There’s no easy way to go through a divorce. Whether you and your partner amicably agree that you’ve fallen out of love, you’re just not compatible, or you’re coming from a high-stress and highly contentious situation involving cheating, addiction, or abuse, you’re going to experience a roller coaster of emotions that can make it difficult to keep a clear head.
You may feel isolated and without support, but you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. The right family law attorney can provide the guidance, advocacy, and representation you need to ensure that your best interests are upheld throughout this difficult process. How do you find a suitable lawyer? The best way is to schedule lawyer consultations.
What Is a Lawyer Consultation?
An initial consultation is your first meeting with a lawyer. This is your chance to discuss your situation and determine whether this professional is a good fit. Some lawyers offer free consultations, while others charge a fee, so you’ll want to make sure you know what’s expected prior to scheduling your meeting.
Often, this meeting is conducted in person, although it can also be done by phone or video chat for the sake of convenience. It’s always best to consult with multiple lawyers and ask a range of questions to ensure that you find someone who meets your needs and preferences.
Why Consultation Is So Important
When you’re coping with the challenges of divorce, you need someone to look out for your best interests, and it’s essential that you find the right professional guidance and support. The right lawyer weighs the merits of your case, considers your goals, and provides you with an honest assessment of what you can realistically hope to accomplish.
You’ll want an attorney with values that align with yours. Maybe you’re interested in keeping things amicable for the sake of your children. Perhaps you need a more aggressive approach because you suspect your spouse is hiding things from you. A consultation will tell you a lot about the person you’re considering working with.
What Happens During a Lawyer Consultation?
The consultation process is relatively straightforward, and you can generally expect a similar chain of events to occur in any one of them. First, you’ll have to explain your situation and discuss your goals for potential outcomes.
Your lawyer can then talk to you about possible strategies and what to expect during the process. You’ll discuss fees for service, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions.
Most consultations last about one to two hours, and there may or may not be a fee involved for this meeting. At the end of the appointment, you can decide whether you think working together is a good idea.
Covering the Basics
The first thing you’ll do during a consultation is tell the attorney why you’re there. Naturally, you’ll need legal advice and representation during your divorce, but before any lawyer can decide how to help you, they’ll need to understand the details of your situation.
Is your split relatively amicable or highly contentious? Are you dealing with a fairly simple division of assets involving bank accounts and a shared home, or are there complications like trusts, retirement accounts, multiple properties, and other assets? Are there children involved? You’ll also have to discuss what you hope to accomplish and how you prefer to proceed.
Discussing Your Goals
One thing you should try to be clear about from the beginning is what you hope to accomplish by the time your divorce is finalized. You might have ideas about how you want assets like a house, cars, and money to be divided.
If children are involved, child custody is probably at the forefront of your mind, whether you’re hoping to get sole custody or you think joint custody is best for your kids.
If your spouse earns more than you or you are the primary caregiver for children, you may need spousal or child support. However, it’s not only about money. Your goals might include taking steps that ensure your relationship with your partner remains amicable throughout the divorce and afterward.
Perhaps you are interested in the possibility of addressing the cause of your divorce, whether it’s infidelity, addiction, or abuse. Your lawyer needs to know what outcome you expect before deciding to take your case.
Considering Potential Courses of Action
There are a few different ways your divorce could go. In some cases of amicable divorce, where couples are able to reach an easy agreement, they may need only minimal legal assistance, or they might be able to complete the process on their own.
For couples struggling to come to an agreement, mediation may be in order. Then there are cases where even mediation isn’t enough, and the dispute will end up in a courtroom, where a judge makes the final ruling. If this is your situation, you’ll want an experienced lawyer to advise you, advocate for your best interests, and represent you in court.
Discussions of Fees
Depending on your case, you may be offered two different types of fee structures. If your divorce is uncontested and relatively straightforward, requiring little more than filing paperwork and drafting an agreement for the division of assets, your lawyer might ask for a flat fee to cover the specified services.
For divorces that are likely to require significantly more man hours and diverse services, such as a contested divorce or a dispute over child custody, you will probably have to pay an hourly fee, which can get expensive. Often, this includes an upfront retainer, which is a lump sum intended to cover initial costs, from filing paperwork to starting to build your case.
Determining Whether You and Your Attorney Are a Good Fit
While you’re probably focused on selecting an attorney who can help you reach your goals, you should know that the selection process is mutual. In other words, attorneys and law firms also decide which clients they want to represent.
This may have to do with whether they feel confident they can help you, whether you can pay their fees, and even whether they think you might be difficult to work with, among other factors.
By asking and answering questions, you can assess attorneys to decide who is suited to represent you. Try to be calm and direct, and remember that they also decide whether they want to take on your case.
Tips to Prepare for Consultations
Preparing for the consultation process can help you find the right attorney to represent you in your divorce and ultimately achieve the favorable outcome you’re hoping for.
Shop Around for Suitable Attorneys
A search for divorce attorneys will likely turn up more candidates than you can reasonably consult with, so you’ll need to narrow your search. Depending on your case, you might want to consider factors like firms vs. private practices, expertise with cases like yours, and costs.
Referrals can sometimes be helpful, but even if you have family or friends who have gone through divorces, their situations and goals could be very different than yours. A great place to start is with a public resource that offers listings for professional services so you can compare options before scheduling consultations with the most appealing candidates.
Weigh Free vs. Fee Consultations
When you start looking into consultations, you’ll find that some lawyers offer an initial consultation for free, while others charge a fee for the meeting. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily.
Free consultations are typically designed to bring in new business, so they may be offered by attorneys or firms that don’t have a lot of experience. This isn’t always the case, though, so don’t dismiss them out of hand.
When you pay a fee for a consultation, you might receive a more in-depth review of your case, as well as guidance on potential strategies to help you meet your goals. If you just need help with court filings, you may not want to pay multiple fees for consultations, but if you’re dealing with a complex case, meeting with experienced attorneys and paying their consultation fees could be worth it.
Get Your Ducks in a Row
Whether you go to mediation or court, you’ll be required to provide all kinds of information about your marriage and assets. You won’t need all of this paperwork during your initial consultation, but an attorney might ask to see relevant documents like a prenuptial agreement, prior judgments, and copies of any filings or court orders that pertain to your case.
Consider Your Goals
When you’re dealing with the heightened emotions following a decision to divorce, you might not have a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish by the end. In order to ensure productive consultations, you may want to meet with a divorce and life coach first to talk about the potential outcomes of your divorce, not only in terms of assets and child custody but your mental and emotional health as well. From there, you can talk about steps to reach your goals.
Compile a List of Questions
There are things you need to know if you want to choose the right lawyer for your needs and preferences. You’ll want to ask about experience with cases like yours and success helping clients achieve favorable outcomes.
You should also understand their style. Ask if they recommend mediation or court, how many of their cases go to court and how many are settled out of court, and whether they tend to pursue negotiation or more aggressive strategies.
You should also determine availability, should you have questions or concerns, and whether you’ll be working directly with the lawyer or if the case will be handled primarily by associates or other legal professionals.
Find the Resources You Need in One Place
Finding the lawyer best suited to your needs and preferences might not be easy, but it’s worth the effort to ensure that your best interests are represented. The right resources can help you expedite your search, saving time and money.
With DivorcePlus, you’ll find everything you need in one place, including helpful articles, a community forum where you can ask questions, and a directory of lawyers and other professionals you might want to consult with.