What happens in an initial consultation for divorce or custody?

Posted on Jul 8, 2020 by Katie Carter


We get a lot of consultations that are scheduled, and then rescheduled, rescheduled again, and sometimes even flat out cancelled. I get it. It’s scary. And coming in for a divorce consultation with a real lawyer can seem like a step that you may or may not be ready to take. I’ve compared it before to opening Pandora’s Box – but, really, it’s not like that at all.

I think, too, in the early days before you are for sure ready to move forward with divorce, there are good days and bad days. Bad days, where you fight and schedule divorce consultations, and good days, where you think maybe you could work on your issues and this might not be the end. Sometimes, it’s all about marriage counseling and saving things for the sake of the children, and other days it seems too far gone to be saved.

This tug o’ war is completely normal, and if you’re in the throes of it right now, don’t feel bad about it. We expect some uncertainty at this stage in the game, and we’ve seen it all before. We’re not going to judge you if you aren’t sure what you want, or even if you want things to be over. We’re here to give you advice and guidance, not to push you in any particular direction.

Still, setting up an initial consultation can be super scary. How do you know what to expect? What’s going to happen? Is it something you need to do, like, now? Or can you wait?

There are so many questions, and it’s only natural that you’re wondering all these things. In fact, it’s smart that you’re wondering!

What can I expect at an initial consultation for divorce or custody?

Well, normally, in an initial consultation, you and an attorney sit together in the attorney’s office, and you have a chance to tell your story, ask any questions you might have, and work with the attorney to identify your goals so that you can begin to talk through any options you might have to move your case forward.

These days, we’re doing most (if not all) of our consultations by phone because of the pandemic. We’ll be back to in-person consults one of these days, but, for now, we’re mostly trying to do our bit by socially distancing, and staying at home as much as possible.

In many consultations, it’s a question of options. Depending on your risk tolerance, on your specific goals, or whatever, you might make different choices for how to proceed. It’s not like we tell you that there’s only one way forward, and you have to go that way. In most cases, you’ll have some choices – do you negotiate first, or do the circumstances warrant you going ahead and filing for divorce now? Do you try to negotiate custody first, or do you handle it all together? Is relocation, or your divorce, the main priority today?

There are often lots of options, and lots of issues, that are connected and interrelated.

Who can I bring with me to an initial consultation?

Someone you can be honest around! Divorce and custody cases touch on all sorts of sensitive and uncomfortable topics, so you’ll want to bring someone that you’re not afraid to admit uncomfortable truths around. You need to tell your attorney the truth, and you don’t want anyone in the room that would inhibit the transfer of valuable, relevant information.

I wrote an entire blog on this topic before, so definitely check it out.

Is an initial consultation free?

No. Family law attorneys charge a fee for consultations. It’s different than, say, a personal injury attorney. We take cases differently. We work on retainers and we bill hourly, as opposed to getting a percentage of your settlement at the end of your case.

A personal injury attorney is looking at your case to determine whether the time needed will be worth their while – basically, will the chunk of that settlement at the end be worth the time spent? Family law attorneys don’t look at cases like that; in fact, family law cases aren’t usually win or lose propositions. Assets are generally marital in nature, and are divided between the parties. There are some parts of the case (like custody or spousal support) that you can win, but it’s not the same as a personal injury case where you get an award from an insurance company.

We’re looking at your case to give you advice, to educate you, and to help make sure you can make the best decisions possible in your case. Whether or not you hire one of our attorneys to represent you, there’s value there – and we’re not trying to get information from you to find out how much your case is worth to us! So, that’s why the fee for the consultation; it’s because we add value, and we put you in a better position, rather than using it as an opportunity to gauge whether your case is worthwhile to us financially.

What should I bring with me?

Any documents you have! Credit card statements, mortgage statements, existing court orders, prenuptial agreements, custody agreements, whatever – we may not be able to look at everything in the first hour, but it’ll help us begin to figure out what the issues are.

When in doubt, bring it! We can sort through to find the most important stuff pretty quickly.

How prepared should I be before I go?

We know you don’t know what you don’t know, and we’ll help you figure out what’s important. It’s not a bad idea, though, to request a copy of one of our divorce or custody books (or any of our free reports; you’ll see if you click on the hyperlink there) beforehand, just so that you’re as up to speed. If you have a consultation with us, though, we’ll waive the fee for you to attend our monthly divorce seminar  which may also be a great way to (1) get any questions answered that you forgot to ask or missed during the consult, and (2) to hear from someone other than the attorney you already met with!

Anyway, we hope to see you! We’re not scary, and we’ll never force you down a path that you’re not comfortable with. It’s up to you to decide when and if your marriage is ending. It’s your case, and you’re in the driver’s seat!

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with our office, give us a call at 757-425-5200.