Getting Divorced? Get Prepared
How Being Organized Can Save You A Bundle
Starting the divorce process is often fraught with anxiety, uncertainty, and great emotional stress. Lawyers are used to dealing with people who are anxious as they move through a difficult transition. They agree, however, that your frame of mind and how well-prepared you are for meetings can have a large impact on how efficiently your lawyer can work on your case.
The more willing to compromise you are, the more you will help your lawyer work toward a resolution that is fair and realistic. The more prepared, forthcoming and honest you are, the more likely your lawyer will be able to resolve issues quickly. Being able to act efficiently will also save you on legal expenses, reduce the time you spend with your attorney and lessen the stress.
Alan Toback, a managing partner of Lake & Toback, one of the largest matrimonial and family law firms in Illinois, describes the ideal client as organized, truthful, willing to listen to my advice and take it, and willing to work together with me to achieve their goals.
Divorce360 asked legal experts for their suggestions on what clients can do to get the most out of their meetings with family law attorneys. Among the other tips offered by legal experts:
1. Don’t use your attorney as a therapist.
During your first meeting, your lawyer will want to know why you intend to divorce.Using your visit as a wake-up-call for your spouse is not in your best interest. The lawyer is there to help you end your marriage and resolve the legal issues. California family lawyer Patricia Combs says, I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t want to be one. If a client is unsure about whether or not she wants a divorce, she needs to make the decision before coming to see me. Using me as a sounding board on her marriage is not the best use of my time or her money.”
2. Know what questions you want answered.
If you’ve prepared well for this initial meeting, you have made a detailed list of questions you want to ask,” adds
C. Sean Stephens, family lawyer and author of the OregonDivorceBlog. I encourage each client to use our first meeting to tell me about his case and to learn about the divorce process, its time commitment, and its costs.I also have an opportunity to lay out the options and the potential consequences of each decision. The client can then take the paperwork home and reflect.”
3. Ask about how expenses are calculated.
A lawyer can rarely tell you exactly how much your divorce will cost. Your attorney, however, should be prepared to explain how he or she works, his or her billing and collection policies, how he or she expects to charge the legal fees (for example, whether the lawyer charges an hourly rate or a flat fee, whether he or she requires a retainer before commencing work, and at what intervals he or she will render bills), the nature of the out-of-pocket expenses that the lawyer charges in addition to fees, their likely aggregate cost and when they are invoiced.You should feel free to ask and expect your attorney to answer, any other questions you may have about the divorce process and its cost.
4. Gather information and documents.
Although your lawyer will likely, either at or before the first meeting, provide you with a checklist of information that he or she will need in order to represent you effectively, you can expedite the process by gathering and bringing with you to the first meeting as much information about you, your spouse and your children as you can. Early in the divorce process, your lawyer will need at least the following:
- Your names, home and work addresses and phone numbers; your places and dates of birth, ages of children (if any), Social Security numbers, mental and physical health information, and immigration papers or Green Card (if applicable.)
- The relevant facts about your marriage: the place, the date, whether either of you had been married before, details of any previous divorces, and information on whether you signed a prenuptial agreement.If you have children, be prepared to tell your lawyer your position on issues that involve them, such as custody and access, as well as whether you and your spouse have discussed these matters and where the discussions stand.
- Information about any criminal record of either partner and/or whether there has been abuse in the marriage and if so, whether it was reported to the police or whether you can prove that it occurred. This information will allow your lawyer to frame your case to your benefit, as well as seek any orders of protection that you or your children may require.
- The assets and debts each partner brought to the marriage and documentation of income and expenses. It is wise to bring recent tax returns to your initial meeting as well as investment, employment, credit card, and mortgage and real estate information.
- Information about any pending lawsuits, bankruptcy proceedings or judgments against either party.
5. Give them contact information.
Be sure the attorney knows the easiest way to get in touch with you. If your lawyer needs to spend time tracking you down, you will be wasting your own money.Mr. Stephens points out, At the end of the initial meeting, you should have told your lawyer everything that impacts your case, the good, the bad, the ugly.”
6. Do your own legwork.
Many lawyers will provide tools to help you gather information. If you do the work your lawyer has requested, the less work your lawyer will have to do for you. Additionally, while some lawyers practice in large firms with much assistance, some practice alone or with only limited assistance. Ask your attorney if you can do things such as photocopying, filing court documents, or delivering documents to the other attorney to save money. While some lawyers do not allow this practice, they agree that is reasonable to ask. If your lawyer is charging you by the hour and not simply a flat fee, you will be billed for the time that the lawyer spends on your case.
7. Aggregate your questions.
Most lawyers bill in units of four, six, 10 or 15minutes. This billing method means that you will be charged for some minimum amount of time even if the actual time that you and your attorney interact is less.Thus it is best, if at all possible, to aggregate questions and ask several in one call rather than calling your lawyer every time you think of something you want to tell him or her. That approach allows the attorney to work more efficiently and saves you legal fees.
Being an ideal client is in your own best interest. If you are well prepared and work with your attorney, focus on solving problems as they arise, are realistic about what you can achieve and pay your bills on time, your lawyer will do his utmost to get you the best possible outcome.