So, you’ve decided to schedule a free divorce consultation and you’re wondering what questions to ask a divorce lawyer so you’re better prepared.
That’s a huge, frightening first step. Your first action towards making separation concrete. The sooner you meet, the better things can turn out in your favor as your divorce goes on.
One of the most important things to remember when meeting with a lawyer your first time is going in prepared. A consultation without preparation of questions to ask a divorce lawyer runs the risk of becoming a sales pitch, or you leave without any information — a waste of your time!
Your situation is unique, but here are some questions that you can have prepped to ask your lawyer beforehand. They’ll give you a better idea of your case and how reliable your chosen lawyer may be.
How Often Will We Communicate / When Will You Be Able to Communicate?
This is one of the most important things to have answered. You are navigating one of the toughest journeys a person can be saddled with. You will have a LOT of questions and unique situations that will occur.
You want to be sure that you are able to get questions handled by your lawyer in a prompt manner.
This is about putting your mind at ease, so you should be in touch with your lawyer at LEAST once a month — preferably, closer to once a week depending on both of your schedules.
Will I Have Access to My File?
Your case file will be the centerpiece of your divorce proceedings. At the end of the day, it belongs to YOU. Your lawyer should be able to give you a copy of your file within a reasonable period of time. If, for some reason, your attorney is hesitant to hand over a copy of your file, or wants to keep parts of it away from you, be wary.
Will You Provide References?
The answer to this question is Yes. A lawyer should have no trouble providing you with several references to his or her former clients. If they cannot, they have either had no success representing people in the past or they do not have enough experience in the field. Either way, it’s a bad sign.
Note that it is completely acceptable for the attorney to ask you to wait while he contacts his former clients. While many people agree to be “consistent” references and provide their contact information to anyone who’s interested. Not every office will have these types of references. Your law office may need to have someone reach out for reference approval first.
Who Will Work on My Case?
We cannot stress this enough. This is very important to get the answer to. Will the person you’re having a consultation with be handling your case? Or, are they only there to pitch the office’s services to you?
If they won’t be the one working on your case, is it because they have another lawyer on staff who specializes in divorce law? Or, will they be offloading a lot of work to administration staff or a paralegal? If it’s the latter, be hesitant. You are paying the price of a lawyer to have a lawyer work for you.
(About) How Much Is Divorce Cost-wise?
We’ll tell you this now: you won’t get an exact number. That’s perfectly fine. However, your lawyer should be comfortable giving you a rough estimate, or, more accurately, estimates.
Divorces can be handled amicably or spiral into long, brutal fights that require court appearances. During a free divorce consultation, an attorney should be able to explain the ways costs can add up when divorces go a certain way. You don’t want to be blindsided by a huge check if your divorce begins to spiral.
This is also a good time to ask HOW you’ll be charged. Will it be on retainer or hourly? If it is hourly and you’re just working with the staff, will it be the same hourly price? What about other costs that could occur? Additionally, what is the billing policy if hourly — will you be charged for 5 minutes or half an hour?
If money is a concern for you, you can request a budget cap so your costs don’t end up spiraling out of control.
What Is the Process for a Divorce?
A lawyer with experience should be able to devise a couple of scenarios showing different ways the process could pan out. Your attorney should be able to explain the standard process and rough time frame for a divorce case, what they’ll take care of, and what you’ll need to do.
Just like the cost, the process of divorce is not set in stone. However, you will want to leave with a rough idea of how long it could take.
What Documents Do You Need?
Law is mostly paperwork, so you’ll want to know what information and documentation to start digging up. There isn’t much extra to say about this one.
What If My Spouse Wants to Make Things Difficult?
This is an absolute worst-case scenario. Unfortunately, divorces happen where one spouse simply doesn’t want to give a single inch. They want the divorce to be a war, no matter what. They are not in it to win, they’re in it to cause as much pain and trouble as possible. In cases like this, it can feel like your divorce will go on for years.
What Are My Options?
There are different ways a divorce can pan out. There’s traditional filing, of course, but there are other ways as well. These include uncontested divorce, collaborative divorce, or mediation before traditional filing.
Your case is your own, and based on the information you give your lawyer, they should be able to explain your options. Based on your case, they should also be able to explain why (or why not) these options are applicable to your specific case.
Do You Prefer Going to Court?
We can’t tell you what the answer is, but this may be a good question to ask your lawyer. It can help you get a feel for your lawyer and his opinion on how to handle issues. You’ll want to be mindful of someone who seems eager for war. It might feel good to have someone aggressive in your court, but conflict is always more expensive, more damaging (emotionally and otherwise), and can cause you to lose in the long run.
What’s a Reasonable Child Custody Agreement?
Uncertain, but it can be comforting to have a professional opinion. After all, that’s why we go to experts for cases like this.
The thought of losing custody can be terrifying, so it’s good to hear what the most reasonable case is, as well as what the best and, God-forbid, worst case is.
Your lawyer can also provide advice on what not to do. Many people end up with terrible custody deals because they made foolish decisions during the divorce. An attorney can advise on things to avoid and inform you of the common mistakes people make that cost them custody.
What Counts as Assets?
You can bring a list of the big things that come to mind, like your house, your car, retirement funds, bank accounts, etc. Be prepared for more questions from your lawyer as you discuss the most reasonable way to split up these assets.
Are There Concessions We Should Give?
You can’t win everything in a divorce. There may be things you need to surrender so you can gain what is truly important to you. Trying to “win” every fight will only prolong the divorce, add to your attorney’s bill, and possibly leave you with less than if you had simply sought out a mutual agreement.
What About My Pets?
Of course, your kids and their custody will come up, but it is also important to bring up whether you or your ex-spouse is keeping the family dog or cat. Many people are not ready to give up the family pet when they split up, and pet custody agreements do exist. Your lawyer should be in YOUR corner, and if he’s scoffing at the fact that you want to keep your pet, it’s a bad sign. You love your pet, and he should be willing to find a way for you to see them.
This list of questions to ask a divorce lawyer isn’t exhaustive. If there are any issues that have been concerning you, add them to the list of questions to ask a divorce lawyer. Remember, they’re not only there to handle your case, they’re also there to help you navigate this painful and complex process.