So, you have made an appointment with an attorney to discuss your divorce case. What should you know and what should you bring to make the consultation productive? First, expect that your consultation will be by telephone or maybe a video call. Due to COVID restrictions, almost every attorney does not offer in-office consultations. Keeping staff safe is an important consideration for every employer. In fact most of what you will be doing with your attorney will be through phone and electronic means. You should even expect that your Court hearings will be by video or phone.
If you are meeting with a family law/divorce attorney, you will want to have a certain amount of information to give to the attorney even for the initial consultation. Don’t just say “What should I know?” because there are thousands of things to know and that question will not give you what you need—which is answers to help you know what to expect in your case.
The first consultation can help you understand what you are facing and how the attorney can help you—or not help you—through what likely be an ordeal. You should expect to leave the consultation with a better sense of control and understanding of the major issues in a divorce—like the division of the marital property (the house—who gets it, will it be sold? How will the cars be divided?) and the debts (credit cards, loans—who pays what.)
You should leave the consultation with an understanding of spousal support, how much and for how long and what is the likelihood it will be awarded. You should have a better understanding of parenting time (custody) and how a Judge would likely rule in your case. You want an honest analysis of your case. Anything less, is disrespectful of you as the Client and means your future security is not important enough to deserve honesty. You should leave the consultation knowing that “knowledge is power” and your attorney will help you gain that knowledge and use it wisely.
All of the issues in a divorce, can be better addressed if you bring with you some general information. Specifics are not required for the first consultation, but the more general information you have, the more likely you are to get realistic answers. You don’t need to bring actual documents, you can just write some of the information down and refer to it when needed. Most often, I will address the following with my Clients at an initial consultation.
How much do you believe your house is worth and how much do you owe? The answer will help the attorney to determine options for the home in conjunction with other information. A Zillow/ Realtor.com/ Trulia, etc. type number and most recent mortgage statement will provide a general idea of the equity in the home. If you have a recent appraisal or comparative market analysis, you will want to have those handy. If you don’t know the mortgage amount, try to find it or wrack your brain for memories of what you paid and how long ago and what you might have overheard about the monthly mortgage.
Know your income (yearly or monthly) and all sources of income. You must also have an idea of the other Parties’ income and sources of income if the attorney is going to determine the likelihood of spousal maintenance. This is the most heavily litigated issue, so you will want an early analysis. In the end, it is likely that your immediate financial future will be most affected by this one issue.
Know the amount of debt (not exact—just ballpark figures) and what kind of debtyou have in the marriage. Do you have student loans, credit cards, any pre-marital debt? Make a list so you can tell the attorney. This will help the attorney recognize what the likely outcome will be and who may end up paying what debt. So, know the amounts and the kind of debt you have. You will end up paying some amount of debt in the end and whatever that amount is, may significantly affect your financial well-being.
Retirement plans (401(k), IRA, Thrift Savings Plan, military retirement, pensions—know the ballpark value and the name of the plan. These can be important sources of funds if one of you needs to buy the other out of the house. Very often Clients don’t really understand their pensions, and that is alright since most attorneys do know how the pensions will be divided.
Investment accounts (mutual funds, etc.), RVs, vacation homes, boats, vacant land—know the ballpark values of all of these. They are additional sources of funds that could significantly affect your options.
Are there special issues like inheritances? If there are, be ready to explain when you got the inheritance and what has happened with it since. Protecting an inheritance may be possible and the attorney will need the information to determine the likelihood of protection.
Most important for couples with minor Children is what are your thoughts on what you want for a parenting plan and custody? What are the other Parties’ thoughts? What type of allegations could be involved in your custody battle? Has there been domestic violence? Custody cases are often not at all what a Parent believes they are going to be.
With a discussion of the issues in your specific case, you can get a better idea of whether the goals you have for yourself can be achieved. Ask yourself, Where do you want to end up when the litigation is over. To understand the answer that is right for you, you need to know what is even possible to achieve. Remember, if you don’t know where you are going, how will you ever get there?