What exactly are you supposed to ask the divorce lawyer at your first meeting? If you’re like most individuals going through a divorce, you have no clue what is important and what is not. We are going to help you out. Below is an exhaustive list of questions that you should ask the divorce lawyer you meet with before seeking legal advice. Feel free to skim and take the ones you want!
How do you charge for your services? While most divorce lawyers bill “by the hour”, some also offer fixed lawyer fee options, whereby a set rate is charged for a particular portion of the family law case. Read, how much does a divorce cost and check out our calculator.
Will there be additional costs in the case independent of your fees? Most divorce cases have a mixture of third-party costs such as a “filing fee”, process server costs, court reporter fees, or even expert witnesses.
Do you offer fixed fees, a billable hour model, or anything in between? The traditional billing model for divorce cases in Florida is the billable hour model, whereby a retainer is taken in advance and the hourly work done by the lawyer is billed against the retainer. Recently, some firms have started offering fixed fee engagements where a set fee is quoted for a segment or phase of a case.
Can we set a budget or cap on fees in advance so that costs do not exceed a predetermined amount without my permission? Lawyers should offer to budget or cap fees in the hourly billing model so that the lawyer and the client need to discuss the next steps in a case when a budget maximum is reached.
Can you estimate the total cost of the case? Can you estimate the cost of the case for each phase of the case? Ask the lawyer for an estimate of each phase in the case if operating under a billable hour model. While the nature of the billable hour model makes it impossible to quote an exact fee, an attorney with enough experience should be able to offer an estimated range of costs associated with a particular leg of a case.
Can we stagger fees? Most divorce attorneys can stagger fees that are due under certain premarked events. For example, our firm staggers fees that are triggered based on the following events: retention of the law firm, mediation segment, and trial litigation.
If we need to retain an expert to help us, what is an estimate for their fees? The right expert witness can make the difference between a positive outcome and a negative outcome. But you need to be able to budget now for an expert in the future.
Will my spouse be on the hook for some or all of my fees? Florida is a fee shifting state. If one party makes disparately more than the other, the party with the money can expect to contribute to the other’s fees.
If one spouse becomes responsible for another spouse’s fees, when will that payment become due? For budgeting purposes, you need to know if a contribution to your spouse’s fees is expected next week, next month, or next year.
Will you provide a cost-benefit analysis prior to undertaking a major shift in strategy or course? Divorce cases are ”single pot” cases, where the monies spent on the case can correspondingly lead to a decrease in money available for the parties. Cost-benefit analysis is required at every stage of the game.
How do I pay for your services?: This might be the first and, with any luck, the last time you need to figure out how to pay for a divorce. Don’t be ashamed to ask your attorney for help in figuring out the best way to finance the cost of your case.
Should I hide or move my assets to protect them? The short answer is no, don’t hide your assets. Transparency is not only the right thing to do, but it can help you resolve your case faster and more cost efficiently than playing games. But don’t be afraid to see how your attorney responds to this question.
Divorce Attorney Duties
Do you think that you get emotionally involved in your case? This is a great question. On one hand, you want an attorney who can be objective, level headed, and help reduce the emotional tension in your case. On the other hand you want an attorney who will believe in you.
Do you consider yourself a trial attorney or a transactional attorney? The reality is that divorce attorneys need to both be able to “get the deal done” and go to trial and win when a resolution cannot be reached. Divorce attorneys are both transactional and trial lawyers.
In your opinion, is it better for a case to settle or go to trial? For the vast majority of people, the best divorce cases are the ones that are settled by agreement. For a minority of cases, especially ones with domestic violence or other issues of impaired parenting, a beeline for trial is the best course of action.
Do you see going to court as a last resort or as a first resort? Most cases should start in a settlement posture, going into a litigation phase only if settlement fails. However, some emergency cases will need swift and precise litigation at the onset of the case.
