Picking up the phone and calling an attorney, not knowing what you’ll hear on the other end of the line, is scary. It’s a big step, and you’re afraid you’re opening Pandora’s box. What if you take a step that you can’t take back later? And what do you know what they’ll tell you on the other end of the line—that it costs $10,000, or some other ungodly number you can’t fathom? What if they don’t understand, don’t sympathize, or make you feel stupid? What if you can feel their judgment radiating through the phone from the other end of the line? What if they just seem bored, like they can’t be troubled to take the time? You’re already feeling pretty awful, pretty scared—and you don’t want some hateful person on the other end of the line making you feel even awful-er.
It’s scary, making a call. Especially to a stranger, and even more especially when you have to admit something you’ve probably had a hard time admitting to yourself—something you may not even have admitted to your closest friends and family members yet. It’s second nature to most people (especially, let’s face it, for those of us that were raised in the South) to keep your dirty laundry to yourself, so divorce and custody cases are often pretty difficult things to talk about. And, whether it’s really very realistic or not, most women are worried about the stigma associated with their choices.
This is just a guess, based on how I feel personally, but, if I were you, I would feel much better placing that call if I knew what was going to happen on the other end of the line. That way, I could prepare. That way, I’d feel like I knew what to expect—so at least I could begin to think about the answers to the questions I’m about to be asked. If I hate anything, it’s feeling unprepared. Getting asked questions that surprise or confuse me, and having to ask for clarification, or wanting to take time to think it over when I know that someone on the other end of the line is waiting, impatiently, for me to make my decision. For me, divorce is something I do every day. For you, it’s a new thing, and you’re probably full of questions. That’s normal, and you shouldn’t feel badly about it. You also shouldn’t have to feel like you’re calling blindly, or that something unexpected is going to jump out at you from the shadows. That’s a pretty crappy feeling, isn’t it?
So, what happens when I call an attorney’s office?
Well, I can’t tell you about all attorney’s offices, but I can tell you what will happen if you call my office. We have a couple of people answering the phones, and it’s their job to ask the questions that will help them point you in the right direction. They know you’re calling for information, and may not be prepared to make a big step, like scheduling an appointment, right away.
You should know, though, that the people answering the phones in a law office usually aren’t attorneys, so they won’t be able to answer your legal questions. They can answer questions about the process or the way business is handled in the office (what the attorney’s hourly rates are, how much a consult costs, and how retainers work, for example). They can help point you in the right direction when it comes to a seminar or a product that might help you. The attorneys in my office teach two different seminars, one on divorce and one on custody. We also offer a couple of different free books: one on divorce, one on military divorce, one on custody, and one on what you need to know when you’re hiring a divorce attorney (which, if you’re reading this article, might be just the thing for you).
You won’t get asked any tricky questions. We don’t have anything hidden up our sleeves, and you don’t have to admit anything that you’re not comfortable discussing. Of course, you’ll probably get asked a couple of questions about what has precipitated your call—not that we’re nosy, but just that we want to be sure that we’re pointing you in the right direction. If you’re not ready to take the plunge and schedule an appointment, we can help tell you more about your other options: books, seminars, and do it yourself divorce.
If I don’t want to schedule an initial consultation yet, what are my options?
If you’re not ready to take the “plunge” and schedule an initial consultation, that’s okay. We won’t try to force you; in fact, the only reason we’re asking questions is because we want to make sure that we’re pointing you in the direction of the option(s) that are right for you.
Option #1: Order a free book
Like I mentioned earlier, we offer four free books. When you request one online, you’ll get an e-copy of the book digitally right away. If you live locally, you’ll also have the option to receive a hard copy, delivered to whatever spouse safe address you provide. We’ll send it in a plain white envelope, so no one will have any idea what’s inside. (Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.)
No matter your situation, we’ve got a book that can help make sure you’re getting the best, most up to date, Virginia specific information possible.
