The process of divorce needs just as much serious consideration and preparation as the marriage that preceded it – if not more. In the midst of the hurt and confusion you’re feeling at this moment, it’s important to think and plan as clearly as possible, in order to get the best outcomes.
With that in mind, we’ve laid out a plan of action to help guide you through your first meeting with a divorce lawyer.
Preparation Is Vital
The first meeting with your lawyer will be a fact-finding mission. Both you and your lawyer will have many questions to ask.
A capable lawyer will lead the meeting and know what information they need to gather to provide you with specific, clear and actionable advice tailored to your situation. Look for a legal team who specialises in family law, has many years of professional experience behind them and is able to appreciate the nuances of your unique situation.
For you, this is almost certainly a new experience. Talking about your separation to a stranger can be stressful and uncomfortable, which makes it easy to overlook important questions. All the more reason for you to plan ahead, and know what questions you need to ask beforehand so you can ensure that the meeting is as productive and useful as possible.
What To Prepare
There are some documents you can bring to this first meeting to speed up the fact-finding process and pave the way for relevant advice. This includes information about your children and the current arrangements that are in place, as well as details of personal finances and property.
If you have children you may be asked about their date of birth, health, education or any other matters affecting their health or wellbeing. You will be asked if there are any current parenting arrangements in place and, if so, the details of those arrangements. If you have a Parenting Plan or Court Orders in place, please bring a copy of those documents with you.
If you have already been through mediation, bring any documents drawn up by the mediator in relation to the parenting arrangements or the proposed terms of your property settlement.
Personal Finances And Property
This is often a contentious area, and the more documentation you can provide, the better. Knowledgeable family law specialists will appreciate seeing this information at an early stage:
- The date you started to living together, the date of marriage, if applicable, and the date of your separation
- Details about your bank accounts and current balances
- Income details for you and your partner, including your taxable incomes for the last financial year
- Details of debts (mortgages, credit cards, other loans)
- Details of yours and your partner’s superannuation funds, including the current balances
- Market appraisal or value estimates for your house, cars, any other property
- Value of any investment property (and what you owe on those properties)
- Any other documents that provide a better understanding of the asset pool, including details of an interest in any business or trust or any shares held
- Any other information that assists in providing instructions as to the history of contributions, both financial and non-financial made during the relationship
- Any inheritance or gifts that were received by you or your partner during the relationship
Vital Questions To Ask At The Initial Meeting
Now that your documents are prepared, it’s time to think about the all-important questions you’re going to ask your lawyer. It’s a good idea to have your list of questions written or printed, with space left under each one so that you can take notes. (You may be feeling emotional, and it may be an information overload, so don’t just rely on your memory.)
When framing your questions, first consider what’s important to you and your children. This may encompass your most immediate concerns and worries, but it’s also crucial to think about both your short-term and long-term goals. This phase of your life will pass, but the decisions you make now will have a lasting impact.
Here’s what your questions should cover:
The 11 Questions
- What other information do you need from me?
- What is the collaborative law/mediation process? Is that an option for me?
- Can you refer me to any mediators you recommend?
- What can I expect the divorce process to be like? Have you dealt with any cases similar to mine and how did they turn out?
- Will you personally be working on my case? Who else will be, and are they specialists in family law?
- How will we communicate?
- What is your fee structure, (including any billing for calls, texts, emails) and can you estimate approximately how much money I will need to finance the whole process?
- What do I need to consider when making a parenting plan?
- How much information should I share with others (including my ex spouse)?
- Roughly how long could this process take, and what can I expect as the worst case scenario?
- What are my next steps after this meeting?
You deserve a genuinely caring and empathetic divorce law team who have experienced hundreds of situations similar to yours, but will treat you with individual specialist attention because no two cases are alike. For the best results, help them to help you (and keep costs down) by preparing as well as you can for that all-important first meeting.
If you have any questions, or if you would like to meet with us so we can help you navigate your family law matter, please reach out. We offer a free 30-minute consultation where we’ll sit down with you and get to know your personal situation. We’ll help to answer all of your burning questions and give you a clear plan around timelines, processes and costs. You’ll walk away with the confidence and knowledge that you are ready to tackle what can be a very difficult time.