Do you prepare for litigation with the contingency of settlement, or prepare for settlement with the contingency of litigation? This is another way of framing the question above.
If my spouse does not hire a lawyer, how does that change your process? Sometimes an unrepresented spouse can lead to quicker settlement. More often, it leads to a dragged out process. In all cases, it changes the strategy and handling of the case.
Can both my spouse and I use one lawyer? Lawyers are only supposed to represent one client at a time. However, it is not uncommon for a lawyer to assume a transactional role and help facilitate an agreement between his or her client and the other unrepresented party.
Is this meeting privileged? When does the attorney-client relationship begin, and why is that appropriate? It is wise to confirm what you may already recognize: that the attorney-client relationship usually begins well before a lawyer is retained.
Can you recommend a lawyer for my spouse? The answer to this question should be no. Even a well-intentioned lawyer should avoid from making recommendations about what attorney should represent the other spouse. It is just too easy to create an appearance of impropriety in these scenarios.
Do you know the Judge? Does it matter? It is comforting to know that your attorney is familiar with the process and procedures of the Judge assigned to your case. However, be careful of a lawyer who states or implies that he or she has a “leg up” with a judge due to a pre-existing relationship.
My spouse and I have an agreement. Can you just draft this up for us and get us through the process with the Judge? This an honest and common question. But look for a lawyer who wants to encourage you to allow him to analyze the deal and make recommendations before drawing up the agreement. Remember, your lawyer is an advisor and counselor as well. He or she can help you understand if the deal is a good deal — or not.
Training and Experience
How long have you been practicing law? How long has the attorney been practicing law? Any breaks in their practice?
How long have you been practicing divorce law? Does the attorney practice in multiple areas? How long has the attorney been practicing divorce law as opposed to other types of cases?
What percentage of your cases are divorce-related cases? What’s the breakdown or percentage of cases that the attorney handles that are divorce-related versus say bankruptcy?
Do you feel you carry a manageable caseload? Depending on the type of case that you have you may want an attorney that handles a smaller caseload but devotes more time and energy per case. What type of caseload is your potential attorney managing? Do you get the impression that the amount of cases that the attorney has is swallowing him or her whole?
How many cases do you currently have? Related to the question above is how many cases is the attorney handling? All practices are different so that there isn’t a right or wrong answer, but you can usually get a good gauge from this question as to whether or not the attorney feels overwhelmed or if the attorney feels that he has the resources available to give your case the proper amount of attention.
How many high-conflict cases do you have? It’s just the stark reality of life that no attorney can handle a caseload that is 100% high-conflict. High-conflict cases tend to take up a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and emotional resources.
How long have you been practicing in ____ County? Just as important as how long an attorney’s been practicing is how long the attorney has been practicing in your particular neck of the woods.
Are you familiar with the Judges in ___ County?
How many Judges are there in ____ County? Like the question above, this is really just trying to get a feel for how much the attorney knows about this particular jurisdiction.
Are there Judges you do not feel comfortable practicing in front of in ____ County? Some attorneys have had bad experiences with members of the judiciary that make them inappropriate to handle certain cases. It’s good to know in advance if there is going to be some sort of conflict that can make handling your case difficult.
Litigation Training and Experience
The reality is certain cases must go to litigation in order to get the right result. You are vetting not just the transactional experience of your family law attorney, but also their ability to litigate if and when it is required.
Have you tried a divorce case to its conclusion? Other divorce attorneys know who can try a case in front of a judge and who can’t. Is your attorney comfortable in the courtroom setting?
How many divorce cases have you taken to trial? How many cases has your attorney taken to trial?
How many cases have you taken to trial in front of a jury? Divorce cases in Florida are almost exclusively tried in front of a judge not a jury. But if your case has the possibility of being high conflict with substantial litigation, consider looking for an attorney was substantial jury trial experience. You’ll find somebody who is extremely comfortable in all phases of litigation.