Our first book is still our most popular. Designed to help educate Virginia women about the divorce process. It covers everything from what questions to ask your attorney to how divorce begins, financial documents with which you need to be familiar, how judges decide custody cases, and what you need to know to live separate and apart under the same roof.
Our military divorce book covers many of the same topics as our original divorce book, but it also provides some military-specific detail that military spouses should know as they begin to prepare for their own divorces. In a lot of ways, military divorces are similar—but, if you or your spouse is in the military, you’ll want to get specific information about TSP, SBP, DFAS, 20/20/20 and 20/20/15 status, TriCare, and military retirement, too.
Our custody book is designed to help all Virginia moms going through a divorce and/or custody case. You see, you can have a custody case as part of a larger divorce action, and you can also have a custody case that’s not part of a divorce action at all. Either way, this book is designed to help give you the information you need to know, including how custody is decided in Virginia, the best interests of the child factors, how unique circumstances (like special needs children, homeschooling, or same sex parents) affect custody determinations, and more.
If you’re thinking about hiring an attorney in your family law case, this book is for you! It’ll help you sort out the good attorneys from the bad by explaining how lawyer advertising works, how attorneys are ranked and compared, what questions you should be asking in an initial consultation, and how to save money on attorney’s fees. Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll also get access to a free scorecard you can use to take with you to your initial consultations, so you can compare attorneys at a glance.
Option #2: Attend a seminar
You may decide that your next step is to get even more information. We offer two different seminars, one on divorce and one on custody, designed to help give women access to attorneys for less than the cost of a consultation.
Our Second Saturday seminars, offered on the Second Saturday of the month in both Virginia Beach and Newport News, and on the Third Tuesday of the month in Virginia Beach, are designed to answer some of the most frequently asked questions we hear in divorce cases. We cover a broad range of subjects, like custody, child support, spousal support, separation, living separate in the same home, and the different types of divorce. Each seminar lasts an hour and a half, and is taught by one of our attorneys on a rotating basis. The cost to attend is $50 at the door, or $40 if you pre-register ahead of time, which you can do by clicking here.
Custody Bootcamp for Moms is an intense, all day seminar designed to help teach Virginia moms what they need to know to prepare to represent themselves in their custody, support, and visitation cases at the juvenile court level. At Custody Bootcamp, you’ll learn how to make opening and closing arguments, prepare a trial notebook, question and cross examine witnesses, how to get your evidence in (and keep his out), and all about the ten super important best interests of the child factors in Virginia. The cost to attend is $197, and you can pre-register by clicking here. The seminars are offered quarterly, in January, April, July, and October, so there’s sure to be a date scheduled before your next hearing date.
If I DO want to schedule a consultation, what happens next?
An initial consultation is an opportunity to meet with an attorney one on one and discuss your specific situation. In a consultation, you’ll have an opportunity to ask those questions that are keeping you up at night and help you figure out what your options are. No matter what you choose to do, whether you separate, divorce, reconcile, or move forward with a custody case, you’ll have the time to discuss each option in detail and come up with a solution that takes your needs and interests into account.
You probably haven’t decided what you want to do just yet, and that’s okay. We’re used to that, and we will will never push you to make a decision you’re not comfortable making. In fact, we’ve helped many women save their marriages in consultations like this. At the end of the day, we want to help you make the best decision possible for you and your family.
Who will I meet with?
It depends! We have three convenient office locations in Hampton Roads, one in Virginia Beach, Newport News, and a virtual office in Chesapeake. Different attorneys are available to meet in each location.
At our Virginia Beach office location, you can meet with Kristen Hofheimer, Sheera Herrell, Jack Ferrebee, and Caitlin Walters.
At our Newport News office location, you can meet with Shannon Lemm.
At our Chesapeake office location, you can meet with Caitlin Walters.
Prefer to meet with an attorney who isn’t available at your chosen location? Consider traveling to one of our other convenient local offices.
