The “Do’s and Don’t’s” of the Initial Family Law Consultation

Deciding to pick up the phone and make that dreaded first call when you feel the time is right to contact an attorney is a petrifying moment.  It’s one of those times in your life where you just have to take the plunge, dial the phone and make the call.

Once you’ve decided on the attorney you want to meet with, a sense of relief may come over you… until the day of the appointment. Panic, fear, confusion, hurt and uncertainty are all natural expectations that an experienced attorney will recognize and deal with when you arrive.  But don’t let your apprehension overcome you. You made the call. You scheduled the appointment.  It’s time. You know meeting with the attorney is the right thing to do.

More often than not, the attorney is going to meet you when you are at your worst, especially in a new divorce consultation. That’s expected.  You wouldn’t be at the law office if things were rosy and life was grand.  An experienced family law attorney knows that you are vulnerable, emotionally drained, and sadly, sometimes physically abused.  The attorney will help guide you through the initial process, help you cope with your emotional well being, and offer suggestions to help you make yourself “a better you” as the process proceeds, and most important, be the partner your attorney will need to effectively advocate for you throughout the divorce or post-decree proceedings.

In order to make the most out of the initial meeting with your attorney, there are a few simple rules that will help you, the client, and your attorney make the most out of the initial consultation.  Remember, just as you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney is interviewing you as well.  You are both evaluating each other to determine if the two of you are a “proper fit” for each other.  Just as you are gauging the attorney’s knowledge, demeanor, compassion and strategy, the attorney is also evaluating you to determine what type of witness you may be, your candor and truthfulness, and your ability to be an effective partner throughout the proceedings.  If you’re not comfortable with what you’re seeing or hearing, don’t hire this attorney. But by the same token, if the attorney is not comfortable with you, the attorney is under no obligation to accept your case or you as a client.  It’s the proverbial “two way street;” you both have to want to work together, feel comfortable with each other and be on the same page in order to be successful in your case and to have a successful attorney/client relationship.

When preparing for the initial consultation, there are a few “Do’s and Don’t’s” that will make the initial consultation less stressful for you, and more beneficial to both you and the attorney. Of course, some law offices may have different procedures and practices, so it’s a good idea to ask when you make the initial appointment to see if there are any procedures you should know before you have your first meeting, especially if there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Some of the suggested “Do’s and Don’t’s” that our law office adheres to are:

For the Initial Consultation, DON’T:

 Don’t be offended if there is a charge for the initial consultation.  The lawyer’s time is how he or she makes their living and you are receiving a professional service. The time the lawyer spends with you could have been spent on another case for which he or she could be getting paid, so it is not out of the ordinary to expect to pay for the initial consultation.  Our firm, like many others, has a discounted rate for the first hour consultation. The information you receive will be well worth the fee, not to mention that it may be a significant stress reliever as you move forward. Don’t forget:  “You get what you pay for…”

• Don’t bring a friend or family member with you for moral support.  That person cannot participate in the initial conference due to confidentiality requirements and ethical concerns of the attorney.  A friend or family member has nothing to contribute to the initial conference.  If they have something relevant to provide to your case, the attorney will, undoubtedly, interview them later to make that determination.  The attorney wants to talk to you, only, at the initial consultation because you have the pertinent information, not your friend or family member.

• Perhaps even more important than not bringing friends or family members with you to the initial appointment is don’t bring children with you.  Because of the sensitive discussions that may occur during your initial consultation, children should not be present.  Also, there is no place for children to stay while you are meeting with the attorney other than the waiting room/reception area.  Law office staff have jobs to do and providing child care for you is not in their job description, nor should it be their responsibility to entertain your child/children during this very important meeting.  This meeting is a job interview, for both you and the attorney.  Would you take your children to a job interview?  You shouldn’t bring your children to the initial consultation either.

• Don’t be late, or just not show up.  Just as you will expect to receive courtesy from the attorney and the law office staff, the same courtesy should be extended to them from you.  If you see that you are going to be late, call the law office and let them know.  If you need to cancel the appointment for whatever reason, have the courtesy to call the office and cancel.  Perhaps someone else can use that appointment time if you can’t make it, or just aren’t ready to take that step.

• Don’t withhold any information or facts, even if it may be embarrassing.  An experienced attorney will be able to advise you as to what is relevant or not, and leaving out even the simplest fact or occurrence may have a devastating impact on your case.