Are you a member of any clubs or associations for Trial Lawyers?
When was the last case you took to trial? Some attorneys chat with each other over happy hour about that big case they had… in 1979. Just as important as having strong lawyer experience in litigation is having strong recent experience in litigation.
How many cases do you take to trial in a given year? The same as above, while you want your attorney to be settling the vast majority of his or her cases, it’s good to know that your attorney is able to litigate when needed.
Do other lawyers in your firm take cases to trial? Perhaps your attorney is purely transactional. That can be okay if your attorney has other lawyers within their own firm who can help out if the case must go to trial.
If we end up going to trial, will you or another lawyer in your firm be able to handle my case? Sometime just asking is the best policy. There are some attorneys that are not comfortable going to trial. Many collaborative attorneys, for example, will specifically define the scope of the representation to include a settlement phase. If the divorce proceedings lead to the litigation path, these attorneys will bow out and let another attorney handle the case.
Settlement Training and Experience
The vast majority of cases are going to settle. The only way you’re going to know if you’re getting a reasonable deal or not is going to be based on your attorney. This requires a lot of trust, so the best thing you can do is check the attorney out thoroughly at the beginning of the process, so you understand how you guys will work together.
How do you determine if a potential settlement offer is a “good deal”? Even if your case does not step foot in a courtroom, it’s good to have an understanding of how the law works to get a basic idea of what is a good deal in your case. Of course, a good deal also accounts for subjective things like your particular needs or your spouse’s particular needs. Nonetheless, you want to have an understanding of how your attorneys can analyze the case. What’s the framework that you guys are going to work from when deciding if a deal is something that should be accepted or rejected?
Have you read “Getting to Yes”? “Getting to Yes,” a book by the authors of the Harvard Negotiation Project, is considered the authority on principled settlement. These guys originated the concept of win-win, later made famous by Stephen Covey and his “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The model of collaborative training is built on getting to yes. The principled negotiation that comes from these guys is simply a must-read for any person trying to negotiate settlements for families.
Have you had any collaborative training? Similar to the question above, it can be helpful to have an attorney who has collaborative training under their belt, even if your case is not a collaborative one. Collaborative training is built on principled negotiation or the concept of not digging a line in the sand or taking a position that can’t be moved.
Have you had any divorce mediation training? A related concept is that certain family law attorneys have been trained in how to mediate.
What percentage of your cases end up settling? This question does two things. First, it gives you an idea of whether or not your attorney is one who settles everything, settles nothing, or somewhere in between. This also helps you get an idea of how organized and systematic your attorney is with his business process. Does he have this data? Do you think it’s important for an attorney to have the data that tells them what percentage of the cases settle or not?
Do most of your cases that settle finalize in mediation, informally, or right before Court? Is your attorney formulaic and structured, and the vast majority of the cases settled in the formalized confines of mediation? Does your potential attorney use the threat of litigation to broker a settlement agreement, thereby settling a bunch of cases on the courthouse steps? Again there isn’t a right or wrong answer, but this is the sort of question that can help you understand how your attorney goes about their business to see if he or she is the right fit for you.
If we go into a mediation and it is clear in the first five minutes that we are years apart, what do you do?
Many attorneys will tell you that they will not waste your money if they go into a mediation and it’s clear that the parties are far apart. While that is a fine strategy, what about the attorney that sees a positive in getting the parties together and attempts to try to settle smaller issues or temporary issues when the ability to negotiate a full settlement is not there? If we can’t agree on everything in mediation, can we still use mediation productively?
How often do you expect to talk to a client in a given week? Month?
Some attorneys will talk to their clients on a weekly basis or more. Other attorneys will only talk to their clients when their clients contact them. Yet other attorneys religiously follow the one phone call a month to do an overview strategy session no matter how many times the client has talked to the attorney in the past 30 days. There isn’t a right answer, but it’s good to know in advance what the scope of communication will be.
