What to Expect at Your First Meeting with a Divorce Attorney
The last place most people want to visit is the office of a divorce lawyer. If that dreaded event becomes a necessity, you should go with a plan and have certain expectations regarding what you hope to accomplish in that initial visit.
You should be prepared to talk openly and candidly with the divorce lawyer about why you are there. What is going on in your marriage that makes you think a divorce might happen, or why are you initiating divorce? Sharing that background gives the attorney an opportunity to determine the specific information that may be needed as your case progresses. Decisions will need to be made about hiring a forensic accountant or private investigator. You must honestly answer questions, even if it is uncomfortable. There is no other way you can expect to receive the best advice.
It’s common for emotions to run high when considering divorce. Some clients bring someone to the initial meeting with the lawyer to listen, take notes and provide support. Advise your lawyer if you are considering doing this, as there can be issues affecting your attorney-client privilege.
Ultimately, the legal process of divorce is more about business than emotions, but those often are difficult to separate. Your lawyer should be able to provide resources to help you work through the emotional aspects, while also focusing on the financial and family issues.
Most divorce cases have four primary categories to consider:
- Children’s Issues
Where are the children going to live? Who will be making the decisions about the important things that happen in their lives? Your lawyer can counsel you on how those questions get answered. If there are children whom are minors, this area might be the most difficult to address, as there might be lifetime implications.
- Child Support
Your attorney will use a spreadsheet called a Child Support Worksheet to calculate what the obligations likely will be, depending on your situation. While that amount is not absolute, it will provide an approximate idea of what you can expect. Child support is paid until a child graduates from high school. In Georgia, a parent cannot be compelled to pay for anything once that child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later.
- Division of Marital Assets
A major part of any divorce is determining how to divide what has been accumulated during the marriage. This starts by preparing a “marital balance sheet” to define your financial assets and liabilities.
Most of the time in Georgia, marital assets and debts get divided equally. Your lawyer’s job is to make sure that division is equitable to you. All dollars aren’t created equal. Some assets have real, immediate value, while others could attach severe tax penalties if liquidated. For instance, a retirement account with $100,000 is not the same as having $100,000 in a savings account.
“Separate property” includes assets that you or your spouse either brought into the marriage or received during the marriage as a gift or inheritance from a third party. Usually, those assets are not part of the marital balance sheet and are not divided. Depending on the complexity of your situation, your lawyer may need to engage a forensic accountant to assist in preparing the marital balance sheet.
There are no forms or charts to calculate financial support for a spouse. The duration and amount of any payments following a divorce are determined solely by negotiation. Your lawyer should have some ideas, based upon past experience, as to what you might expect.
In addition to answering questions about your personal situation, your lawyer can describe the procedural aspects of getting a divorce, including how the court system works and how long the process may take. Typically, a divorce is not something that is settled overnight. For example, it is very common to reach a temporary arrangement that controls custodial rights and financial issues until the case is over.
You’re probably wondering what the divorce process is going to cost, and it’s nearly impossible to predict until both parties determine how they want to handle the case. Your attorney can provide an outline of fees and how they will be charged. You should expect to pay a retainer that could be partially refunded if it is not exhausted.
During an initial meeting with a divorce lawyer, it’s not unusual for clients to bring a long list of questions. A good lawyer should address your specific questions, as well as those you may have not considered.
The decision of which lawyer you hire is critical. It is not a “one-size‑fits-all” situation. In no small measure, the person you hire determines how your divorce will be conducted.
It’s important for the client and lawyer to embrace a similar strategy on how this personal break‑up will unfold. When it is over, will the earth be scorched, or will there be a modicum of tranquility between the spouses? A client should not leave the meeting without an understanding of the lawyer’s vision of how the world will look upon reaching the end. After all, if there are children, the spouses may have many more years of interaction. Part of the lawyer’s role is to remind the client about that fact. Generally speaking, overly aggressive tactics usually end up accomplishing little, except to increase the costs of the divorce.