Preparing for your divorce consultation
Telling someone you’re a divorce lawyer is a great way to kill a conversation. I often slip it in when other parents try to start conversations at daycare pickups, grocery stores, or birthday parties. The reason it’s such a great deterrent to human interaction is because it combines two topics that make people deeply uncomfortable: divorces and lawyers.
Despite how common divorces are, they remain a source of embarrassment and anxiety for people seeking legal help. Part of this anxiety is the “fear of the unknown” … and part of it is the “fear of paying a large sum of money to a manic-looking attorney to divulge your deepest and most personal secrets.” This article provides an easy to obtain list of information that will give you some structure and direction when preparing for your first divorce consultation. These dates, documents, and tips are intended to alleviate some of your anxiety and help you understand the consultation from a divorce lawyer’s perspective.
Dates. Centuries from now, our gravestones will tell passers-by the two most important dates in our lives: our birth and our death. If failed marriages had tombstones (which they should), the dates chiseled into the marble would be the date of marriage and the date of separation. Sadly, the Great State of North Carolina doesn’t give a brass dime about your high school sweetheart or your romantic two-year engagement. All the government wants to know is when were you married, and when you physically separated from your spouse with the intent to remain physically separated. Date of marriage is particularly important in determining equitable distribution of property during a divorce. Except for inheritance and gifts from a 3rd party, any property accrued post-date of marriage and pre-date of separation is considered marital property and the Court presumes a 50/50 split of those assets. Furthermore, the Court will look at the financial status of the marriage on the date of separation to determine whether the supporting spouse owes alimony to the dependent spouse. Come armed and ready with your date of marriage and date of separation and bask in the look of mild appreciation that will flicker across your attorney’s haggard face.
Financials. Clients are all over the board when it comes to financial competence. I have had clients brandish alarmingly detailed spreadsheets listing every time their spouse bought a smoothie outside of their budget, and I’ve had clients who didn’t know what their spouse did for a living, much less what their income was. I do not recommend having total mastery of all your marital assets, but you should at least have a basic understanding of a few household financials. Get a sense of the family savings and checking accounts, retirement accounts such as 401(k)’s and IRA’s, monthly income, and equity in the home (bonus points if you get these numbers as they were on the date of separation). Even if you don’t have exact figures, a rough idea of these numbers will help your attorney run child support calculations and get a basic idea of the total marital estate for equitable distribution purposes.
Previously Signed Court Documents. This is a big one. If you have already signed a pre-nuptial agreement, had a complaint filed against you, or are aware of any other existing legal document, please bring it to the consultation. Most consultations only last an hour, and without these documents your attorney will waste your valuable time and money trying to determine where you are in the legal proceedings while they could be advising you on how to move forward. If you have lost previous court documents, go to the court where they were filed and get copies to bring with you to the consultation.
The Unpleasant Stuff. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it should be easy to tell a stranger that you were unfaithful to your spouse. However, you should know that no matter how sordid and embarrassing your situation is, it is undoubtedly mild compared to what your attorney has dealt with in the past. And in the rare case that you do have the most sordid and embarrassing story your attorney has ever heard, well then, quite frankly, you should be proud. Being open and honest with your attorney is the best way to receive effective legal advice. Issues such as marital infidelity, substance abuse, and other sticky topics are extremely relevant in all aspects of divorce law. Use your attorney client privilege to your advantage and know that the nature of Divorce Law has weeded out all the squeamish attorneys.
Dates of marriage and separation, household finances, previous court documents, and open and honest communication with your attorney… armed with these items you are well on your way to dusting off your old MySpace profile and getting back out there. Your friendly neighborhood divorce lawyer is only and phone call, and a consultation fee, and a retainer fee, and a security deposit away!