The first meeting with a divorce lawyer is extremely important. This is your opportunity to assess the lawyer’s competence and experience. This is also an opportunity for you to establish certain expectations throughout the divorce process including communications with the lawyer by phone and email, fees and costs, and overall case strategy. Lawyers get paid for their time, so it is important that you come prepared for the meeting. The following guidance can help you get the most out of your first meeting with your divorce lawyer.
1. PREPARE A WRITTEN SUMMARY
You can save a lot of time by writing down basic information that your lawyer will need. This includes you and your spouse’s full name, address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, and email address. Identify your children’s full name, dates of birth, and social security numbers. List you and your spouse’s employers, occupations, and annual income. Identify whether you or your spouse have children from a prior marriage. Identify the date of your marriage and the date that you or your spouse moved out of the marital home.
2. IDENTIFY ANY RELATED MATTERS
All divorce cases are different. You must make sure prior to the meeting that your attorney is aware of all matters that will need to be addressed in the divorce. These matters include child custody, child support, spousal support and Alimony Pendente Lite (APL), and division of marital property. During your first meeting, your divorce lawyer will be prepared to explain to you the legal process for each of those matters and what you can expect in terms of procedure and timing. You should leave the meeting with a good understanding of how the process will play out under different scenarios. For example, if you and your spouse cannot agree on physical custody of the minor children, the lawyer should have talked to you about the formal process for resolving child custody disputes.
3. IDENTIFY YOUR PRIMARY AND SECONDARY GOALS
It can be tremendously useful to your divorce lawyer if you have taken the time to contemplate your situation and to realize what your goals are for your divorce. What are your priorities as you progress through the divorce process? For some people, resolving what to do with the marital home is the most important issue to resolve. For others, child custody takes precedence. Having a concrete grasp of what you hope to accomplish is useful to your divorce lawyer. Your lawyer can provide you with a straightforward and realistic evaluation of your goals and your likelihood of success for each one. Perhaps your lawyer will even help you prioritize your goals.
4. WRITE DOWN A LIST OF QUESTIONS FOR YOUR DIVORCE LAWYER
You can take steps to reduce your divorce-related stress by preparing a list of questions in advance of your first meeting with a divorce lawyer. Don’t be afraid to ask your questions, even if you think they seem silly. Many people going through the divorce process in Pennsylvania are completely unfamiliar with the legal system. Take advantage of your divorce lawyer’s expertise and experiences. Some of the more common questions asked of divorce lawyers include those regarding child custody, the marital home, and alimony. While you shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions, be aware that your divorce lawyer may not have precise answers for you at this point. It can be very difficult to predict with total accuracy how any given divorce will play out, including the time and cost involved. Often, these factors depend on the parties themselves, what issues are contested, and how willing each party is to compromise.
5. GATHER RELEVANT DOCUMENTS FOR YOUR DIVORCE LAWYER
You can help facilitate the divorce process considerably if you are able to gather and bring relevant documents with you to your first meeting. The relevant documentation will depend on the various legal matters that pertain to your situation.
- Child Support: If child support is going to be asserted by you or your spouse, you will want to bring with you the most recent pay-stubs for you and your spouse, year-end W2 statements, and the latest tax returns. You should also bring a list of the children’s extracurricular activities and the costs for those activities, list of medical expenses for the children, amounts for tuition or day care expenses, and health insurance premiums.
- Division of Marital Property: To equitably divide the marital property, your lawyer will need a list of assets, how those assets are owned (individually or jointly), values of those assets on the date of the marriage, value of the assets when they were acquired if they were acquired during the marriage, and current values of the assets. Assets include the home, rental properties, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, cars, personal property, etc. Remember that even if your name is not specifically listed on an account, Pennsylvania law makes clear that most property obtained during the course of the marriage is considered marital property, which is subject to equitable distribution by the court. If you are unable to locate this information, your divorce lawyer will be able to obtain it through legal discovery during the divorce process.
- Debts and Liabilities: In addition to the marital assets, you should also bring documentation of the debts and liabilities for you and your spouse. This will include mortgages, credit cards, student loans, business loans, etc.
- Spousal Support and APL: The amount of spousal support or APL is based on the incomes of the parties. You should bring the most recent pay-stubs, year-end W-2 information, and the latest tax returns. Income includes income from all sources, not just a primary occupation.
- Child Custody: Child custody will depend on numerous factors, but it may be helpful to document you and your spouse’s work schedules, expectations for holidays and birthdays, and any other relevant information.
- Other legal documents: You should also bring copies of the divorce complaint if one has been filed, prenuptial agreement, custody agreement, or any other agreements or Court Orders that relate to the parties involved.
THE MARTIN LAW FIRM, P.C. – PENNSYLVANIA DIVORCE LAW FIRM
Many divorce lawyers offer a free case evaluation or consultation. These consultations are typically short and rarely do they include advice or guidance pertaining to your specific situation. These consultations are often used to determine if your situation is within the lawyer’s expertise. Sometimes, lawyers will give you general information during these consultations that may be helpful to you; however, as with all legal matters, a lawyer can only provide specific advice and guidance after the lawyer has spent time with you discussing your case and reviewing the relevant documents.
The Martin Law Firm, P.C. has provided legal representation to men and women in divorce and related matters for over 20 years. In addition to a free case evaluation, we offer an in-person meeting at our office for a fixed fee. This meeting serves many useful purposes. For one, it gives our prospective client’s an opportunity to evaluate us before making the decision to hire us. Second, men and women are sometimes just looking for information as they contemplate divorce. This meeting is educational and will help you better understand your situation from a legal perspective. Third, this meeting is protected by attorney-client privilege, meaning all discussions are confidential. Fourth, upon conclusion of the meeting, you have no obligation to hire us. We simply want to help you. Contact us today at 215-646-3980 for a free case evaluation or to schedule an in-person meeting at our office in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.