When considering a separation or divorce, it’s common to schedule a consultation with a divorce attorney to learn how they can help you through the process. Whether doing so secretly or with your spouse’s knowledge, you’re likely feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and confused. You may also have a litany of questions, and worry you’ll forget an important topic. Preparing for the appointment can alleviate stress, maximize your time with the lawyer, and ensure you cover every issue.
Here are seven tips to help you prep for your divorce lawyer consultation.
Conduct Preliminary Research
Prior to the meeting, conduct preliminary research on both the attorney and the general divorce process. When hiring a divorce lawyer, many consult several attorneys to compare costs, education, and best fit. Perform a simple online search beforehand. Read client reviews, and check that they’re in good standing with county, state, and federal bar associations. This query should also return any commendations they’ve received. Martindale-Hubbell Attorney Peer Review Ratings is a great resource for ratings and reviews.
Outline a list of questions to ask the lawyer regarding their expertise and practice, including:
- How long have you practiced divorce law?
- Do you have experience with specific issues involved in my case?
- Have you previously handled cases in the court that my divorce hearing will take place?
- What are the attorney’s fees and additional costs? How are they billed?
- How do you communicate with clients to let them know what is going on with their case?
- Is your approach more court-focused or do you recommend reaching an agreement when possible?
For more information on how to choose your representation, check out our blog “Factors to Consider When Choosing a Divorce Lawyer.”
Review an Outline of a Typical Consultation
Understanding what will happen during the initial meeting can help put you at ease. The attorney will provide an overview of the divorce process, child custody, division of assets and liability, support, and attorney fees and costs. He or she will ask questions and devise a game plan on how to proceed. This process will help you determine whether or not they’re a good fit for you and your goals.
Gather Personal Documents
Whether or not you’re asked to bring the following documents, it’s best to have them on hand. These include:
- Pre-nuptial or Post-nuptial Agreements
- Marriage Certificate
- Names, Addresses & Phone Numbers
- Places of Employment
- Social Security Numbers
- Bank, Retirement, Stock & Bond Account Statements
- List of Monthly Bills
- Deeds & Titles to Marital & Separate Property
- List of Valuable Personal Property
- Personal & Business Tax Returns
- Pay Stubs
- Insurance Information
- Wills or Trust Documents
For a full list of necessary financial documentation, check out the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts Checklist.
Prepare a List of Questions
In addition to queries about the lawyer’s expertise, you’ll want to prepare a list of questions regarding the marital home, child custody, support—alimony and child—process, and more.
Common questions include:
- How does the court typically rule on cases like mine?
- Should I move out of the family home or have my spouse do so?
- What temporary orders make sense in my case?
- What is the difference between legal and physical custody, and which makes sense for my case?
- How much can I expect to receive/pay in spousal support?
- How much can I expect to receive/pay in child support?
- Will I need to hire a forensic accountant?
- Can I seek attorney’s fees against my spouse, or will I have to pay my spouse’s attorney fees?
- How long will my divorce take?
- What is the typical divorce process like?
For a comprehensive list of questions on every subject, review Farzad Ochoa Family Law Attorneys, LLP’s article.
Consider Resolution Issues & Options
Discuss the best strategy for your divorce. Learn about the various options you have: litigation, negotiation, collaboration, or mediation. Litigation involves “submitting issues to family court in order to resolve them,” according to Divorce Mag. Negotiation typically entails coming to a resolution without the assistance of a professional, while mediation attempts to resolve issues with the guidance of a trained mediator. In a collaborative divorce, negotiations include the spouses and their individual attorneys.
Divorce lawyer-turned-mediator Bryana Turner talks the difference between litigation and mediation here.
While deciding on the type of divorce you want, it’s important to understand the major issues demanding resolution. Considering property division, child custody, child support, and alimony can help you determine the right method of divorce.
Know What You Want Out of the Divorce
What do you want out of the divorce? Although it typically involves compromise, you should enter the process with goals. Think about the assets that matter most to you. This can range from real estate properties to bank accounts to physical assets such as cars or boats, to businesses. Perhaps you’re interested in keeping the family home, so you’ll give up retirement or investment accounts as a trade-off. Or, you want the boat, so you’ll barter the possibility of alimony. In addition to assets, it’s important to contemplate what you want out of the custody agreement, including the type of custody and holiday schedule. You can also establish requirements for how the children will be raised, and the future parenting plan.
Think About Cost
Before you meet with a lawyer, set a budget. Determine the amount you’re able to spend on representation, and compare costs. You may want to ask the attorney how much the divorce will cost, how you can control this, and what steps your ex may take to affect this. Keep in mind that if your spouse is abusive, he or she may manipulate the process to drive up your costs.
DivorceForce can help you find a divorce legal expert in your area to answer all of your questions and help you prepare for the divorce process. Check out our DivorceForcePRO resource to search for a divorce legal professional such as an attorney, mediator, or collaborator in your area today!
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.