How do I contact you?
In divorce cases it’s often just as if not more important that the client be able to contact the attorney frequently than it is for the attorney to contact the client. Things arise, and the accessible attorney or law firm will be in a much better position to help de-escalate problems and solve them from the beginning. How does the attorney communicate? Via email, telephone, direct office line, cell phone, text message, all of the above?
How often do you expect me to contact you? Likewise what is the expected nature of communication from client to attorney? Some attorneys don’t expect much if any communication from the client. Other attorneys expect very frequent communication even by way of text. Spell out expectations in advance, and understand the scope of what your particular agreement is going to be.
Can I email you? Text you? Leave a voice message?
Do you have a direct line that I can reach? Your cell phone?
Do I primarily communicate with you or your paralegal?
Again this goes to the system or structure of the law you’re working with. Will the attorney be the main point of contact for you, or will it be a paralegal or legal receptionist? Will it be all of the above? Will it be an associate attorney or the partner?
Will I be given the number of your paralegal? Your secretary?
Relatedly, who is the person they’ll be getting contact information for.
If I leave a message for you how quickly should I expect a call back?
Can you expect the phone call back the same day, the next morning, or in two weeks? Does the attorney have some sort of system in place to make sure questions get answered?
What happens if I have an emergency and you are unavailable?
Attorneys are only in the law office certain hours a day. Divorce attorneys happen to spend quite a bit of time in court,mediation, and other events. So what’s the policy if an emergency happens and your attorney is unavailable?
What different types of divorce options are available to me? Besides the traditional model of filing a case, what other options are available for divorce with this law firm? Is uncontested on the table? How about collaborative? Or how about a mediation-first process prior to filing?
What is an uncontested divorce and am I eligible for one? An uncontested divorce has the the beauty of usually being quick and less emotionally involved. Is that a possibility in your case? What would make your case ineligible for an uncontested divorce?
What is a collaborative divorce and am I eligible for one? A collaborative divorce model is one that focuses on a win-win settlement agreement. You can consider it the opposite of going to court. Does the attorney you’re meeting with think that this is a reasonable possibility in your case? Why or why not?
What is a mediated settlement agreement and how do I get there? The reality is that the goal of every party in a divorce should be to get a settlement agreement on all of the issues. Is a mediated settlement agreement a possibility in your case?
How do we handle an emergency divorce issue? While a settlement agreement is the goal of all parties, emergencies do happen. How is it handled in this firm?
Should I file right away? Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that it’s important to file first. But is this really true? What are the benefits of filing first? What are the benefits of not filing at all and pursuing a collaborative model?
I don’t want to file right now, but I want to protect my assets. What can we do? Divorce is not easy, and the vast majority of the people that we consult with are not emotionally ready to pull the trigger. Often a driving force is that there are assets, other financial obligations, or even relationships with children that need to be protected, and the jurisdiction of the court needs to be invoked. Are the options to pursue without actually filing?
Can we stop the divorce if we decide to reconcile? If only it were so simple that every time somebody filed divorce it was because the relationship was 100% over, and they didn’t want to be together anymore. Reconciliations are real and they happen all the time.
Legal Separation as an Alternative to Divorce
What is a legal separation and is that an alternative for me? While Florida doesn’t exactly call it a legal separation, the state does offer an alternative for two parties to divide assets and to provide support to one another even without filing a divorce. The separate maintenance actions can give rise to what is in effect a legal separation in Florida. Does it make sense to go this route set of filing for divorce are there any benefits?
What is the difference between a legal and physical separation? When we talk of separation in a divorce case are we really talking about the legal separation, or the physical act of separating? For example, many cases see a physical separation of the parties right before a legal filing for separation or divorce.
Annulment as an Alternative to Divorce
What is an annulment and can I get one? The concept of an annulment has both legal definitions as well as religious definitions. For example, certain religions will grant annulment of a marriage even when the state won’t grant an annulment. Is this something in which you should be interested in your case? Is it even a possibility?
