When you need information regarding any aspect of family law, consider scheduling an initial consultation. Knowing how the law applies to your specific case will provide you with the appropriate direction that you need in what can be a difficult time.
Feel free to call (215) 523-6900 for a brief phone conversation, wherein we’ll discuss the parties involved, the basic issues, and any potential conflicts. You will need to provide your name and the other party’s name, as well as your county and other basic information that we will require from you.
The Initial Family Law Consultation
The purpose of this meeting is to share the necessary background facts and then tailor my advice to your specific situation. These meetings usually take about an hour, depending on the complexity of the case.
I’ll start the meeting requesting basic biographical information, such as names, addresses and birthdates. We’ll discuss your income and earning history and the other party’s income and earning history. If there are children involved, you will need to supply their names and birthdates. Be prepared to discuss any current issues. For example, for a child support case, I would need to know if there are any extraordinary expenses, such as tuition, daycare, health insurance, medical needs, etc. For a custody case, we will begin to discuss the major issues and preferred schedules.
If this is a divorce case, we will discuss the assets and debts of both parties, no matter who holds the title. We will also discuss what assets or debts are considered marital and what may be considered non-marital. Accordingly, no matter when an asset was purchased, or when a debt was incurred, be prepared to discuss it.
After your meeting, it’s helpful to revisit your goals alone and think about what you heard when you went to your consultation. Look at the facts, but also trust your gut. When you know who you want to hire, reach out soon to ensure action on the timeline originally discussed.
What information do you receive at the initial consultation?
Once you provide me with the background, I will explain how family law issues work in your specific county.
If this is a divorce case, I will explain the procedure for filing for divorce (or answering a divorce that your spouse may have filed). We will discuss the legal significance of what is included in the divorce complaint and how the court grants a divorce. Since divorces vary from the simple to the complex, I will explain the procedure I would anticipate in your specific case, and the “best-case” and “worst-case” scenarios that I would predict, based on the information you provide.
For a child support or spousal support case, we can discuss the income and earning capacity of both parties and I can estimate a support award, based on the child support guidelines. We will also discuss how these figures are calculated and what you can do to make sure your award is fair.
For custody cases, we will discuss current issues with your child or children and how you would like the case resolved. I will explain how procedure works in your county and what steps you can take to protect yourself. Sometimes, people are unaware of the many different options available to resolve custody issues so we can tailor a plan for your situation.
You may receive a reference packet of information I have designed that explains the law and your rights, including forms, helpful tips, worksheets and brochures for other useful services.
What should you bring to the initial family law consultation?
The more detailed information you can provide, the more specific advice I can provide. That being said, some people do not have access to all of the necessary information for a variety of reasons (e.g. their spouse took care of the finances, their spouse is secretive, the other party refuses to provide it, you do not want to alert the other party that you are looking into these matters). If you do not have documentation, do not worry about it. We can get it later.
- Marriage Certificate (Ordering Info: Philadelphia marriage certificates; Other Pennsylvania Counties)
- Any Court Documents You Have Received (Divorce Complaint, Letter from an Attorney, etc.)
- Recent Paystubs for you and your spouse
- Recent Tax Returns (at least two years) Information on your house (mortgage statement, value of house, real estate tax bill, etc.)
- Automobile Information (how is it titled, how much is owed, how much is the payment)
- Bank and Investment Statements
- Retirement Account/Pension Plan Statements
- List of Valuable Personal Property (jewelry, artwork, collections)
- Vacation Homes
- Credit Card Statements
- Personal Loan Statements
- Student Loan Statements
- Written Agreements between you and your Spouse
- Insurance Information: Health, Life, Automobile
- Picture of opposing party if service of process will be an issue
- Recent Paystubs for you and the other party
- Tax Returns (preferably for the previous three years)
- Health Insurance Information
- Extraordinary Expenses: tuition, daycare, camp, extracurricular activities
- Work Schedules
- Distances between various points: school-work-daycare-homes
- Children’s Schedules (activities, etc.)
- Your preferred custody schedule
- Holidays celebrated (Including religious holidays)
Cases Where There Have Already Been Court Proceedings
- All court documents/orders/pleadings
- A Printout of All Docket Entries – This can be obtained at the clerk’s office.
Many times, clients decide to retain my office during the course of the initial consultation. At that time, I will be able to quote you a retainer fee to get started on the case. Retainer fees vary depending on the complexity of the case and the number of issues involved.
