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Divorce 101: What to Ask and Expect in Your First Consultation

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Divorce 101: What to Ask and Expect in Your First Consultation

First Consultation with a Divorce Attorney: Questions to Ask and Expect

Divorce law is all about preparation and strategy.

Only a tiny percentage of divorces will end up in a divorce trial. Most opposed (contested) divorces will have interim applications argued in front of a Judge or Magistrate before the matter gets settled. It is, as such unlikely that you will have to testify in your divorce trial.

First Consultation with a Divorce Attorney: Questions to Ask and Expect

During the initial consultation, ask about your Attorney’s experience, communication, dispute resolution approach, and strategy. Expect to be asked about the reason for the divorce, length of the marriage, children, property, debts, and legal fees. Be honest and upfront with your answers.

1.     How long have you been practising divorce law, and how much experience do you have handling cases similar to mine?

Ask a Divorce Attorney about their experience and background in handling cases similar to yours.

This will give you an idea of their level of expertise and how comfortable they are with the specific issues that may arise in your case.

2.     What is your approach to negotiating and resolving divorce cases?

There are many different approaches that a divorce Attorney may take when it comes to negotiating and resolving cases.

Some Attorneys may be more aggressive in their approach, using tactics such as intimidation or threats to try to get what they want.

Other Attorneys may take a more conciliatory approach, trying to find common ground and work towards a mutually beneficial resolution.

An attorney’s approach will often depend on the case’s specific circumstances and the client’s preferences.

For example, if the parties can communicate effectively and are willing to compromise, a more conciliatory approach may be appropriate.

On the other hand, if the parties cannot communicate or there are significant power imbalances, a more aggressive approach may be necessary.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that the Attorney is able to effectively advocate for their client’s interests and achieve the best possible outcome for them.

Depending on the case’s specific needs, this may involve various negotiation tactics and strategies.

3.     How will you keep me informed about the progress of my case? 

There are several ways that a divorce Attorney may keep their client informed about the progress of their case.

Here are some examples:

Regular updates: The Attorney may provide regular updates to the client via phone, email, or in-person meetings.

These updates can help the client stay informed about any developments in the case and provide an opportunity for the client to ask questions or express any concerns.

Set expectations: The Attorney may also set clear expectations with the client about the frequency and type of communication they can expect.

For example, the Attorney may let the client know that they will receive weekly updates or that they can expect to hear from the Attorney within 24 hours if a specific issue arises.

The Attorney needs to be responsive to the client’s needs and preferences regarding communication.

Some clients may want more frequent updates, while others may prefer less frequent communication.

The Attorney needs to be open and flexible in their approach to best meet the client’s needs.

4.     What are your fees, and how are they structured?

Concept Legal Fees

Divorce attorneys may structure their fees in various ways, and clients must understand how their Attorney’s fees are structured to make informed decisions about their representation.

Here are some common fee structures that divorce Attorneys may use:

Hourly rate: Some Attorneys charge an hourly rate for their services.

This means the client will be billed for the time the Attorney spends working on their case. Hourly rates can vary widely, depending on the Attorney’s experience, reputation, and location.

Flat fee: Other Attorneys may charge a flat fee for their services.

This means that the client will pay a set amount for the Attorney’s representation, regardless of how much time the Attorney spends on the case. Flat fees may be appropriate for relatively straightforward cases.

Clients need to consider the fee structure when choosing a divorce Attorney carefully.

It’s also a good idea to ask about any additional fees or expenses that may arise during the course of the case, such as expert witness fees.

5.     Can you provide references or testimonials from past clients? 

It can be helpful for clients to ask their divorce Attorney for references or testimonials from past clients, as it can provide insight into the Attorney’s experience, skills, and approach to handling cases.

Past clients can provide valuable information about their experience working with the Attorney and the outcomes of their cases.

There are a few different ways that an Attorney may provide references or testimonials to their clients:

Written testimonials: Some Attorneys may have written testimonials from past clients that they can provide to potential clients.

These may be posted on the Attorney’s website or provided upon request.

Personal references: The Attorney can also provide the contact information of past clients willing to speak with potential clients about their experience working with the Attorney. This can allow potential clients to ask more detailed questions and get a sense of what it was like to work with the Attorney.

Professional references: In addition to personal references, the Attorney may also be able to provide professional references from colleagues or other legal professionals.

These references can provide insight into the Attorney’s reputation within the legal community and their level of expertise.

Asking for references or testimonials can help potential clients decide whether a particular Attorney is right for their needs.

6.     How do you handle communication with the other party and their Attorney?

Effective communication with the other party and their Attorney is an important aspect of any divorce case.

How an Attorney handles communication with the other party and their Attorney can significantly impact the outcome of the case and the overall divorce process. 

There are a few key things that an Attorney may consider when it comes to communication with the other party and their Attorney:

Setting boundaries: The Attorney needs to set clear boundaries regarding communication with the other party and their Attorney.

This may include establishing guidelines for how and when communication will occur and any ground rules for handling difficult conversations or conflicts.

Maintaining professionalism: The Attorney must maintain a professional demeanour when communicating with the other party and their Attorney.

This may involve using neutral language, avoiding personal attacks, and staying focused on the issues at hand.

Finding common ground: The Attorney may try to find common ground and areas of agreement with the other party and their Attorney.

This can facilitate a more productive and cooperative process.

Leveraging alternative dispute resolution: In some cases, the Attorney may recommend using alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or arbitration, to help facilitate communication and resolution of disputes.

