How to Get the Most Out of Your Divorce/Custody Consult
If you are having a divorce or custody consult, generally your situation has already started to deteriorate. While people consult divorce attorneys at different times (just trying to learn about your rights, wanting to separate and start the process, or the process has already started and you need representation), chances are talking about the situation is going to be at least somewhat upsetting. On top of that, a good attorney is going to provide you with as much information as possible in a short period of time. The combination of stress and an abundance of information can be overwhelming. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that you get (and retain) the most out of your divorce/custody consult:
- Remember that your consult is confidential. Even though you have not retained the attorney at the time of the consult, anything you tell them is confidential. Once you meet with a firm (any member of the firm), that firm cannot meet with your spouse so there is no risk that information you tell an attorney at a consult is later discovered by your spouse. You can be confident that your information is safe, so share information during the consult freely.
- Fill out any paperwork you are sent before your consult and return it prior to your consult. Most firms will send you forms to gather your/your spouse’s information. A majority of firms will also send you a questionnaire to get basic information about your circumstances. You may think that you will go over all of this in the consult, and you likely will, but if you fill out the paperwork beforehand chances are the attorney will look at it prior to your consult which will allow you to spend more time getting information than giving it.
- Make a note of any special circumstances that may affect your case and make the attorney aware of them at the beginning of your meeting. For example, if your in-laws helped build your home and in exchange their names are on the deed to the house, or if you have a child with special needs who may require care/support past 18. Special circumstances can change the entire outcome of your case and how it needs to be approached. Remember, the attorney you meet with is giving you information based on what you told them, so you want to make sure the attorney has the pertinent information so they can give you the best advice.
- Prepare an outline of your assets. This does not have to be a detailed list of every single asset and its exact value, but it is extremely helpful for the attorney to have an idea of what type of assets there are and an approximate amount. You’ll want to note incomes, retirement, stocks, business assets, vehicles, bank accounts, etc. Having an outline of what you have will allow you to quickly convey that information to the attorney and then they can discuss how the courts will handle the assets you have.
- Have a written list of questions ready. All the time in consults attorneys hear “I know I had more questions, I just can’t think of them right now.” While most attorneys will go through an overview of the law and how it may apply to your case, you want to make sure that all your specific questions are answered before you leave the consult. Preparing a written list is the best way to ensure that happens.
- Ask about fees and costs. Almost all attorneys will discuss fees, retainer amounts, and billing rates with you at some point during your consult. If they do not, don’t be afraid to ask! Attorneys’ hourly rates vary based on location and experience. You will have to sign a retainer agreement that will contain all the requisite information if you choose to hire that attorney, but it is helpful to have that information upfront so you can ask questions during the consult itself. That being said, we cannot tell you how much your divorce will cost. While there are factors that can make a divorce cost more (such as large amounts of assets, if custody is an issue, or if there is a business), a large factor in divorce costs is the parties themselves. In cases where both spouses are motivated to settle and are reasonable, costs can be kept down as much as possible. If one spouse refuses to negotiate or has unrealistic demands, then the costs are going to be much higher. I always tell potential clients your divorce is going to cost as much as you and your spouse want it to, so there’s no way for me to give you an estimate.
Although consulting with an attorney for a divorce or custody case can be stressful, following the above steps will help you get the most out of your consult.
At Weinberg & Schwartz, our attorneys practice exclusively family law. If you find yourself in need of representation for a divorce or custody matter, please call 410-997-0203 and we will be happy to set up a consult with one of our attorneys to discuss your rights and how to best accomplish your goals.