Is it better to try to get an annulment or divorce? Is it worth trying to get an annulment or does it make sense to just go forward and get a divorce? Annulments require a judicial finding of fact, where divorces can be granted purely on the parties’ agreement.
Financial Information Gathering Process
I think my spouse will be hiding assets. What can I do? We often see cases where one spouse has a better understanding and knowledge of the assets than the other spouse.
Do I need to start gathering documents? What documents? Florida believes that it’s important to have transparency with the gathering and exchange of financial documents in a divorce. What documents you need to start gathering?
Will you go to the bank and subpoena documents for me or do I need to get them? When are our documents gathered by me, and when are documents subpoenaed from the bank?
When are documents due for each party to turn over? Early in the divorce process both you and your spouse will be gathering documents. The initial consultation is the first opportunity to figure out what documents you’ll need to be gathering.
What documents can we request from my spouse? Some documents you won’t have access to. You’ll need to request these from your spouse.
What documents can we request from my spouse’s employer? There will likely be documents that your spouse won’t have access to; for example, the employment file. In these cases, it might be wise to go directly to your spouse’s employer.
My spouse does not care about rules. What can we do when he refuses to turn documents over? What happens if the other spouse doesn’t turn over documents? How do we compel compliance?
Why are all these financial documents so important? Why do we have this process of gathering up all these financial documents? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just waived this requirement?
I anticipate a high-conflict custody battle. How do you approach these types of cases? The greatest tragedy in divorce cases is when a custody battle spirals out of control for months or even years. The attorneys have a lot of say in controlling or mitigating some of the emotional responses in these cases and keeping things under control.
What is a parenting coordinator and how can one help me? In 2009 the Florida legislature recognized formally in a statute the concept and idea of parenting coordinators. These are specially trained individuals that can help parents in high-conflict cases work together to get things done. Perhaps this is right in your case?
Will I need to develop a custody arrangement until my child is 18, or can we do a partial and revisit later? The one-size-fits-all approach to custody plans is problematic. This is especially true with younger children. Is one plan appropriate in your case or should there be multiple plans?
What if I want to move out of the area with my child later? If a move down the line is a possibility, what do you need to know now in anticipation of it?
Impairments That Might Result in Restricted Custody
Florida starts with the presumption that both parents should have substantial timesharing. However, that presumption goes away if there is an impairment that restricts one of the parents from giving his or her full attention to their duties.
Do you have experience representing an emotionally abused spouse or child? Does the attorney have experience handling an emotionally abused spouse or child? Is the attorney comfortable working with an intervention utilizing third parties?
Do you have experience in cases with power-control issues between the parents? Power-control issues can cause problems even after two parties split apart. It can lead to an imbalance in the decision-making process, including an inability to negotiate a proper settlement. Can the attorney help a spouse who has a problem with an aggressive spouse’s ability to impose their will on them?
Do you have experience in cases with alcohol abuse issues? A parent suffering from alcohol addiction might have demons that need to be resolved or at least partially remedied before exercising substantial timesharing. Does the attorney have the desire or experience to help work through these problems?
Do you have experience in cases with substance abuse issues? Relatedly, substance abuse issues can impair the ability of a parent to parent. Does the attorney have experience in substance abuse cases?
Do you have experience in cases with psychological impairments or disturbances? Problematic and difficult to diagnose, psychological impairments such as bipolar disease and schizophrenia can impair a parent’s ability to effectively co-parent.
Do you have experience in cases with physical abuse? Florida has put a clause in its child custody statute whereby a presumption is created that a parent convicted of a first-degree misdemeanor of domestic violence or greater should have no timesharing with the child. Does the attorney have experience with such cases?
Do you have experience in cases where there is parental alienation of a child? Perhaps nothing in divorce and family law is more painful and heartbreaking than when one parent intentionally or subconsciously alienates children against the other parent. Psychologists call this parental alienation.
