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What to Expect From Your Initial Meeting with a Family Attorney?
For many people, this meeting is their first contact with an attorney and can occur during one of the most stressful times in a person’s life; divorce. Some clients come to the meeting ready to file divorce papers the day they meet with the attorney, while others have been served papers and are looking for guidance as to what to do next. Others may be considering divorce, or shopping around and interviewing with a few attorneys before making any decisions. Before walking in the door, you should already have had a discussion with the law firm when scheduling the appointment to know if you will be expected to pay for the consultation, and the rate/flat fee you will be charged.
As a potential client, even if you do not end up retaining the attorney, your discussions with the attorney are still protected under the attorney-client privilege. When meeting with the family law attorney, particularly during the initial consult, the attorney should be doing more listening than talking. For many attorneys, this is a difficult task. You should feel comfortable speaking with your attorney and begin to develop a good rapport as you are entrusting this person to guide you through what could be a very trying time. You should leave the meeting with an understanding of your options, the potential costs, and a timeframe for matters to take their course.
Fact Gathering- Questions you can expect during the consultation:
- Questions regarding the current residence of each party, date and location of the marriage, and the existence of any prior marriages for either party;
- The ages, names, and health of any children from the marriage;
- The income and work status of the parties involved. Also, bring copies of your recent tax returns and paystubs if they are available and continue to retain copies of relevant financial documents
in a safe place; and
- Any agreements currently in place between the married parties, such as pre-nuptial agreements.
After the fact gathering, the attorney will discuss with you the laws that apply to the particular issues you are facing, including grounds for filing a divorce, litigation framework and the timeframe to complete a divorce matter. No two clients present the same facts, and every matter is unique. Common issues to discuss are spousal support, child custody, division of assets (equitable distribution), and how the divorce process will play out. The client should be given reasonable estimates of what to expect on these issues once the fact gathering is completed.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Commonly, parties in a divorce matter choose to use either mediators or arbitration as alternatives to litigating in a courthouse. Your attorney should discuss these options with you as well.
What Happens Now
By the end of the meeting, your attorney should have gathered all relevant information he or she needs to answer any and all questions you have. It is a good idea to sit down prior to the initial consultation, collect your thoughts, and write out any questions you have for the attorney. Your attorney will also advise what additional documentation they require, and discuss what steps you wish to take next. The meeting should help ease the stress of the unknown by laying out expectations for the issues you are facing, and detailing which issues may be more challenging than others.