Meeting with a divorce lawyer for the first time can be a stressful experience. You might not know what your future will look like or even whether you want a divorce.
But while divorce is rarely a happy occasion, meeting with your attorney doesn’t need to be unpleasant. Your first meeting with a divorce lawyer is an opportunity to get all your questions answered and to provide you with a better idea of your possible paths forward. Your lawyer should be able to provide you with what you need to make an informed decision. Below are a few questions you may want to ask your divorce lawyer at your first appointment.
What are my legal options?
Just because you’re consulting with a divorce lawyer doesn’t mean that divorce is the only potential outcome of your case. Your lawyer will review the options available — including a trial separation, a legal separation, and divorce, and explain the similarities and differences between each of these paths forward.
When and how will we communicate with each other?
Your divorce attorney will discuss with you the whens and hows of attorney-client communication. If you’d like regular updates on your case, you can ask your attorney if this is something they’ll provide; if you’d prefer to speak to your attorney only when there’s been a new development, this is also something that can be accommodated. Would you prefer to receive phone calls, texts, or emails? Setting the parameters of your communication up front can help avoid misunderstandings down the road.
What rates and fees do you charge?
Most divorce lawyers offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee (or no fee) — you’ll begin to pay only once you sign a retainer agreement. Your first meeting provides you the opportunity to ask your divorce lawyer what fees and rates they charge and negotiate the scope of the representation. Many lawyers will charge an initial retainer, similar to a deposit, and then charge their hourly fee against the retainer amount. If any portion of this retainer isn’t used by the end of the representation, it will be returned to the client.
What can I tell my spouse?
Once you’ve begun divorce proceedings, your communications with your spouse may (and should be) more constrained, even if you’re living in the same home. You’re not obligated to share with your spouse anything that you and your attorney discuss, and doing so could put you at a disadvantage if your spouse later passes this information on to their own attorney. A good divorce attorney will be able to lay out the topics you can still discuss freely, as well as topics it’s best to avoid.
What results can I expect?
Any attorney who promises you that you’ll achieve a specific outcome is one to avoid — it’s all but impossible to predict the outcome of any specific case. However, your attorney can lay out the various possibilities and indicate their opinion as to which outcome may be the most likely. Your attorney can also tell you what the law provides in your state and what outcomes have been reached in similar cases. For example, your attorney may look at your income, your spouse’s income, and your relative earning potential to get a better idea of how assets will be divided or whether you or your spouse may be obligated to pay alimony.
Should I move out of the house? Can I kick my spouse out?
Once divorce is on the table, spouses rarely want to continue to live under the same roof. However, the question of which spouse should move out is often a complicated one, particularly if both spouses’ incomes are needed to make the mortgage payment. If you and your spouse can’t agree on this issue, your divorce attorney can discuss with you the potential impact of moving out of the marital home or explore any grounds you may have for an order removing your spouse from the home.
Who will work on my case and make court appearances on my case?
Unless your appointment is with a solo practitioner, it’s possible that more than one attorney will work on your case — and you may also be represented in court by more than one attorney. This type of collaborative work can benefit you, as having more eyes on a file (and more perspectives to offer) can be valuable. But if you’d prefer to have a single attorney by your side at every court appearance, your first appointment is the best time to bring this up to ensure that it’s a viable option.
Can you provide me with some references?
Many people tend to assume that attorney-client confidentiality can prevent attorneys from providing prospective clients with other clients’ names as references. However, clients can — and often do —waive this confidentiality when it comes to providing references, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your attorney to provide a few. Ideally, the references your attorney provides are from people who are or were in situations similar to your own, who can give you detailed information on what steps the attorney took to achieve the desired resolution.
How can I keep the cost of my divorce as low as possible?
If both spouses are willing to remain civil and — most importantly — willing to walk away from a confrontation over insignificant issues, divorce doesn’t need to be expensive. Your attorney should be able to offer more tailored ways to keep the cost down, whether this means pursuing mediation or selling the marital home to make the division of assets easier.
You may also have some idea of what type of behavior to expect from your spouse, and your attorney can offer suggestions to help mitigate any potential misconduct. Because the answer to this question often turns on the unique facts of your case, this may be one of the last questions you ask at your first meeting with a divorce attorney.