What is a no-fault divorce and why does it matter? If my spouse has cheated on me, does it matter? How?
My spouse has used marital funds to pay for his or her girlfriend. Is there anything we can do about it? When does the act of using marital funds and otherwise doing bad things with marital money exceed the realm of no-fault and become an issue for the court?
Asset and Debt Information
How will the courts decide who keeps what? Almost all parties have something in the way of assets or debts. How does the court decide asset distribution?
Will all of our stuff be split 50/50? When does an equitable distribution of assets mean an equal distribution and when does it not?
What is the difference between a marital and non-marital asset? Marital assets are subject to division by the court. For example, the marital house can be sold upon a court order. But non-marital assets belong only to one party and the court can’t touch them. How do we decide what is marital and non-marital?
How do I keep my spouse from liquidating our Assets while the divorce is pending?
A common problem is when one spouse, often angry, decides to blow through marital funds while the case is pending. What can be done to slow this down or even stop it?
Can I keep the home? Will the court order us to sell the home? Nothing in a divorce is more emotional than the sale or tug-of-war of the marital home that has been in the parties’ possession for quite some time. When can you keep the home and when will the court order the parties to sell it?
What is exclusive use and possession? A related concept, but when will the court order that the parties together keep the home?
Is it a bad move for me to move out of the home? Is there anything wrong with moving out of the home during a pending divorce? Will that be abandonment?
Do I have a legal interest in our home even if it is titled in my spouse’s name only? But during the marriage the income of the parties was used to pay down the mortgage on that home. This can create a legal interest in the home for the other party that might not exist otherwise.
How does the court split up retirement accounts? These are usually titled solely in one of the parties names. Retirement accounts are also governed by a federal statute that defines when they can be liquidated and whether there will be any penalties or fees associated with the liquidation or transfer.
What is a QDRO? What is a qualified domestic relations order and how can it help me split up assets and debts?
What can I do to protect my retirement savings? You may have worked a long time to get the retirement savings that you have. What are the steps that can be taken in order to maximize how much of the retirement account is protected?
What types of alimony might be appropriate in my case? Long-term marriage or short, there are multiple types of alimony that might be appropriate in different types of cases. What types of alimony may be appropriate in your given case?
How does the court determine an amount for alimony? Instead of having a formula for alimony, Florida utilizes a multi-factored approach to determining the amount of alimony that should be awarded. How does this approach work?
How can we use alimony to help a spouse become self-sufficient? Sometimes we can use alimony not just as a monthly annuity but to accomplish something life-changing to help a party get back into the workforce.
What is standard of living and why does it matter? A very important concept in alimony is the standard of living that the parties had during the marriage. When possible the courts will generally try to keep the parties in the same standard of living.
What experts can help in alimony cases? Alimony is a numbers game. Sometimes the best way to prepare and present the back alimony case is to play the numbers game using experts. For example, forensic accounting experts and vocational rehabilitative experts can help support or defend an alimony claim.
Child Support Information
How is child support determined? Child support is based on a formula in Florida. But often we have a difficult time getting to a child support number. That’s because while the formula might be straightforward, sometimes finding out the numbers to put into the formula is anything but.
My spouse has a business and lies about his income to the IRS. What can we do? The nice thing about Florida’s child support statute is it specifically says that it doesn’t care what the IRS considers income. Florida’s child support statute has its own income definition: whatever is regular and recurring should be income for purposes of child support. Discuss the situation of your spouse’s business with the attorney at the introductory meeting.
How do we handle uncovered healthcare, child care, and other expenses? Sometimes lost in the discussion of child support but no less important, is the concept of uncovered health expenses and uncovered child care costs. These can be included in the child support obligation, but often they are kept separately in order to be paid as they occur on a pro rata basis. If you have unique child care or healthcare concerns, then discuss them with your attorney at the first meeting.