• Conversely, don’t embellish or exaggerate facts or occurrences to help bolster your case.  By not being completely honest with your attorney, it may affect how you are represented, the strategies taken, or even worse, bring your credibility into question. Truthfulness is always the most important aspect of your case, even if it hurts.

• Although everyone wants to make a good first impression, there is no need to “dress up” for the initial consultation. Wear what you feel comfortable in because you may be having an uncomfortable, emotional and stressful discussion for the next one to two hours. Also, don’t over indulge in fragrances; perfumes or colognes.  Many people have allergies to certain fragrances, and although you may like to smell good, overpowering perfumes and colognes can distract from a meaningful and productive initial conference.  Don’t forget that you will be meeting in a closed room; either the attorney’s office or a conference room that can quickly become overwhelmed with an overpowering fragrance.

• Last, but certainly not least, don’t rely on what you read on the internet or what your friends tell you. The internet can be a very valuable tool, but can also be full of misinformation and vague, often confusing, interpretations of the law. Just as you wouldn’t rely on a medical website to diagnose a serious medical problem, don’t rely on the internet to tell you what the law is, or how it would be applied in your particular case.  Additionally, friends can be well meaning, however, their case is not yours.  Remember that just as every individual is different, every case is different.  Your particular circumstances, your spouse, and even the personality of opposing counsel will sometimes dictate how your case should be handled strategically.  Do not be overly concerned about what “my friend so and so got” or “my friend said.” Your friend, and the internet, cannot take the place of the attorney you are about to meet with, as the attorney will tailor the advice you receive based on your individual facts and circumstances.

Now that you know what not to do before the initial consultation occurs and after it begins, here are a few helpful items to assist you in being a well prepared client as the initial consultation approaches:

For the Initial Consultation, DO:

• Do come prepared with specific detailed information.  Social security numbers, birth dates, date of marriage, health insurance costs for both you (individually) and your children, child care costs, expenses for special medical needs for either you and/or your children, college costs for either you and/or your children, two years of tax returns, four pay stubs showing year to date earnings, a list of personal property owned by you and your spouse (or with someone else, if applicable), a complete copy of your pre-nuptial agreement (if applicable), appraisals for real estate or personal property, police reports and/or protective orders (if applicable), vehicle information, and, most important, any court pleadings or prior court orders that may have been entered in your case.

• Do tell the attorney if you are active with text messaging and/or on social media.  There is a good chance that the attorney will advise you to seriously curtail your activity with text messaging and on social media, if not cease it completely.  If there is anything that you have texted or posted about your spouse, friends, relatives, in-laws, etc., it may be wise to print your texts and posts and provide a copy to the attorney and refrain from texting and posting anything else until your case is concluded.  Social media posts, and especially text messages, are now considered admissible evidence in some courts, so let your attorney know, up front, if there are texts and/or posts that may be detrimental to your case.

• If you are comfortable with the attorney, and the attorney accepts your case, and you as a client, do read the Employment Agreement carefully and in its entirety. What is the retainer? What are the court costs? What is the hourly rate? What happens when my retainer is depleted? Will my spouse be responsible to reimburse me for my fees?  How much is charged for a phone call? How much is charged for a letter or email? Is there a different hourly rate for appearing in court opposed to office work? Am I charged for photocopies? Am I charged for postage? Is there a different hourly rate for the attorney, paralegal, or other staff members?  When am I billed? When is my bill due?  These are all legitimate questions that should be answered at the inception of the attorney/client relationship. Knowing the answers to these questions will help avoid an uncomfortable situation for both you and your attorney as your case and relationship progresses.

• The most important thing you can do in preparation for the initial consultation is bring a list of questions.  We’ve all heard the old adage “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  This is definitely true at the initial consultation.  Your attorney knows that you’re not an attorney with his or her legal knowledge and experience and that your head is probably spinning with nervousness, worry and concern; both legal and personal.  Ask the question… you deserve an answer, you need the answer. Being able to communicate well with your attorney always begins at the initial consultation.  Attorneys appreciate clients would want to be well informed.  Be that client!

Making the call to schedule your initial consultation is never an easy task.  You may have thought about doing it for a long time, or, unfortunately, a sudden need to hire counsel has arisen.  Regardless of how long it took you to make the call, you’ve made it, the appointment is scheduled and the hard first step is over.  To make the next step less stressful, and more meaningful and productive when you meet with the attorney, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a successful initial consultation and an even more successful attorney/client relationship.

Good luck!

