Your initial consultation with a divorce attorney is your opportunity to get the information you need to make the right choices moving forward. In this episode, your host and guide, Attorney Leigh Sellers, provides you with the tips you need to get the most out of that first meeting.
Key insights from the episode:
1:35 – Questions you should be asking
1:54 – Preparing to answer the attorney’s questions
3:56 – Should you bring someone with you to the consultation?
6:28 – Important information to have for the attorney
7:57 – Why you should think twice before recording your consultation
8:42 – The dangers of bringing your phone into a consultation
9:20 – Questions to ask when scheduling your consultation
The insights and views presented in “Welcome to Splitsville” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey through divorce, contact Leigh Sellers and her team (NC/SC) at http://www.TouchstoneFamilyLaw.com[spp-transcript]
Hello there. Going through a divorce? Considering one? Sorry to hear that, but here you are. Welcome to Splitsville. You’ll find Splitsville to be a pretty unique place. A new world really, with its own rules, its own expectations and in many ways, its own language. But don’t worry, you have a knowledgeable guide along the way, a family law attorney with three decades of experience under her belt.
And now, here she is. Your host and guide, Leigh Sellers.
Hi everyone, and thanks for tuning into another episode of Welcome to Splitsville. I’m your host and guide, Leigh Sellers, founder of Touchstone Family Law. And, in this episode, I’ll be answering another question that many newcomers to Splitsville have, “How do I prepare to meet my attorney?” So let’s dive in.
So you’ve, you’ve taken the first step and you’ve done the right thing and you’ve made an appointment with an attorney and you know when it is and you, you know what it’s going to be and you’ve got to go. So how do you prepare? How do you make sure that you get the most out of that meeting? Most consultations are going to run an hour, some might run less and there are some attorneys who will say that they want to do them for two hours or let them go as long as you let them go, as long as the meter is running. So you want to make sure that, you know before the consultation exactly how long you should expect it to last and what you’re going to pay. So before you go, make sure that you take an inventory and think through the questions that you have.
Go ahead and write them down. Make a list. What are your questions? Because you want to make sure that they’re answered to the best of the attorney’s ability within the time constraints before you leave. The other thing is you want to make sure that you can answer questions, so go ahead and take the time to think about, and have written down somewhere how much you and your spouse make. What are your work schedules? If there’re children involved, how old are your children? Where do they go to school? Do they have any special needs or special considerations that need to be discussed? What is your estate? What do you have? So what do you own? What do owe? How is it titled? When did you get it? Did you have it before you got married? Did you get it after you got married? Where is it now? Who has it? What’s the value of these things?
So go ahead and be prepared to talk about the issues that you have in your marriage. So if you have children, you need to be prepared to ask all the questions that you have about the children’s issues, custody, child support, how are they taken care of? If you know that your spouse is not employed or you’re not employed and they’re employed, then you know that you’re going to have questions about are you going to continue to get any money to help you pay your expenses when you separate? So be prepared to talk about, in a rough fashion, what are your expenses? What are your needs? How much does it take to run your household in some manner or fashion, and what are the incomes of the person who is helping pay the bills?
If you have property, you need to know what property you have. So take the time to actually think through those things and have a list and prioritize what’s the most important thing for you to get out of that meeting? What are the most important issues? What are the things that you could live without knowing right away, or you would go for a second consultation to discuss?
The next thing you need to do is prepare for the meeting itself is are you going to come alone? Are you going to bring somebody? I always recommend, and this again seems like one of those things that would be clear to people, but it’s often not, don’t bring your children to a consultation for a couple of reasons. They can depending on their age, be quite distracting, but if they’re old enough to sit still, they’re going to know that they were in an attorney’s office and that might not be the best thing to be involving them at that level in something that’s personal.
Even if they sit out in the lobby, they’re going to know they’re at an attorney’s office and they may be able to tell from looking at the books in the room or the way the house is decorated, that they’re at a divorce attorney’s office. So don’t bring your children. Find a place for them to stay. Even if that law firm says that they have childcare available, you may need to think that, that may be better childcare for people once the attorney has been retained, if that’s something that’s absolutely necessary, but find a friend.
The other thing is whether or not you bring a friend or a family member that’s up to you. If it’s a real emotional situation and you don’t feel that you are going to be able to listen well or take in all the information or ask all the questions and you really feel like you need that emotional support, then you can bring them. I don’t see that it’s usually helpful to have a team, you don’t usually need three or four support people for a consultation and you don’t want that many people involved.
The danger of having people in your consultation is that their questions start getting answered instead of yours. People can take over, especially parents, can take over the consultation. And I know I personally don’t meet with the people that come with my client until after I’ve had the potential client. I don’t meet with the other people until I’ve at least had a few moments with the consultation to explain the attorney-client privilege and the fact that if they’re bringing other people into the room, they may be waving it. As well as the danger that the consultation could get taken out of their hands if the other person starts asking too many questions and to make sure that they’re going to be honest and answer the questions I ask if they have a parent in the room and I asked them something unexpected that they aren’t really willing to share with their parent in the room.
So I never let the other guests into the consultation right away. And it’s not always a bad idea to bring somebody, but you do have to think about in your situation whether or not it’s a wise decision. Make sure that if the lawyer has asked that you provide information prior to the consultation, make sure that you do it. Make sure that you arrive on time and make sure that if you’ve been served with any papers that you’ve informed them in advance. Make sure that you know when you’ve been served. It will often surprise me that somebody will come in with a lawsuit and I’ll say, “When did you get served with these papers?” And they have no idea. Because there are deadlines and times that we need to be aware of as attorneys to respond to things, it would be important to actually know that when somebody comes in, especially if they’ve waited awhile.
