What to Expect – The First Meeting with Your Family Law Attorney
Most people feel nervous when meeting with a lawyer, especially when they are also dealing with a major change in their family life. Take a deep breath. I promise I don’t bite. Here’s a little bit about what to expect in our first meeting.
My initial consultations take about 1 ½ hours on average. Based on experience, I find that clients stop absorbing information after that amount of time and sometimes they are emotionally exhausted.
We’re going to have a detailed conversation. I am primarily going to listen to you. I will ask questions to guide the discussion so I can get a better picture of what’s happening in your life and to learn what are your primary concerns and goals. You will also have ample time to ask me questions. I suggest you write down your questions before you come, and then go over the list before we conclude the meeting to be sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
What specific things are we going to talk about?
Divorce: In general, divorce includes four broad topics – property, debt, children (if applicable), and alimony (also called spousal support). If there are minor children involved, then we will discuss custody (legal custody, which is decision-making rights and responsibilities) and physical custody (which is when the children will spend time in each parent’s care). We will also talk about how the bills get paid and money to live on while the case is proceeding, which is called the Interim Allocation of Income and Expenses.
Unmarried parents: If you are not married to your children’s other parent, we will focus our conversation on custody and child support matters. New Mexico does not allow alimony (called “palimony” in other states) if the couple was unmarried; however, sometimes the parents have bought major items of property together – such as a house, business, vehicles, etc. – that need to be divided when they break up.
Grandparents raising grandchildren: We will talk about your role in taking care of the children in the past, what is happening now, and what are your concerns for the future. I will go over the difference between grandparent visitation versus kinship guardianship or actual adoption. I will want to hear about the whole family dynamic – your relationship with each parent of the grandchildren, what you have done to contribute to taking care of the children, why you believe one or both parents are unable or unwilling to take care of the children now, and what are your long-term goals in terms of caring for the grandchildren.
What papers should you bring to the meeting?
New court cases: Generally, if there is no pending court deadline or hearing, it’s not necessary to bring any papers with you for the initial consultation. Some people feel more confident if they have a checklist to help them prepare for meetings. My Potential Client Questionnaire outlines the factual information we will discuss about you and your family. You can ask to have it emailed to you in advance, fill it out, and bring it with you if you wish.
Pending court cases: If you were served with court papers, such as a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Temporary Order of Protection, please bring those pleadings with you or email them prior to your appointment. I will need to read them.
Enforcement or modification of an existing court order: If you or the other side is trying to enforce or modify a prior court order, then bring the Motion to Enforce / Modify as well as the prior order being enforced or modified. I will need to read them.
Legal Procedure Options
Nowadays, families have options for resolving their disputes. You can still go to court and let the judge make the decisions, but you also can take more control over the ultimate outcome by utilizing either the Collaborative procedure or mediation / settlement facilitation. We will discuss the various legal procedure options during the initial consultation.
Representation & Fee Agreement
At the end of the initial consultation, I will provide you with the Representation & Fee Agreement. This is a contract that spells out the responsibilities each of us as if you choose to hire me to represent you. It explains my fees and your payment obligations. The retainer is set. I do not become your lawyer until I receive both the Agreement (signed in the presence of a Notary Public) and the retainer.
What happens next?
There is usually a flurry of activity at the beginning of a case. You will work closely with the paralegal in gathering documents and financial records. The appropriate pleading will be drafted. If there is a court hearing coming up, I will prepare for it and prepare you for what you will likely do in the courtroom. We will go to court together, if the issue is not settled in advance.
There are no dumb questions
If you don’t understand something, speak up! This is your life and we want you to understand exactly what’s happening every step of the way.