Family Law Property Issues in Australia

(Victorian & Australian Law)

In recent times, the jurisdiction of property disputes in Family Law has broadened. Traditionally, property was only divisible between married or divorced couples. De-facto and same sex partners are now able to apply for a property settlement, though under different law. In the absence of agreement between the parties, an application for the settlement of a property dispute is made to the court, to be decided on the basis of need.

The settlement reached becomes legally binding and enforceable by the courts. Here’s a rough guide to what usually happens in these situations…

Applications

Parties can make a property settlement by agreement or, if agreement cannot be reached, make an application to the court for a property settlement. Applications for the division of property after divorce can be made to the Family Court or to the Federal Magistrates Court where a property dispute is worth less than $700,000.

Only parties who are or were married can make an application for a property settlement under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). In the case of divorce, an application must be made within 12 months of receiving the decree absolute. De-facto and same sex partners can make an application under the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic) in the Supreme Court, County Court or Magistrates’ Court.

Once an application is made, the parties will be asked to attend a case conference, with the aim of settling the property dispute by agreement before it goes to court. Present at this conference will be the parties, any family lawyer involved and a court registrar. If this conference is unsuccessful, the parties will go to court.

Property disputes in de-facto and same sex relationships (domestic relationships) are dealt with under the Property Law Act 1958 (Vic). A domestic relationship is a relationship between two people (regardless of gender) who live together as a couple on a domestic basis but are not married. The domestic relationship must have existed for at least two years for an application for a property dispute to be made under Part 9 of the Property Law Act . If there are exceptional circumstances, for example children being born out of the relationship, this two-year period can be waived. The relationship must have ended after 8 November 2001 for Part 9 to apply.

Property

The type of property divisible in a property settlement includes assets, cash, real estate, investments, insurance policies and superannuation. Debts are also taken into account. In a domestic relationship, as governed by the Property Law Act , superannuation and retirement benefits are not included in a property settlement. In making an order for property settlement, the court calculates the total pool of assets of the parties.

The division of these assets is based on both contributions made by each of the parties to the asset pool and future needs. The contributions of the parties include non-financial contributions, which means a homemaker will not be disadvantaged in this assessment. Future needs takes into account who is responsible for the daily care of the children, earning capacity, age, health and the financial circumstances of any new relationship. The aim is to distribute the property fairly between the two parties.

If you believe your partner is going to dispose of assets before the total pool of assets is calculated you can obtain an injunction to stop the sale taking place. Bank accounts and proceeds from the sale of any assets that has already taken place can also be frozen.

Spousal Maintenance

A party can apply for ongoing spousal maintenance if they can prove they are unable to support themselves. This application must be made within 12 months of divorce. An application for spousal maintenance is often included with an application for property settlement so that all financial issues are dealt with at once.

Spousal maintenance cannot be applied for where a domestic relationship exists.

Enforcement

If an agreement is reached between the parties, they can apply to the court for consent orders. This will make the agreement enforceable by the courts in case of dispute. Consent orders, once made, are final. A party must prove fraud, impracticality or other exceptional circumstances if they wish the consent orders to be set aside or varied.

If a party is not complying with the orders made, an application can be made to the court for enforcement. In this application, the party applying must set out exactly what the problem is. The court will then decide whether an order is needed to enforce the existing order.

A family law property settlement is an important process to go through after the breakdown of a marriage or domestic relationship. A property dispute can be settled by agreement between the parties or resolved by the court. Each case is unique and will be considered by the court according to its own circumstances. The court will not consider who is at fault in the breakdown of a relationship. Rather, it will be resolved on the basis of fairness and need.

Your Other Last Resorts – Things To Try Before Trying Divorce

Getting a divorce is an incredibly serious decision and should be treated as such. This is a last resort that will tear apart your family, destroy your dreams for the future and put an end to what’s probably the most important relationship in your life.

Of course though sometimes divorce can seem like the only resort if you are constantly arguing and if you’re making each other unhappy rather than happier, or if you just don’t feel the love that you used to for that person anymore.

Often though there are other options even though it might not feel that way – you just have to be willing to try anything. Here we will look at some of the other things to try before you give up on your relationships once and for all.

Counselling

Marriage counselling is something that can seem abhorrent to many people who maybe see it as potentially awkward, forced or embarrassing, or who perhaps lack faith in the whole concept.

Even if you don’t love the sounds of it though, you should always give counselling ago, just so that you can say you’ve tried everything. You may be surprised at just how insightful some counsellors can be, but more to the point you’ll find it sends an important message to your partner that you don’t want to give up.