5 Tips to Make the Most of your Initial Consultation
Like any situation, you want to kick things off on the right foot, and create a communicative and trusting relationship. To make the most of your initial family law consultation, consider the following tips.
1. Be prepared.
Try to imagine how complex you think your legal matter will be. Do you have children? Shared assets? Also, think about what you want to accomplish. Your attorney can help you manage all these aspects. In addition, it’s helpful to do some research and ask around for referrals. Do you know someone who had a good experience with their family law attorney? It helps to have some insight into your attorney.
When you schedule a consultation, we suggest bringing relevant paperwork, as well as any important information in your case. Showing us significant documents, such as notices from the court, can help us get a better picture of what is going on. Attorneys will often request that you fill out an intake sheet, which asks you to provide items such as addresses and birth dates. Having this information handy will help to get things moving.
2. Be honest.
Your attorney is there to help you. Hiding information or not being completely straightforward can hurt your case in the long run. Informing us of potential issues up front can help prevent problems for you down the line, and will allow us to tackle the issue head-on instead of being blindsided. Remember, your initial consultation falls under the attorney-client privilege, and will be kept confidential.
3. Trust your attorney.
Attorneys have a duty to represent you to the best of their ability. With the right information, we can help you make a plan for your case that we think is best based on our experience and knowledge of the law. While certain decisions are ultimately up to you, trusting our recommendations can go a long way. We’ll let you know whether a certain idea may work or not, and how to best approach your individual situation.
4. Keep time in mind.
Keep in mind that consultations can range in time, but often do not exceed one hour. Determine what information you need to get from your attorney in this timeframe, and what you want to make sure we know in return. Make the most of your time by asking the important questions and giving us the most up to date and relevant information.
5. Ask questions.
The initial consultation is a perfect opportunity for you to get an idea of the attorney’s style and to understand how complex your case may be. Don’t be afraid to ask any important questions to ensure that you are getting the full picture of the representation.
What to Ask Your Lawyer During the Initial Consultation
Thinking of getting a divorce will lead you to the basic and inevitable search for the right lawyer for your case. There are considerations you need to take note of and questions to ask your potential attorney. Here is a list of some basic questions you can ask to help you carry out the interview process:
How long have you been practicing as a lawyer and how much of your practice is devoted to family law?
Choose a lawyer whose focus is family law. These professionals have have significant experience dealing with the type of situation you are facing. Starting the divorce process with a family law lawyer puts your case in the right hands from the beginning.
Would you be willing to settle or negotiate? What is your opinion on mediation?
Divorce can be a messy and emotional affair. You will be navigating uncharted waters, and the right lawyer can guide you along the way. Instead of aggravating conflict, a suitable lawyer will look at all the options to resolve the case. By keeping all options open, your lawyer can advise you on the best course of action towards achieving the best settlement at the least amount of financial and emotional cost.
How long should I expect for my divorce to last?
The answer to this question is not the same in all cases. Some divorce cases take as short as four months, while others can take a year or more. It all depends on the cooperation of the two parties involved and the complications of the case. If there is a heated custody battle and wrangling interests on property division or settlement, it might take longer than usual.
What is your availability and if there are instances of your unavailability, how long should I wait for your response?
It is important that your lawyer responds within twenty-four hours and has a staff ready to attend to your immediate concerns. Communication is key when it comes to getting the best outcome for your case. It would be very frustrating to work with an unresponsive lawyer.
Will I get a copy for my personal file of all legal documents and correspondence?
You would not want to hire a lawyer who receives important documents such as a child custody or divorce settlement agreement from your spouse’s attorney and does not take note to send it to you for your consideration. A good lawyer will always give you a copy of all documents received and sent out.
How much familiarity do you have with the judges, court personnel, and court procedures?
Although many divorce cases do not require going to court, should your case require litigation, you want a lawyer who is ready to go to trial and has knowledge of and is prepared to deal with the judges, court personnel, and local court system.
How comfortable are you to represent me, considering my situation?
It is very comforting knowing that the lawyer you are considering hiring has experience with similar cases to yours. Another crucial factor is that your lawyer must be wholly invested in your type of case, especially if there are details that are not common and need a special type of knowledge and expertise.
It is important to go into your first consultation with any questions you may have. Odds are this is not something you have encountered before, but our family law attorneys are here to answer any questions you may have. Speak with one of our highly-qualified divorce attorneys by scheduling your consultation today!