This article is sponsored by Shoun Bach
By: Molly Garrett
So you have finally made the decision to meet with an attorney to discuss issues within your marriage. Although we are attorneys, we are also humans, and we understand this alone can be a daunting first step and emotionally overwhelming. Knowing that, here are some pointers for preparing for your first meeting with an attorney, and what you can bring with you that would be helpful to the attorney.
First of all, breathe. When we first meet clients, we are not expecting them to be perfectly put together, in great emotional shape and the best communicators. We understand that often, it took a lot of guts to get you here in the first place, and there are a million other places you would rather be. Most experienced attorneys know the information that we need to be able to evaluate your situation and to help you understand the law and will ask the necessary questions to elicit those details – simply put, it’s our job.
Second, try to get to the appointment a little early. Running late or exactly on time can cause undue stress and anxiety and may compress the time the attorney has available to meet with you, if, for example he or she has another appointment shortly after yours. Give yourself a few minutes to get to the appointment, get situated and gather your thoughts.
Third, if you have the time in advance of the meeting, it may be helpful to have the following information ready.
- Basic information. Just like any other professional office, most attorneys have intake forms that need to be completed at the time of the appointment. The forms typically ask for basic information like names, addresses, dates of birth of you, your spouse and your children, contact information, date of marriage and date of separation. Some attorneys go beyond that and want a much longer form completed before they come into the room to meet with you. This is another reason why it makes sense to get to the appointment a little early.
- Timeline of important events. Every marriage has its own story and within most marriages there are many important events that have transpired over the years that are important to note. Whether these dates are when someone first mentioned wanting to be separated or divorced, periods of separation, a party’s employment history or when they stopped working, or in the event of adultery, when you first became suspicious and the dates when events transpired relating to that, it’s best to have some notes written down so you don’t feel overwhelmed trying to remember specific dates in the initial consultation. If you can’t remember something, don’t worry about it! I often tell clients there will be plenty of time to gather specific dates and let’s move on, but the more information you can provide in this evaluative stage the better, so it makes sense, if you have a couple of minutes, to jot some things down.
- List of financial assets. A big part of any initial consultation is the attorney explaining what is marital property verses separate property, and different ways marital property can be divided under the law. The easiest way to talk about this topic is with the unique and specific facts of your case. To do that, having a list of the financial assets that are in both your and your spouse’s names can help facilitate that conversation. Even if you don’t have the balances as of five minutes before your appointment, knowing ball park figures or even the existence of an asset if you don’t know the balance, can help. It’s also helpful for us to know when an asset was initially acquired, like a house – did either of you own it prior to the marriage, or your 401k, were you contributing to it before the marriage? If so, those little pieces of information can change how the law would apply. And again, recognizing that an initial consultation with an attorney can be stressful alone (and there are plenty of studies that tell us that most human brains do not function properly when under a great deal of stress), pulling that information together before hand can help, not only with your stress level but also with the flow of the first meeting.
- Any documentation or notes you have received from your spouse regarding your marital situation. If you spouse has left you notes, emails or text messages about the situation surrounding your possible separation, it can be helpful to bring those with you. As experienced attorneys, we can glean a lot of information from hearing your spouse’s view of things in their own words.
- Any letters or pleadings you have received from an attorney representing your spouse. This seems obvious, but if your spouse has retained an attorney and he or she has sent you anything, whether it’s a letter, a proposed agreement or anything he or she filed with the Court, please bring it with you to the appointment. Personally, I also ask my assistant to get this information in advance so I can take a couple of minutes to review it before we meet for the first time so I am better prepared to talk with you, but not all attorneys share this practice.
- A list of questions. This is one of the most important things. If you don’t have time to gather any of the other information in advance, I highly recommend that you take a few seconds and write down some questions that you have, or even what your concerns or fears are. The goal is that at the end of the initial meeting, we will have addressed all of your questions or concerns, and if not, we can refer back to your list to make sure nothing was overlooked. And as I tell every client when I first meet them, inevitably, you will come up with a follow up question. Personally, I give out my email so that if that happens, they can email me or call me so I can answer the question. If the attorney you meet with doesn’t address this directly at the end of the meeting, you can always ask ‘What should I do if I have any follow up questions?’ and follow his or her guidance in that regard.
The main point of meeting with an attorney is to get your questions answered and address your concerns about separation so you can make an educated decision about your next steps. Most clients feel relieved and less afraid after meeting with an attorney, as the fear of the unknown is reduced if not completely eliminated.