So make sure you have that basic information. Interestingly enough, sometimes people will come in to meet with me and they don’t know the address of their spouse. They’ve already separated, but they have no idea where they live. And believe it or not, that’s actually helpful information in a consultation, especially when you live on the border of two states. So kind of knowing where your soon-to-be ex landed is very helpful. So just make sure that you have communicated in advance about what you need to bring to a consultation or what information that you should consider before you come and be prepared to take notes.
I have a few rules about consultations that may be just mine, but I do not allow people to record the meeting. And if you think that you want to record it, you should ask the lawyer’s permission because that’s not something that everybody is going to be okay with you doing, and some are, but I don’t think that they need to be recorded for a variety of reasons.
Mostly because your phone may not be as secure you think it is and somebody else could listen to our entire consultation and it’s possible that you’re recording it could be considered a violation of the attorney-client privilege, or could waive it for you if they feel that you should have been aware that if you record it that somebody else might listen to the recording. So it’s a bad idea for you to do that.
I ask clients to turn their cell phones off and leave them in the car. And that’s because a lot of spouses can track your whereabouts by using your phone. And sometimes there has been spyware put on it or sometimes you just have Find My iPhone and if they’re calling and you’re not answering the phone and maybe they’re just concerned and they go look up and try to figure out where you are. Then suddenly they figure out where you are and they go, “wow, I wonder why they’re there?” And they determine that you’re at an attorney’s office that could create some problems for you. So I tell people to leave their car in the phone and have it turned off before they approach the building.
And you want to make sure if there’s any kind of rules like that before you go, that you understand them and that you adhere to them. And this seems silly, but make sure you know how payments supposed to be made. Do they take credit cards? Do they not? Do they take personal checks? Do they not? If you come to pay in cash, do you need exact change or can they make change for you? Those things will just make you be a lot less stressed when you have the meeting. And also you should ask if there’s going to be other people who are in the meeting. Does this attorney typically bring in a staff member or someone else into the consultation?
And if the attorney asks you if somebody can join, maybe there’s a law clerk or an intern or somebody who is being educated on what it’s like to be a lawyer. They may ask if they can join the consultation. Feel free to say no. If you don’t want other people in the room during your meeting, you just need to tell the attorney and ask them why that person needs to be there and tell them if it’s not. The idea for the consultation is to make sure that you leave with information that you didn’t have when you came in for sure, but it’s also to make sure that you got the information you needed to get. Every consultation is as unique as the people who we meet with and so you want to keep it from just being a monologue or a speech by the attorney that you’re meeting with.
You want to make sure that you actively participate in the conversation and that you ask questions and if they say something that you don’t understand, ask them then. And remember that it’s an overwhelming time and this consultation is an opportunity to get information. It’s not going to be sufficient to answer every question that you are going to have through the course of your separation and divorce. Sometimes the consultations are very early and people just need basic information to understand the whole idea of divorce and separation and they haven’t even made the decision whether or not this is what they want. They’re just thinking, “Gosh, what? I don’t know if I can make this happen, but what’s going to happen if I do walk?” So it can be very early in the process in the sense that there’s no process.
Sometimes people have been served with papers are put on notice that they are being taken to court and there’s a whole different dynamic for those sorts of consultations. So be sure that in any of your scenarios that you’re getting what you need out of that particular meeting and understand that a follow-up consultation or additional meetings are going to be necessary as you move through the process, as you refine your goals, as your situation shifts and changes and just be open to the fact that you can’t get everything you need from one meeting and that it’s probably going to take more time.
And lastly, if you’ve been doing a lot of online research, be very careful. There’re some really great resources and then there’re some resources that I wouldn’t recommend to people. So if you think you understand something from doing online research, confirm it during your consultation in rather than assuming that you know it makes sure that you ask that question and say, “I’ve read such and such. Can you confirm that, that’s accurate?” And give them a chance to elaborate or explain. I have the most common misperception I have people come in is they’ll say, “It’s true, isn’t it? That a child can choose where they’re going to live when they’re 12 years old, right?”
Well, it’s not right, but it’s become some sort of myth that’s been perpetuated out there and it’s a question I answer a good bit, and I’m always grateful that they asked that because if they just in their mind thought that their child could pick where they were going to live at 12, they may have never asked me any questions about custody because they just assumed their 12-year-old was going to choose to live with them and that was going to be the end of the story. So anytime you think you know something when you’re in the consultation, it’s a good time to see if they agree with what has been authored that you’ve read.
But the main thing to remember is that the consultation is yours and you want to make it what it needs to be for you. And the more time and thought that you put into it before you go, the more you’re going to get out of it. Just like most everything in life. And we always look forward to meeting with clients. And I’ve really never had any two consultations be exactly alike. your attorney should be very happy to hear from you and hear what your situation is and understand that you are a unique person and that your situation will be unique. Every time somebody tells me, “I guess you’ve heard this before,” I have to remind them, “No, I haven’t because I haven’t met you before. And so I haven’t heard what your situation is.” You should understand that you are unique and that’s how your consultation should be handled as well.
So there you have it, another neighborhood of Splitsville explored. There’s still so much to learn here, so I hope you’ll tune into the next episode. While Splitsville is not a fun place to be, thankfully it is full of helpful people, valuable resources and sound advice, if you know where to look. See you next time.
The insights and presented in Welcome to Splitsville are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Nor does tuning into this podcast constitute an attorney/client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey, contact Leigh Sellers and her team at touchstonefamilylaw.com.[/spp-transcript]