Your First Meeting With A Divorce Attorney
For most people, the first step in getting divorced is finding the right lawyer. This article gives you some tips on what to expect during your first meeting.
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Attorneys Should Make Their Clients Feel Comfortable
Many, though not all, divorcing clients experience a variety of emotions when their marriage ends, such as fear, anger, hurt, anxiety or even depression. They may have to endure constant conflict at home; they may be losing sleep or have deep concerns about how their children will handle the news of the impending divorce.
As a result of the emotions surrounding a breakup, divorce clients are not generally at their best. Attorneys need to keep this in mind as they approach the first client meeting.
Lawyers should try to make their divorce clients as comfortable as possible, which may require the following:
- compassion – attorneys are not therapists, but they should be sensitive to their client’s emotional states
- clear and careful explanations of things - don't just rattle off complex legal theories, statutes and caselaw
- avoid excessive legal jargon - it may be a challenge for some clients to understand
- handouts - divorce clients may have a hard time concentrating or remembering everything a lawyer says; it’s helpful to provide handouts of what was discussed during the meeting, which clients can read later.
Clients Should Make Sure Their Attorneys are Competent
If you’re going through a divorce and working with an attorney, make sure the attorney you’ve chosen to speak with is experienced and competent. Before you meet with the attorney, look for reviews online and check to see if there are any cases of professional misconduct against the attorney – these are usually listed on the state bar association’s website.
Also, look to see how many years they’ve practiced family law. Make sure his or her experience matches your needs. Are you in a complicated, international custody battle? Then make sure the attorney has been practicing custody for several years. Are you the spouse of a wildly-successful venture capital investor? Then make sure your attorney has the know-how to handle the complicated financial analysis that is sure to be a major part of your case.
You should find an attorney with whom you can carry on a good working relationship. After all, you may be spending alot of time together. Plus, you’re going to be making life-changing decisions in your divorce, so you want an attorney that can explain your rights, responsibilities and options in a clear manner.
If you’re worried about forgetting everything your attorney says, it may be a good idea to ask for recap emails summarizing your meetings. However, this can become expensive (remember, attorneys charge for their time). If that’s not practical, take notes during meetings so you’ll remember any tasks you’ve been asked to complete and remember what the next steps are.
What Should Happen at the First meeting?
This will depend on what’s happening in the divorce case. In some cases, divorce papers have already been filed, while in other cases, the spouses have already talked about divorce and pledged to use a collaborative divorce process, rather than all out “litigation” (meaning fighting it out in court). Finally, some clients are facing an emergency - their spouse may be draining bank accounts in anticipation of the divorce, or they may be the victim of domestic violence and need immediate protection from a court. The client's circumstances will dictate what is discussed and what actions are taken as a result of the first meeting.
Typically though, a client comes in with general questions about an impending or recently-filed divorce, and most lawyers will review the various divorce processes that are available (collaborative law, mediation and litigation) and describe the steps for each.
In addition, an attorney should ask a lot of questions. It’s important to try to get to know the client as a person and learn as much as possible about the client’s spouse and children (if any). An attorney should try to gain a good understanding of the psychological and financial situation this client is in in order to make any necessary referrals to psychotherapists, divorce coaches, estate attorneys and/or financial planners for specialized advice.
Many divorce attorneys work closely with other professionals to make sure all of their clients’ divorce-related questions are answered appropriately. Remember, an attorney is not and cannot act as a tax advisor or a psychologist, for example, so it’s essential that divorcing spouse's hire the right professionals and keep their attorneys informed.
Review relevant divorce-related issues
It's impossible to predict exactly what will "happen" in a divorce, but it’s best to address all the major issues that may come up, such as
- custody of any minor children
- child support
- alimony – whether it should be paid and if so, how much and for how long, and
- division of property and debts.
At the end of the first meeting, clients, generally leave with homework which includes learning as much as possible about the couple’s finances, in terms of assets, liabilities and ongoing expenses. In many marriages, only one spouse is in charge of the finances. However, before a divorce can be resolved, both spouses need to have a complete understanding of the couple's incomes, assets and debts. If you can provide a lot of detail about your finances at the first meeting with your new lawyer, that meeting will be much more productive.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
Yes. Sometimes, spouses aren’t completely sure that they want a divorce, but want to know what they can expect if they go forward. All attorney-client communications are protected, and a client’s right to privacy is absolute, so divorce clients shouldn’t have to worry about their spouses finding out.
It’s important that clients leave their first attorney meeting feeling they’ve been heard and understood, and that their lawyer is tuned in to their specific needs. They should also view their lawyer as someone who is experienced, competent and accessible - someone who can guide them through the stressful time ahead.