Meeting with a lawyer for the first time about a divorce can be overwhelming for a number of reasons. Obviously, clients most likely are experiencing emotional trauma over the loss of their relationship and uncertainty about their future. Navigating the legal intricacies of the divorce process adds yet another element of uncertainty to the situation. For a client who is unfamiliar with the legal process, learning about options and discussing ways in which to proceed during the most stressful time of their life can be confusing. However, it is a critical meeting — one at which the lawyer can assess the client's situation and priorities, and one at which the client can become comfortable with the lawyer.
Clients often have no idea what to expect from the initial consultation. At the very least, I believe that the client should leave my office that day knowing that he or she has choices, that there is no "one size fits all" method for divorcing, and that I have some understanding of the issues their case will present. In developing an understanding of the issues, it is necessary to have information about the nature of the parties’ marital estate, including their assets and liabilities. It is particularly helpful if clients bring along the following documents when they meet with me for the first time to discuss their divorce:
- Copies of their most recent Federal Income Tax Return, including W-2s, 1099s and schedules.
- Copies of recent paystubs.
- A copy of all recent mortgage and/or home equity loan statements, for all properties owned; if a home is in foreclosure, a copy of the most recent Act 91 Notice.
- Recent statements for all investment and retirement accounts, including 401(k)s, IRAs and pensions.
- Recent bank account statements.
- Annual income statements from the Social Security Administration.
- Information regarding the value of any business interests.
- Documentation of loan balances, credit card debts or outstanding medical bills
It is my experience that the more information a client is able to provide at the initial consultation, the better idea I have about the extent and complexities of their marital estate. We are therefore able to discuss a variety of options about how to move forward, including whether or not the client wishes to proceed in the traditional litigation model or whether the client would like to resolve their divorce-related issues through the Collaborative process. A productive initial consultation is mutually beneficial and is the first step in educating both the client and the lawyer about the central issues and priorities moving forward.