Preparing yourself for a life changing event such as a marriage dissolution is always difficult. As with most emotionally and intellectually difficult matters, proper preparation and effective communication are critical components of achieving a successful outcome. Conceptually, it is probably best to discuss in categories the types of information you should gather in preparation for an initial meeting with your family law attorney. I. DOCUMENTS
Often times in marriage dissolution cases, we have what might be called a battle of the documents. You want documents to paint a picture of your case for your attorney. Helpful documents include the following:
- Past 3 year State and Federal tax returns with W2s, 1099s, and all schedules.
- Past 3 months of paycheck stubs.
- Current statements from all checking and savings accounts.
- Current statements for all investments and retirement accounts.
- Current statements for all credit card accounts.
- Deeds and mortgages, if any, on all pieces real property owned by you or your spouse.
- Titles to cars, boats, trailers, snow mobiles, and other titled property; and pictures of these items.
- Copies of all life insurance policies and annuity contracts.
- All appraisals prepared on homes, guns, jewelry, coins, stamps, artwork, and similar items of value; and pictures of these items.
- Police reports of any altercations between family members.
- Medical records and reports of any family members’ treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
- Social media posts that can enlighten your attorney on family members’ attitudes, beliefs, values, and important case facts.
Except in rare cases involving forgery, documents usually presents the most accurate, unimpeachable evidence in your case.
II. PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE
Be prepared during your first attorney-client interview to discuss your family, including the strengths and weaknesses of each person. The value system and special desires of each person can also be important. Part of getting a “yes” answer from both sides in a marriage dissolution is understanding what each party needs or wants. Cases are resolved when both parties can say “yes”. To some people, extra time with the kids, possession of an old family lake cabin, lower or higher child support and maintenance desires hold the keys to reaching a settlement. When you’re not sure if you should share something with your attorney, always err on the side of full disclosure. Finally, remember there exists an attorney-client privilege protecting virtually all communications between you and your attorney from disclosure.
III. FIRST MEETING QUESTIONS
Prepare a list of questions you want your attorney to address during your first interview. Good attorneys will expect to be asked “How many dissolution cases have you handled?”, “How much will this cost?”, “What is your hourly rate?”, “How long will this dissolution take to complete?”, “Will I be eligible for or have to pay maintenance?”, “If my income is X and my spouse’s is approximately Y, what can I expect to pay or receive in child support?”, “What can I do if my spouse is self-employed and receives a lot of their income in cash?” “I hear that the court looks at the ‘best interest’ of the children when determining what child custody labels to apply and parenting time to order. What does that mean? What evidence do you need from me?”, “How does a court decide financial matters?”, “Who gets the homestead?” “Who pays the credit card debt and how are retirement assets divided?”
This short article is not intended to be fully comprehensive on preparing for your initial consultation. Your particular situation may involve unique factors. However, the suggestions in this article should will assist you in building a strong attorney-client relationship and the most effective handling of your case. .
This article is not a substitute for legal advice in the context of a specific case. Caldecott & Forro, P.L.C provides free initial consultations to clients and potential clients on a variety of family law matters.