You may also find that individual counselling can help. While you probably don’t see your dispute as your fault, it does take two to tango and if you aren’t happy in your relationship then this is going to come across in the way you deal with one another. Consider getting counselling then in order to deal with any issues that may be manifesting themselves in your relationships.

Time Apart

Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. If you wait until your divorce has gone through to realise this though then it’s of course going to be a little too late. Instead then, try spending some time apart from one another before you reach that point and see how much you find yourself missing your partner. At the same time, spending time on your own can help you to work through your problems and to gain perspective. Sometimes we just need some ‘space’ and some time to think, and going away for a few days can help us to come back with a new game plan, a new sense of perspective and a better idea of what you want from your relationship and from your partner.

Talking Frankly

On other occasions though, this is something you’ll need to talk through together. If there are things each of you are unhappy with, then simply raising your concerns with one another can make you more likely to come to a conclusion. Try listing the things you are unhappy with for instance, and explaining why you feel the way you do. Too many of us avoid honest, frank discussion because we don’t want it to turn into an argument, and ironically this will often mean that when those issues finally do come to the surface, they end up being much more intense and degenerating into a full blown argument where both parties lose their cool.

If you try to ‘re-draw’ the terms of your relationship, you can change things that you’re both unhappy with, or just introduce new rules and ideas to try and make things easier. Perhaps for the sake of your children, agreeing to maintain a friendly relationship but sleep in different rooms could be a workable solution and this could eventually lead to a rekindling.

The Other Issues

Sometimes a marriage or a relationship can be doomed by circumstances outside of your control. For instance, if you are both very stressed by your careers, your living arrangements, or illnesses in the family, then this might mean that you end up arguing and feeling very tense when actually you could have been perfectly happy together.

If you suspect this might be the case, then see if changing your circumstances can help to make your relationship easier again. Perhaps you could move somewhere new, or maybe you could address your careers. This is of course a lengthy process though, so to find out more quickly if this is indeed the cause of your problems, try taking time off to go on holiday together and see if you can re-find your rhythm.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/dating/cartoon/5007/its-not-you-its-me-and-how-annoyed-i-am-by-you/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/sports/cartoon/1607/its-only-way-i-can-keep-his-attention/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/marriage/cartoon/4907/im-tired-of-fighting-but-by-all-means-you-go-on-ahead/
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.andertoons.com/sports/cartoon/3204/oh-come-on-how-many-big-games-can-there-be-in-weekend/

Beatrice Mackenzie is a regular blogger. She gives relationship tips and advice on her blog. She says choosing a divorce law firm can be a overwhelming task but with little patience and guidance anything is possible.

My spouse and I are looking to divorce but are worried about the costs involved in the process, is there any help we can get on this matter?

The result of a divorce or separation is that two households will often have to exist on the same amount of money as one did previously. This is unfortunately made worse by the costs that will flow from your divorce. There are three main ways in which you can reduce on your legal costs in this procedure.

The first method would be to attempt to carry out the divorce informally, known as informal separation. If you and your partner are married, you can separate by such an informal arrangement. If you and your partner agree, you can also make arrangements about children, money, housing and other property without going to court. However, any informal arrangement made when you separate may affect future decisions if you do ever go to court. You should be aware that a court may change an arrangement you and your spouse made if it considers it to be unreasonable or, in the case of a child, not in their best interests.

Another method that can be employed to reduce legal costs is through what is known as a separation agreement. This is a written agreement between you and your spouse when you intend to stop living together. It sets out how you wish to sort out financial arrangements, property, and arrangements for the children. It is advisable to consult a divorce solicitor when drawing up a separation agreement, but you should work out in advance the general areas you want to cover. This will help to reduce your legal costs.

A final method that may be used in such circumstances would be for you to utilize the services of Legal Help. Legal Help allows people with a low income to get free legal advice and help from a specialist divorce solicitor or an experienced legal adviser. The solicitor or adviser must have a contract with the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to be able to provide Legal Help. You should be aware that in such cases the divorce solicitor will only be able to help you with legal advice and not with the drafting or endorsement of any legal documents.

Welcome to Family Blawg

Welcome to Family Blawg, a legal news blog on family law for family lawyers, the general public and potential clients of family solicitors.Family Law Justitia Image

A complex area requiring advice from specialist solicitors with an understanding and appreciation of sensitive issues, family law and practice involves divorce, separation, wills, children’s rights and divorce settlements.