I have my first meeting with a divorce attorney - what can I expect?
This guide will help you understand what the process will be for your first meeting with a divorce attorney.
Are you sure?Most divorce attorneys will ask you if you are really sure about getting divorced. This is because we want to make sure you are making the best decision for yourself. If there is a possibility of reconciliation or if counseling will assist you and your spouse to save your marriage, we should consider it. Also, one of the legal requirements for filing divorce in Florida is for the marriage to be "irretrievably broken". If it isn't broken, we should try to fix it.
Are there fees?Some attorneys charge a fee for the initial consultation or assessment and some do not. I charge a reasonable fee for the initial assessment. First, I will be providing valuable advice about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, the other party's case, and insights as to how a judge may view your case. Second, I will be assessing your case and creating a strategic plan of how to accomplish your goals. Finally, you will begin to make the investment in your own case.
At the end of your first meeting, the attorney will discuss costs of representation and options. For example, I utilize alternative fee structures as some attorneys do. This provides clients with options on representation and payment for fees. My fee structures include the standard hourly rate with a retainer payment, a reduced flat fee for a limited amount of time (usually from the beginning of the case through mediation), and a flat monthly rate. While not all attorneys utilize alternative fee structures, you should consider how you will pay for the attorney's fees.
Should I bring documents?Even though this is an initial meeting, you should consider bringing some paperwork with you. The following is a list of documents that may help you or the attorney understand your situation better:
1. The most recent 3 months of bank statements (for all accounts - checking, savings, money markets, etc.)
2. The most recent 3 months of each credit card statement
3. The most recent 3 months of your paystubs
4. The most recent 3 months of your spouse's paystubs
5. The most recent 401 k statement or other similar retirement or pension account
6. The most recent 2 years of tax returns
7. A list of your household expenses, including cable bills, health insurance, daycare, gas, car payments
8. A list of your assets/things you own and any supporting documents you may have (for example - deed to your home, title to the car, jewelry appraisals).
9. Any agreements you and your spouse have come to or made previously (such as a prenuptial agreement)
10. Copies of any health insurance card you may have
11. Your driver's license or other valid identification
12. Any court papers regarding you, your spouse, or your children
What are we going to talk about?Every attorney is different, however, most attorneys will want to know some basic information about your situation. This information could include the date and place of your marriage, whether you have children, and a discussion regarding your finances. Having the list of documents above will also help you become familiar with how much you spend on gas per month and where the electric bill payment comes from.
The attorney should also discuss the process of a divorce case for your state. In Florida, parties to a divorce are required to attend a mediation. Mediation is where a neutral third party works with you and your spouse to see if any agreement, either partial or full, can be reached. If so, the parties will sign the agreement. If not, the parties will continue through the courts and schedule a final hearing. In most divorce cases, there are 2 ways to finalize a divorce - either the parties agree and resolve their issues, either at mediation or settlement, or a judge will decide. Understanding what you are willing to compromise on and what is important to you in the case will assist the attorney in determining a plan for your case.
Do I have to hire this attorney?No! It is important to realize that you need to find an attorney that you are going to be comfortable with and that you trust to handle the case. You will spend a significant amount of time and money with your attorney and it is important that you feel comfortable sharing intimate details of your marriage, your finances, and your life with the attorney.
If you have questions or concerns, you should voice them to the attorney. How long can you expect the case to last? What concerns do they have about your case? Who in the attorney's office will be handling your case? Ask your questions at the initial meeting.
Consider seeking a second opinion. If you are unsure about hiring an attorney, you should seek a second opinion. However, attorneys are wary of clients who have met with eight attorneys. You should be able to have a good idea of the process and how your case will be handled after meeting with two or three attorneys. You should be able to consider the costs of the attorneys, their office staff, and the attorneys' demeanors after the initial meeting.