If you have reached the point where you are considering contacting a family law attorney, you are probably undergoing an emotional and stressful time in your life. Though it will be difficult, you will need to sort out your emotions from the facts in order to proceed because even in family law matters, the court will use a rational, business-like approach. The advice and involvement of an experienced family law attorney can help.
The job of your attorney is to use your knowledge of the facts to counsel you on the relevant issues of your case and to help you approach your situation with reason rather than emotion. Many people are surprised by what they learn during an initial consultation because they don't anticipate all the factors that may affect the likelihood of achieving a successful outcome. How could they? An experienced attorney is trained to apply the law to your particular situation and to work with you to get the best results possible.
After you decide to make an appointment for your initial consultation, create a list or a timetable of the events that caused you to turn to a lawyer for your family law case. During the discussion, you may have to address several upsetting issues and the lawyer may ask you some disturbing or pointed questions. You do not have to worry about shocking the lawyer - an experienced attorney has probably already heard a similar story. It is important for you to be forthcoming and honest. If your attorney doesn't know all the facts, he or she can't be as effective as possible.
Give your attorney a head start on the discovery process by preparing for your initial consultation. Gather as much factual information as possible. Remember, your communication with your attorney is privileged and protected by the attorney/client relationship.
This is a lengthy list. Do your best to gather all of the following information:
- Information about any prior marriage of either spouse, including a certified copy of the divorce decree.
- A copy of any domestic contracts (e.g., a prenuptial agreement).
- Information about any previous legal proceedings between the spouses or involving any of the children.
- Dates and particulars about any previous separations, attempts at reconciliation, or marriage counseling.
- The name of your employer and your spouse's employer, including dates of employment.
- Social security and driver's license numbers.
- Copies of your (single or joint) income tax returns for the last three years.
- Copies of your last three pay stubs (if you work outside the home).
- Note your spouse's income and other household income.
- Name of bank, saving and checking accounts numbers, amounts and whose names are on the accounts.
- Stocks, bonds and other investment information.
- The value of a pension, whose name it is in and when they began to contribute to the pension.
- Note other valuable items such as jewelry, artwork and other collections.
- Purchase date, purchase price, remaining balances and current value of real estate holdings.
- List all debts including amount owed, to whom, account numbers, when they were incurred, when due and whose name they are in.
- Education and employment background of both parties.
- Names and ages of children.
Note any "skeletons" that may be at issue, such as drug/alcohol abuse, if either party ever committed a crime, domestic abuse, or sexual misconduct.
Remember, the information you provide your attorney is protected by the attorney/client privilege. It is imperative that you be fully honest with your attorney so he or she can help you.
The other important thing to keep in mind is to ask questions. Make a list so you don't forget to ask the things that really matter to you. The adage, "There are no dumb questions," is true. Your attorney does not expect you to understand all of the issues or legal terms and will do his or her best to avoid complicated legal language. But if you don't know the meaning of a legal term or any legal procedure, ask for clarification. You need to understand everything that is going on so you can make the best decisions possible.