover anything that you would like more information about, such as common child custody scenarios, how property division works, what will happen with any business interests you may have, etc.
There will obviously be a lot of information to get through in your hour or so consultation, so make sure to prioritize your most pressing concerns first.
You should also bring a list of goals that you would like to accomplish, such as an ideal parenting arrangement or what assets are the most significant to you so the attorney understands from the start what is most important and can begin working towards making those goals a reality.
Finally, don’t forget to bring a pen and paper to take notes!
Is the attorney the right fit?
You will understandably have a lot on your mind trying to get a grasp on what will happen during the divorce, but you should also walk into each consultation with a part of your mind trying to determine whether the attorney you are meeting is right for you.
You will get a lot of information about what lies ahead in the divorce process, but a consultation is also your opportunity to gauge whether you are comfortable with a particular attorney handling your case.
There is no obligation to retain an attorney after a consultation, so it is important that you treat the initial as somewhat of an interview as well.
Do not feel uncomfortable asking questions about the attorney’s experience, qualifications and case load. You need to feel that they will have the time to put the required effort into your case, and an attorney worth hiring should be more than willing to talk about their credentials.
Additionally, if they do not have much experience with something like complex business division and that is going to be a major issue in your divorce, it is better to know that up front so you can look for an attorney more suited for your situation.
Another factor that is important to consider is whether they have any sort of policy about returning calls or emails. Communication is vital throughout the divorce process, as unforeseen circumstances can arise at any time. It is always a plus if they have a firm policy in place for returning any calls within a certain time frame just in case an emergency occurs.
The attorney also should be upfront about his or her own fee structure. A divorce attorney is likely going to be one of the most expensive aspects of the divorce, and you need to be absolutely certain you understand how much they charge and when.
For example, most attorney charge by the hour; however, they may have a ticking clock that starts and stops every time they talk to you on the phone or respond to an email.
This can lead to nickels and dimes adding up, and if you are unaware that is how the attorney charges, it may come as a complete surprise if you are sending emails or calling every time you have a question.
(This also is why attorneys often recommend saving multiple questions for one email at the end of the day instead of spreading them out).
If the attorney seems frustrated or unwilling to explain in detail how they charge, that should be an immediate red flag.
Finally, you should simply trust your instincts. After meeting with an attorney for an hour, you should get some feel for their level of competency and if you trust them — something that is crucial throughout your case.
You need to feel comfortable that your attorney has your best interests at heart and be willing to share not only the good, but the bad and the ugly as well.
Trust becomes a two-way street between you and your divorce attorney, and they need to know everything — even if it is something you’re not proud of.
The chances are that it will come out at some point in your case, and if you attorney is caught off guard, it can have severe consequences.
Obviously, choosing an attorney to represent you in divorce is a major decision that should not be taken lightly. You are placing your future into their hands, so it is crucial that you find someone you are confident can handle that responsibility.
There are no guarantees — particularly when it comes to family law — but the choice of your lawyer can make a big difference, so it is worth the effort to find someone you trust.
Mat Camp is a former Lexicon Services Online Editor, who focused on providing a comprehensive look into all aspects of the divorce experience. On MensDivorce.com, he concentrated on issues, such as parenting time, custodial rights, mediation, the division of assets, and so much more.
Mr. Camp used the wealth of experience of Cordell & Cordell attorneys to bring tangible answers to reader questions in Ask a Lawyer articles, as well as offer a step by step process through the divorce experience with Cordell & Cordell Co-Founder and Principal Partner Joseph E. Cordell in Divorce 101: A Guide for Men.
Mr. Camp used thorough research to highlight the challenging reality that those who go through divorce or child custody issues face. He helped foster the continued success of the Men’s Divorce Survival Guide, the Men’s Divorce Podcast, and the Men’s Divorce YouTube series “Attorney Bites.”