What should I bring to my first meeting with my divorce attorney?
Chances are, that when you meet with a family law attorney for the first time, your experience with attorneys has been limited. Now, you have picked an attorney, scheduled your initial consultation, and you are wondering what, if anything, you need to bring with you to your appointment. Come to your divorce consultation prepared with at least these 5 things:
- A List of Questions: In the days or weeks leading up to your initial consultation, create a running list of questions that you would like to ask your attorney. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you will remember every question that you’ve thought of over the last several days without writing them down because, in all likelihood, that won’t be the case. I can’t count the number of times that a potential client has contacted me after their initial consultation with questions that they forgot to ask when they were in my office. As concerns or questions come up, write them down so that you best utilize your time with your attorney and you don’t leave your consultation only to realize you forgot to ask one or more of your questions. Having a list and going over that list with your attorney, will give you peace of mind that all of your concerns were addressed and that you have received any and all necessary information.
- Legal Documents Relevant to Your Case: Before you got married, did you execute a prenuptial agreement? After your marriage, did you enter into a postnuptial agreement? Is there currently a child custody order in place that you are looking to enforce or modify? If there are legal documents relevant to your case that would assist your attorney in understanding the history of your case and better advise you as to what your options are moving forward, bring those documents with you to your meeting with your attorney. In fact, I often ask potential clients to send those documents to me in advance so that I can review them prior to our meeting. If you are asking to enforce a child support provision of a court order, but your attorney hasn’t reviewed the court order before or during your meeting, your attorney will likely say something like, “assuming everything you’ve told me is correct, then . . .” or “typically these orders will provide for ________, and if that is the case here, then . . . .” Your attorney might even ask to reschedule your meeting until after he or she has reviewed your legal documents. Providing these documents at your initial consultation will help your attorney get a better feel for your story and can help him or her give you case specific legal advice.
- Documents Reflecting Your Assets and Debts. If you are married and are now separated or considering separating, gathering as much information as possible about the assets and debts of your marriage will be necessary. If you don’t have access to the documents themselves (e.g., tax returns, credit card statements, checking and savings account statements, investment account statements, retirement account statements, mortgage statements, loan statements, etc.) it is still important to have a working knowledge of the approximate value of your assets and balance of your debts. Please note that when I say “your”, I mean any and all assets and debts in your name individually, your spouse’s name individually, and your names jointly with one another or with any third party. We realize that it isn’t always possible to gather information on the assets and debts in your spouse’s name and that many times one spouse is in control of the marital finances. Not to worry, there are several methods of gathering that information down the road. Your attorney will just ask that you do your best to gather as much information as possible so that he or she can give you the most accurate information.
- A Timeline. Creating a timeline of major events in your marriage/relationship is helpful for both you and your attorney. Undoubtedly, a lot of things have happened that led you to the office of a family law attorney. Arranging your thoughts and all major events into a timeline prior to your initial consultation will help keep you on the track of discussing the things that are most important and will help you best utilize your time with your attorney. For your attorney, this is likely the first time that he or she is hearing about the particular facts of your case. Your attorney, or their legal assistant, will likely take notes during your consultation for reference throughout your representation. However, having a firsthand account of events in an organized timeline is often an extremely beneficial (and time saving) tool for your attorney down the road.
- Documentation Reflecting Income. If your case might involve child support, post separation support, or alimony, you should bring with you to your initial consultation documentation reflecting your income and the income of your spouse. If it is available to you, you should bring with you the following documents: (1) your state and federal income tax returns for at least the last two years; (2) your most current pay stub; (3) any paystub reflecting any bonuses you have received; (4) your W-2 and/or 1099 (including 1099 MISC, 1099G, 1099R, 1099SSA, 1099DIV, 1099SS, 1099INT); (5) Social Security proof of income letter; (6) annuity statement; (7) pension distribution statement; (8) unemployment benefits statement; (9) workers compensation letter; and (10) for self-employed individuals, profit and loss statement or ledger documentation, 1040 SE with Schedule C, F, or SE, 1065 schedule K1 with Schedule E. The more specific information available to your attorney, the more specific he or she can be in advising you as to what your potential family support obligation or entitlement might be.
In addition to the documents outlined above, it is important for you to consider what you might want out of your divorce all while keeping an open mind to the advice of your divorce attorney. Be prepared to discuss how you would like the assets and debts of your marriage divided, what custody schedule you would be willing to agree to, and what, if any, family support you will be obligated to pay or to which you may be entitled. Remember that you can’t set your expectations based on a friend or family members experience or what you have read on the internet. Each case is different.
At Dozier Miller, we have 10 family law attorneys handling family law matters in North Carolina. If you find yourself facing a family law matter, contact a member of our family law team today and schedule your initial consultation.