How to Prepare for a Divorce Attorney Consultation
If you’ve landed on our website, you are most likely considering a divorce, or at least a separation.
You probably have many questions, and may be feeling anxious, confused and overwhelmed.
If you are thinking about consulting with an attorney, below are some things you may want to consider, as well as some practical steps to help you maximize your time during that first meeting.
CHOOSING A DIVORCE ATTORNEY
Before hiring someone to represent you in a divorce proceeding, you may wish to meet with several different attorneys in order to compare costs or to get a feel for which one best fits your needs and goals.
Best Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney:
- How long have you practiced divorce or family law? Do you practice in other areas as well, or do you focus solely on family law? Do you have experience with the specific type of issues/facts involved in my case? Have you handled cases in the particular court where my divorce or custody/support hearing will take place?
- What are your attorney’s fees/other costs, and how are they billed? Are there ways to reduce the costs involved in my case?
- What is your approach or philosophy toward handling a client’s case? Do you lean toward being more court-focused or do you recommend reaching an agreement where possible?
- How do you typically communicate with clients to let them know what is happening with their case? How can I best communicate with you if I have questions or need to share information?
- What can I do if I am unsatisfied or unhappy with the way my case is going, or with some other aspect of our attorney-client relationship?
How to Research a Divorce Lawyer’s Reputation:
- What have former clients said about the attorney? Often you can find online reviews or commentary from former clients by doing a simple online search.
- Is the attorney in good standing with the state bar? An online search using the Virginia State Bar Association website at https://www.vsb.org/site/main/public-resources can give you not only an attorney’s current contact information, but also tell you whether he or she is in good standing or has ever been disciplined by the state bar.
- Is the attorney involved in the local legal community such as county bar associations?
- Has the attorney received favorable recognition among his or her peers? Chris Macturk of Evolution Divorce, for example, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) , a designation reserved for expert practitioners in matrimonial law. In addition, Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are a widely recognized source of peer reviews that you can use to evaluate an attorney before hiring him or her.
Can My Spouse and I Use the Same Lawyer?
No – two spouses cannot use the same lawyer.
If either spouse wants a lawyer, he or she needs to hire his or her own attorney.
However, if the parties have come to an agreement on the terms of their divorce, one attorney can work with one of the parties to draft an agreement reflecting those terms, and then present the written agreement to the other unrepresented party for their review and consideration. The attorney who drafted the agreement for his or her client cannot give the other, unrepresented spouse any legal advice or answer any of their questions about the documents offered other than to recommend if they have such questions they should get their own attorney.
A Note About Confidentiality
A question that clients frequently ask is, can I bring someone with me when I meet with my attorney for emotional support?
The answer to this is yes, but with a caveat.
Ordinarily, any matter that you discuss with a lawyer is subject to the attorney-client privilege, which means that your attorney cannot share that information with anyone else without your explicit permission.
Your lawyer cannot even be compelled by a judge to share any privileged information that you share with him or her.
However, this attorney-client privilege does not extend to third parties, including anyone you may bring with you to a consultation.
A third party who is privy to confidential attorney-client communication may be asked under oath (in a deposition, for example) what the client and attorney discussed and will have to answer.
Therefore, it is generally in your best interest to meet with your lawyer individually, just to be safe, in order to protect the confidentiality of what is discussed.
You can certainly bring someone along with you for support, but it would be best for them to wait in the lobby while you and your lawyer discuss the details of your case.
CHECKLIST: WHAT TO BRING TO YOUR DIVORCE LAWYER CONSULTATION
Certain information/documents will be useful to have when discussing your case.
If you have any prior orders entered in your case or prior agreements signed by you and your spouse, bringing those is often very helpful during our first discussion.
Also, if your spouse or his attorney has sent you a proposed agreement for your signature, please bring the proposed agreement with you.
If you have been “served” with court papers – especially those that may reflect a court date and time – please bring all papers served on you to our first meeting.
Some other items to consider bringing are listed below. Do not let this list overwhelm you more than you already may be – as none of these items is essential to your first meeting with an attorney. However, you may consider starting to gather them for when you have actually hired the attorney. The following items/information, covering the most recent two to three years, could be of use:
- Bank account statements
- 401(k), IRA or other retirement account statements, including account balances and account numbers
- Stock, bond or other investment account statements, including account balances and account numbers
- Statements relating to any debts you may have such as mortgages, credit card accounts, student loans, and other debts
- List of all monthly bills paid by you and your spouse
- Deeds/title documents relating to any property (real estate, vehicles) you own
- With respect to personal property, a list of all valuable personal property, any appraisals of the property, and a video and/or photo of each room in your home documenting the contents
- Documentation of money or property received by inheritance or gift
- Personal and/or business tax returns
- W-2s or 1099s
- Pay stubs
- Relevant business documents or professional licenses
- Copies of health insurance or health savings account (HSA) policies and account information
- Copies of life insurance, disability, or other employer-provided benefits
- Pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements you and your spouse have signed
- Wills and/or trust documents–you may wish to consider amending these before separating
- Marriage certificate
- Any other documents you feel may be important or relevant to your financial situation or about which you have questions
WHAT TO DISCUSS
During an initial consultation with Evolution Divorce, you should be prepared to discuss the events that led you to our office, including the reasons underlying your consideration of divorce.
As noted above, everything you tell your attorney will be held in the strictest confidence.
We will also be happy to answer any preliminary questions you may have about the divorce process in general or your case specifically.
Your Own Conduct
Some clients wonder whether they should share with their lawyer information about their own conduct that may, even in part, have caused the breakdown of the marriage, such as having an affair.
Complete honesty with your attorney is always the best policy and will make for the most effective representation.
It is to your benefit to share any and all such information with us so that we can anticipate the issues that will arise as your case proceeds.
And, because of the attorney-client privilege, we cannot share what you tell us with your spouse or their attorney.
Possible Alternatives to a Formal Divorce Proceeding
At our first meeting, we can also discuss possible alternatives to a formal divorce proceeding, such as mediation or collaborative law.
Assuming both spouses are willing, these methods can significantly reduce both the amount of time and the cost involved in finalizing your divorce.
Finally, in most cases we will be able to discuss with you at the end of our first meeting the cost involved for us to handle your case.
Shortly after our consultation, we will send you a proposed Pre-Agreed Pricing Agreement by email that will set forth the tasks we anticipate handling in your case, as well as prices for every stage of our representation.
See our earlier blog post, Why Evolution Divorce , for more detailed information on our Pre-Agreed Pricing.