What happens if my spouse does not pay child support? Perhaps you don’t trust your spouse to make the child support payment when this case is all said and done. What can be done to ensure proper payment of child support in a timely basis by the paying spouse?
Can we order the child support be taken directly out of my spouse’s pay? In many cases money can be ordered to be paid directly into your bank account. We often do this by something called the income withholding order.
Domestic Violence and Other Emergencies
I am the victim of domestic violence. How does that change my case? Domestic violence cases can be the most difficult to negotiate and the most likely to go to trial.
How can we handle shared custody with a party who has physically abused me? A real quagmire exists when a parent is physically abusive to another parent, but the court determines that that physically abusive parent is still appropriate to exercise timesharing with the minor child or children. Florida believes that parents should co-parent whenever possible. What to do in these situations?
What is an injunction or restraining order, and how do I get one? An injunction or restraining order is a civil remedy of literally restraining the physical movements of another human being. This is an extreme remedy.
My spouse is abusing the system and using the domestic injunction as a custody tool. What can we do? Unfortunately, while injunctions serve a vital role they are also right for abuse by parties when a divorce cases pending. Many parties use domestic violence injunctions or restraining orders in order to try to build up a child custody case. What can we do in these situations?
Wiretapping and Photocopying of Records
When should I take copies of records from the home? Your spouse has left certain records that are jointly owned by you but also some that are only his. When should we photocopy records and when should we leave them alone? Should you take possession of some of his records?
When can I videotape or record my spouse? Florida has very strict electronic communication rules and wiretapping statutes. As a general rule we do not want to be videotaping or recording your spouse without their permission. If you have additional questions about what is appropriate and when, talk to your attorney about it at the introductory consultation.
Professionals in Other Fields
Do you have psychiatrists or clinical psychologists that you trust to help me? No area of law has more tangible areas where professionals can help the parties get from a bad place to a good place than family law. Often, an attorney is able to recommend a good clinical psychologist or psychiatrist that can help the other spouse or the children with the family work on getting back to the best possible place.
Do you have a problem referring your clients out to professionals in related fields when appropriate?
Does the attorney that you’re discussing your case with feel it’s appropriate to make referrals to other professionals? Does the attorney have relationships with other professionals to enable such referrals to take place?
How do we decide on a mediator to help us resolve our case? Do you have mediators that you work with on a regular basis? Without question mediators can really help parties transact win-win settlement agreements and get them out of court. Does the attorney have a good relationship with any of the mediators in the area? Does the attorney have particular mediators that they like to use often?
Picking the Right Place for the Divorce
We have property in Tennessee. Can we resolve that piece of property in this case?
Is this the right state to get a divorce? The right county?
There’s nothing worse than starting a divorce case in the wrong place so that you have to start all over again. Are you in the right place for jurisdictional purposes? Are you in the right county for venue purposes? Does the particular county have child custody jurisdiction? Be sure to go over this in every divorce consultation just to make sure that you are not wasting time and money going forward.
The Divorce Process
How do we go about keeping the status quo? Often it is ideal to keep the status quo during a pending divorce until all of the issues get finally resolved. Unfortunately, emotions are high and often one party, especially the one controlling the purse strings, threatens to change the status quo of the other party. What’s the best way to keep the status quo pending a final divorce?
What if my spouse cuts me off financially before we get to the Judge? Often one party controls the purse strings and the other party is dependent upon the other for financial needs. In these cases, the dependent party is very concerned about the possibility of the purse-controlling spouse cutting them off. What if they do? How will the attorney handle that situation?
Should I get a physical examination? A mental health examination? A dental examination? In alimony cases, the physical condition of one or both the parties can be an issue. In child custody cases, the mental health condition can be an issue between the parties. Are there going to be allegations of physical or mental incapacity? Would it benefit you to be proactive and seek an evaluation for a physical or mental incapacity right out of the gate?
