For those of you who have been fortunate enough not to have met with an attorney regarding a legal issue, congratulations – you are one of the very few. However, it is more likely that during your lifetime, and maybe several times during your lifetime, you will need the guidance of an attorney to get you through a tough time.  I joke often that it is rare that someone comes to visit me and is happy about it – in fact, I think I have only had one such case.  Oftentimes the most frightening thing is the unknown.  So, in an effort to help prepare a potential client for his or her visit with an attorney, and shed some insight on some of the issues that might be discussed, this is the first blog post in a series that will list those things that a potential client needs to be prepared for when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

The first installment in the “How to Prepare for A Consultation” series is in the instance that a person is meeting with an attorney, for the first time, regarding obtaining a divorce, and all of the other issues that may accompany that cause of action.  At the outset, it is important to recognize that if someone is meeting with a family law attorney regarding a divorce matter, they are likely in one of the darkest times of their life and need someone to help guide them through the process.  Going through a divorce, particularly if they have children, is heart-wrenching.  Although an attorney cannot take this heartache away, an experienced attorney should be able to tell the potential client what to expect, deftly explain his or her legal options, and attempt to minimize the unpleasantness of the process as much as she can.

With that in mind, here is a list of things to consider when preparing for a first meeting with a family law attorney regarding a divorce:

  1. Questions that will need to be answered:
    1. Name and birthday of the prospective client’s spouse. In fact, even before setting up an appointment, it is likely that the receptionist or attorney will need this information to ensure that there are no conflicts in representing the prospective client in this action.
    2. Date of marriage.
    3. Place of marriage.
    4. Last place that the person and his or her spouse lived as husband and wife. If they are still living together, generally, the first step in getting a divorce is living separate and apart.  Depending on whether they have children, and other like issues, they will need to remain living separate and apart for a specific period of time.
    5. Date the prospective client and their spouse last lived together as husband and wife.
    6. Why are they seeking a divorce?
    7. Does the prospective client have children with the spouse from which they are seeking a divorce? If so, each of the children’s dates of birth.
    8. Do they have a community property home (one purchased while they were married)? If so, who will be living in this home?
    9. Does the prospective client have a reasonable fear that his or her spouse may abuse them or harass them during this process?
    10. Does the prospective client have a reasonable fear that his or her spouse may spend community money or hide assets?
  2. Things the prospective client needs to bring with them to their consultation.
    1. Their driver’s license.
    2. Any consultation fee charged by the attorney.
    3. Any documents specifically requested by the attorney.
    4. If he or she has already filed for divorce and this attorney is taking over that case, bring ALL documents related to this action. This can include pleadings, notes, letters, emails, and forms they have already filled out.
    5. Any documents (paycheck stubs, income tax returns, bank records) which will show the prospective client’s income and the income of his or her spouse. This information is vital in determining things like child support and spousal support.
  • Things the prospective client will need to think about before arriving. Although it isn’t necessary to have definite answers to some of these questions at their first meeting with an attorney, they will want to have given some thought to each of these questions.
    1. The type of child custody plan he or she would like. Everyone and every situation is different.  The attorney can tell you the types of custody arrangements, but it is important for the prospective client to go into this meeting knowing what he or she would like to achieve regarding child custody.
    2. Will the prospective client and their spouse be able to come to an agreement regarding some of these issues before they have to attend a hearing? The prospective client knows his or her situation and their spouse better than anyone.  Will this divorce be amicable or hotly contested?
    3. A list of the assets that the prospective client and their spouse purchased while they were married. The attorney can help with this list by providing the prospective client with some questionnaires that may jog his or her memory regarding assets he or she might not have thought of.
    4. A list of the debts that the prospective client and his or her spouse incurred while married. Same as above.
    5. For the first meeting, keep in mind all of those things that make the prospective client’s situation different. There may be issues regarding substance abuse, physical or verbal abuse, special needs children, or any other multitude of issues.  The prospective client should make sure to point these things out to the attorney he or she is meeting with.

There are many more questions to be answered and issues to be discussed in that first meeting with a family law attorney, but an experienced attorney will guide the conversation to make sure that all of these questions are answered and discussed.  Meeting with a family law attorney is not something to fear.  Should this attorney take your case they should be the client’s most trusted ally.