Be Prepared for that first call: Questions a potential Family Law attorney should ask.
Are You Looking to Hire an Attorney for Your Divorce? Ten Questions A Potential Divorce Attorney Shouldl Ask You and Why
– by Melinda J. Markvan
- Where do you and your spouse live?
In the Internet Age, potential clients from all over the world google attorneys. It’s important to know that an attorney must be licensed to practice law in the state where your complaint lies. If you want to file for divorce inMassachusetts, you must seek a lawyer who is licensed in theCommonwealthofMassachusettsto represent you.
Once you’ve contacted an attorney inMassachusettsabout your case, the attorney will first evaluate what county inMassachusettshas jurisdiction to hear your case. This is important because each Probate & Family Court inMassachusettshas its own set of judges, clerks and administrative procedures. It can be beneficial to find an attorney who is familiar with the Court where your case will be heard.
- How long have you been married?
Generally, divorce attorneys and judges classify marriages by length. A short-term marriage is usually under 10 years. A mid-length marriage is 10-20 years. And, long-term marriages have surpassed the 20-year mark. There are statutes and case law that address alimony and division of assets that may apply to your case based simply on the number of months of your marriage.
- Are you still living together?
Separation, or “the break up," is not always the first step to dissolving your marriage. Sometimes clients continue to live together past the date of divorce. However, the emotional tension between spouses is usually so high that they need to separate as soon as possible. An attorney can advise you on how to protect yourself during the separation.
- How old are your children?
The Court will always decide what is in the best interests of the children in determining child support and custody. There are co-parenting guidelines that are recommended for custodial arrangements of children at various developmental stages. For example, a joint custody arrangement for a 2-month-old baby who is nursing may not be in that child’s best interest, whereas joint custody of a 10-year-old child may be beneficial to the child. Each case is fact specific, so talk to an attorney about what parenting plan is best for your child.
- What do you and your spouse do for work?
Your gross income and your spouse’s gross income will determine the amount of child support and/or alimony in your case. If you and your spouse are W-2 employees, then it is easier to calculate your current gross incomes. However, if you or your spouse are self-employed or receive income from other sources, then there will be other ways to determine your current gross incomes. An experienced family law attorney will know the different formulas to use to calculate current gross incomes in all types of situations.
- Do you and your spouse own any property?
Each spouse is required to disclose all assets, income, expenses and liabilities on his or her Financial Statement within 45 days of serving the Complaint. So, it’s important to do an inventory of all real estate, vehicles, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and businesses at the beginning of your case. Once the Summons & Complaint for Divorce are served, there will be an automatic restraining order on all assets that prevents a spouse from transferring assets outside the ordinary course absent agreement from the opposing party or an order from the Court to do so.
Massachusettscase law does not make a distinction between marital property and pre-marital property, but includes all property in which each party has an interest in the “marital estate" and may be subject to division at the time of entering the divorce judgment. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 208, section 34 lists the relevant factors the Court will use in determining a division of assets. Talk to your attorney about any concerns you may have about protecting your assets.
- Have you or your spouse filed for divorce?
Divorce can be a complex process, but it doesn’t have to take a long time. Often, the tone that is set at the beginning of the case will determine the level of conflict throughout the case. It is important to discuss the strategy of your case when consulting with you attorney.
- Who is your spouse’s attorney?
Understanding the competence and reputation of your spouse’s attorney is as important as knowing your own attorney. Most Family Law attorneys know of each other because the Probate & Family Courts are small. It is possible that your attorney has handled cases with your spouse’s attorney in the past and may know what approach he or she will take in your case.
- Are there any Court orders in place?
If you and your spouse have already been to Court, then it is important for your new attorney to get up to speed on your case as soon as possible. If you do not have copies of all of the court documents on your case, your new attorney will need to request the file from your former attorney or go to the court to make copies of the court’s file.
- What do you want the final outcome to be?
Some attorneys ask clients to send them a “wish list." If you could waive a “magic wand," how would your case turn out? It’s up to your attorney to advise you on achieving that desired result.