A brief or informal initial divorce consultation with an attorney is no replacement for a quality face to face and in depth discussion of your case. Though the former may be less expensive, it is the ultimate false economy. This is important. Let me explain why.
What is a divorce case analysis?
Your initial consultation with an attorney may be the most important event of the entire process of dissolving your marriage. The initial consultation is:
- Where you should organize, list, and discuss all of the relevant facts of your case;
- Where you should discuss the likely realistic outcomes of your case;
- Where you should discuss the general divorce process, or how you get from the beginning to the end of the process; and
- Where you discuss cost.
There really is a lot to talk about during the initial divorce consultation. If time permits, you should also discuss your personal priorities in the case. Some examples could include: a desire to relocate, questions about grandparent rights, a desire to retain the marital home, or even being awarded a loving pet.
You may also discuss the manner in which you want to proceed. As an example, do you want to initially proceed with a settlement type of posture, requesting mediation early on or preparing a proposed settlement agreement? Or do you begin more aggressively and methodically by proceeding in a contested fashion? There are also questions about whether you want to consider a collaborative divorce style of proceeding (see the collaborative divorce section).
Lastly, the initial consultation is where you can discuss the tasks that will be expected of you, the client, and the tasks which you can expect your attorney to complete in order to obtain the best outcome.
The more you know and understand at the beginning of the divorce process, the more likely you are to achieve a good outcome as quickly and inexpensively as possible, meaning less money spent, less aggravation, less stress, and less time wasted.
Also, divorcing couples typically have better post-divorce relationships when the divorce process goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible. The best way to achieve this goal is to understand early on what your relevant facts and circumstances really are, not just your emotional feelings and beliefs.
Any thorough initial consultation should, at a minimum, discuss the five general areas that are potentially involved in a divorce action (only three areas if no minor children are involved). These general areas are:
- Time sharing with minor children;
- Equitable distribution (meaning the division of assets and liabilities);
- Child support; and
- Attorney fees and court costs.
The initial consultation is also the best time for you, the client, to determine if the lawyer you are interviewing is the right fit for you and your particular case. Does the lawyer have sufficient experience and the correct type of experience needed for your particular case? Do they specialize in family law? Do they appear knowledgeable? Does the lawyer think and talk logically and intelligently? Do the two of you communicate well or bond appropriately? Does the attorney understand you and understand the type of help that you need? Can you afford the type of legal services being offered? These are just a few of the questions you should ask yourself either during or immediately after the initial consultation.
A big part of the initial consultation is determining what kinds of experience and expertise the attorney really has, because family law is one of the few areas of law that incorporates many other professional disciplines. Dealing with people’s personal and financial lives is much more complex then prosecuting a simple mortgage foreclosure action. A fully experienced divorce attorney needs to have expertise in the areas of accounting, taxes, real estate, small business operations, bankruptcy, debt collection, appeals, and potentially other areas. Which additional areas of expertise will be needed depends upon the facts of your particular case.
For most people, a divorce is a huge business transaction, more important than buying a house or a car. You need a lawyer and a law firm that do not service clients like a fast food restaurant, but one that can, during the initial consultation, tell you where you stand and what you should expect.
The importance of understanding the facts of a case as early as possible often becomes evident after attending a meditation or settlement conference which frequently occurs several months into the divorce process. We have experienced this phenomenon over and over again:
At the mediation we often see the opposing party look shell-shocked at the conclusion of a successful session. Often they find themselves accepting a settlement offer that mirrors what was offered early on in the process. That is when we can tell that, if that shell-shocked spouse had sat down with their attorney and done a thorough analysis of their case early on, they may have avoided significant stress, inconvenience and expense. They could have settled that same case much earlier and much easier.