Can we compel my spouse to submit to a mental health examination?
Alternatively if we know that the other spouse or we suspect that the other spouse has mental health issues that might impair their ability to parent, can we seek a court order for that party to get a mental evaluation?
I have substance abuse issues — what do we need to do? The reality is that substance abuse issues are common in divorce courts. If you have a substance abuse issue and are concerned that the issue could negatively impact your time with your child, what you do? Are there pro-active actions that you can take now that will benefit you in the long run?
My spouse has substance abuse issues — what can we do? Conversely if your spouse has substance abuse issues, how can you protect your child or children when they are with him and not in your care? Does this need to be brought to the court’s attention and if so, when and how? Do we have an emergency issue, or do we have something that can be handled in the normal course of the divorce events?
What about insurance during the pending divorce? Car insurance, health insurance, life insurance, and the like are of vital importance. Can we compel your spouse to keep you covered under his or her health insurance? What if he cuts you off of the health insurance or cancels your car insurance? What can we do to minimize the chances of one of those bad things and help keep the status quo going forward?
Runaway Other Attorney
How do we stop a runaway opposing attorney? While rare, there are attorneys on the other side that will run roughshod for no good reason. Often called “bomber attorneys”, these attorneys aggressively rack up fees by hitting a no-holds barred litigation approach. How does your attorney intend to minimize this damage that can be caused by this sort of bomber attorney?
Game Plan and Goal Setting
What is the process for determining settlement goals? For 95% of those going through the divorce process, the number one goal is settlement. But how do we get there? What’s the plan of action to get us from point A to point Z? The art of game planning starts with the very first consultation between lawyer and client.
How can a divorce be “win-win”? At first blush, a financial divorce is seen as a zero-sum game. There are X amount of dollars in a pot. Every dollar that Johnny gets is one less dollar for Jane. This is a traditional positional negotiation. But for most people going through a divorce there are needs and wants that aren’t necessarily just tied into the dollars and cents of it. By looking at these needs and wants, we can often craft a win-win settlement agreement that benefits both parties.
Your Lawyers versus Your Divorce Team
What happens when you go on vacation? Lawyers are no different than everyone else. They get sick, they go on vacation, they take maternity leave, and they otherwise have private events that might limit their availability. It’s important to learn up front how the lawyer and the firm handles these events. One or more of these events will likely happen during your representation.
Will you be the lawyer always handling my case? Each firm has a different way of handling its caseload. For those in small firms, he or she will be the only lawyer and often times the only staff member handling the case. In bigger firms, it’s common to have a lead attorney along with other attorneys who help either work up the case or handle different segments the case. It’s important to understand up front the actual nature of the agreement that you have.
Who else will be assisting and supporting me in my case? Will there be a experienced divorce attorney assisting you on the case? Will there be more than one? Who is your point of contact with the firm? Does the firm have an organizational structure where the attorney handles the majority of the client work but has less cases overall? Or is it a more traditional structure with an attorney, perhaps another attorney, and paralegals working on the case? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it helps to know in advance what structure the firm that you choose operates under.
Taxes and Divorce
How does the IRS handle child support and alimony payments? There are two types of support in Florida: child support and spousal support, or alimony. Understanding how both are taxed can help you and your attorney decide how to structure a deal when you get through the case.
Who will get the child care tax dependency exemptions? The IRS has its own rules with dealing with child care tax dependency exemptions. However, the parties in a divorce can always agree to do whatever they want with the tax exemptions. It’s important to address tax exemptions as early as the first divorce consultation in your case.
Should I change my estate planning documentation now, before the divorce is even final? If you’re in the divorce process, you don’t want to live with your spouse anymore. It may stand to reason that you don’t want your spouse to have decision-making rights over you anymore, including your health care decisions should you become sick or incapacitated. Chat with your attorney at the beginning of the consultation, so you know what actions you need to take with your estate planning documentation.