You’re free to choose from among the available attorneys at the office in your area. (Need help choosing? Check out all of our attorneys ahead of time by reading their bios online.) If you have no preference, we’ll work with you to find the attorney whose schedule and areas of practice match the best with the days and times you have available. We’ll do our best to get you in as quickly as possible, but keep in mind that our attorneys are often in and out of court, settlement conferences, and client meetings, too.
We have a number of great attorneys, so you’re sure to be happy with whomever you decide to meet.
What should I bring with me?
You don’t want to come unprepared, and that’s good. We definitely appreciate that! The more information you provide us with ahead of time, the better your consult will be. To get all the information we need, we ask that you fill out our confidential Family Information Form, which you’ll receive by email as soon you reserve your appointment time and date, before you meet with us.
The Family Information Form gives us exactly what we need to know, like the date of your marriage and separation (if you’ve separated yet), and the names and dates of birth of your children. It’s just an easy way for us to get information at a glance, so that we can jump right in when we start your appointment. It also helps us later on if you decide to retain the law firm to represent you.
Other than the Family Information Form, you don’t have to bring anything—unless you feel like there’s something we have to see to counsel you properly. If your husband has had you served with divorce papers, if you’ve signed a prenuptial agreement, or if you’ve received a first draft of a separation agreement, those would be important documents to bring along.
Who can I bring with me?
One question we get asked all the time is, “Can I bring my mom with me?” We also see sisters, friends, dads, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents accompanying our clients, both to meetings at the office and also to court.
We totally get it; the experience is scary and overwhelming. If you want to bring someone with you, that’s fine. But you should also be aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to involving someone else, and we want to make sure you think it through and make the best decision possible.
Bringing someone along to the initial consultation can be really helpful. When you’re stressed or upset, it’s sometimes hard to remember everything that happened. You might feel like, on your own, you won’t take the best notes, or you’ll forget to ask questions that are important.
You should also keep in mind, though, that attorney/client communications are privileged, but, when you bring someone else into the room, you waive that privilege.
You should also make sure that, whomever you decide to bring, you’re comfortable and can be completely honest around them. Divorce and custody cases typically bring up some things that make you uncomfortable, and if you feel like there’s a chance that you can’t be completely honest around the person you’re considering bringing with you, you may want to re-think it. We want to make sure that you get the full value out of your consultation, and we can’t give you good advice or come up with sound strategy if we don’t have the full and complete picture, or if something you’ve told us isn’t true. Some of the topics we have to touch on are uncomfortable or sensitive, so think ahead about what you’ll likely have to say to your attorney. Ask yourself, “Am I comfortable with my mom knowing _____?”
Ultimately, your comfort is your biggest concern (and ours!). If that means you want to bring your mom, bring her along! It’s our goal to make sure that you feel as relaxed and as confident as possible.
How much does it cost?
The cost of an initial consultation in our office is $285.
During your appointment, the attorney will present you with a retainer agreement, if appropriate, that details how much it would cost to retain her to represent you in your particular case. Depending on the complexity of the case, the amount of the retainer can vary. Your retainer goes into a trust account with your name on it, and the money is yours until the attorney earns it. Each attorney bills at their hourly rate as they do work on your case. Each attorney’s hourly rate is different, so you may want to ask when you meet with your attorney how much they charge per hour.
It’s difficult to estimate ahead of time exactly how much your case will cost, because it depends on a lot of factors that are outside of our control (like how difficult your husband is—and even the attorney he hires). Usually, it’s probably safe to say that separation agreement cases cost between $2,500 and $7,500. Contested divorces (divorces where the court is involved) are much more difficult to estimate, so you should talk to the attorney at your appointment, but understand ahead of time that it’s difficult for the attorney to give you a fair and accurate estimate without a crystal ball.
At the end of your consultation, you should have a good idea of the choices available to you, so that you can start to make the kinds of decisions you need to make to move forward with your life. Whether that includes a divorce, a separation, a custody case or a reconciliation, we wish you all the best!
If you’re ready to take the next steps, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.