Overall, the Attorney’s approach to communication with the other party and their Attorney will depend on the case’s specific circumstances and the client’s preferences.

The Attorney needs to be open and flexible in their approach to best meet the client’s needs.

7.     What are the potential risks and challenges of my case?

Clients need to understand their divorce case’s potential risks and challenges to make informed decisions about their representation and the overall process.

There are a variety of risks and challenges that may arise during a divorce case, and clients must be aware of these potential issues so that they can be prepared to address them.

Some common risks and challenges that may arise during a divorce case include the following: 

Disagreements over property division: In many divorce cases, there may be disputes over the division of shared property, such as a home, car, or investments.

These disputes can be complex and may require the involvement of expert witnesses or appraisers to resolve.

Child custody and support issues: If the parties have children, there may be disputes over custody and support arrangements.

These disputes can be emotionally charged and may require the involvement of a mediator or other third party to resolve.

Financial issues: Divorce cases can also involve complex financial issues, such as the division of debts, the valuation of assets, and the determination of spousal and child support.

These issues may require the involvement of financial experts or forensic accountants.

Communication difficulties: In some cases, the parties may have difficulty communicating or cooperating with one another, which can complicate the divorce process and make it more challenging to reach a resolution.

By understanding their case’s potential risks and challenges, clients can be better prepared to navigate the divorce process and make informed decisions about their representation.

8.     How do you handle cases where children are involved?

Cases involving children can be particularly complex and emotionally charged, and an Attorney needs to have a carefully considered approach to handling these types of cases.

Child holding a fluffy toy

Here are some critical considerations for an Attorney when handling cases where children are involved:

Prioritizing the children’s best interests: An Attorney should prioritize the children’s best interests when handling cases involving children.

This may involve advocating for a custody arrangement that is in the children’s best interests and working to ensure that the children’s needs are met in terms of financial support and other resources.

Seeking alternative dispute resolution: In some cases, it may be beneficial to seek alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation or arbitration, to help resolve disputes related to children.

These methods can reduce conflict and preserve relationships between the parties.

Working with experts: In cases of significant disputes related to children, it may be necessary to work with experts, such as child custody evaluators or therapists, to help resolve the issues.

Being mindful of the children’s emotions: It’s vital for an Attorney to be mindful of the emotional impact of the divorce process on the children and to take steps to minimize any negative effects.

This may involve working with the parties to minimize conflict and helping the children adjust to any changes in their living arrangements.

Overall, an Attorney needs to be sensitive and thoughtful when handling cases involving children to ensure that their best interests are protected, and their needs are met.

9.     What is your approach to property division in a divorce?

Property division is an essential aspect of any divorce case, and clients need to understand their Attorney’s approach to this issue.

There are a few key considerations that an Attorney may take into account when it comes to property division in a divorce:

Marital Property Laws: Each matrimonial property regime has its own characteristics regarding property division in divorce cases.

It’s vital for an Attorney to be familiar with these laws and to use them as a guide when dividing property.

The nature of the property: The Attorney will also consider the nature of the property at issue, including whether it is separate or community property.

The parties’ financial circumstances: The Attorney will also consider the parties’ financial circumstances when dividing property. This may include factors such as the parties’ income, assets, and debts.

The parties’ needs: The Attorney will also consider the parties’ needs when dividing property.

For example, suppose one party has primary custody of the children. In that case, they may need to retain ownership of the family home to provide a stable living environment for the children.

Overall, the Attorney’s approach to property division will depend on the case’s specific circumstances and the client’s preferences.

The Attorney must be open and flexible in their approach to best meet the client’s needs.

Read about the3 Types of Marriages in South Africa

10.     Can you provide information on alternative dispute resolution options, such as mediation or collaborative divorce? 

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options, such as mediation and collaborative divorce, can help resolve disputes and reach a settlement in a divorce case.

Clients must understand these options and how they may use them in their cases.

Mediation: Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party, known as a mediator, helps the parties reach a mutually acceptable resolution of their disputes.

The mediator does not make decisions for the parties but rather helps facilitate communication and negotiations between the parties to resolve issues.

Collaborative divorce: Collaborative divorce is a process in which the parties and their Attorneys commit to resolving the case through negotiations and without going to court.

The parties and their Attorneys work together to reach a fair and mutually acceptable settlement.

Both mediation and collaborative divorce can be valuable alternatives to traditional litigation, as they can help the parties resolve more quickly and at a lower cost.

They can also be less aggressive and less stressful than traditional litigation, which can be particularly helpful when children are involved.

It’s essential for clients to understand the benefits and limitations of these alternative dispute resolution options and to consider whether they may be appropriate for their case carefully.

Have, questions? Ask, Handwriting on a napkin with a cup of espresso coffee

Understanding the Questions, Your Divorce Attorney May Ask During the Consultation

During the initial consultation, expect to be asked about the reason for the divorce, the length of the marriage, children and custody arrangements, shared property and debts, and your legal fee budget. Be honest and upfront with your answers.

Here is more information about the questions your divorce Attorney may ask you during the initial consultation:

1.     What is the reason for the divorce?

Your Attorney will want to know the circumstances surrounding your decision to get a divorce.

This may include information about any conflicts or issues that have led to the breakdown of the relationship.

2.     How long have you been married?

Your Attorney will need to know how long you have been married to understand the nature and duration of your relationship and any potential issues that may arise during the divorce process.

3.     Do you have children?

If so, how old are they, and what is your custody arrangement? If you have children, your Attorney will need to know their ages and any existing custody arrangements.

This will help them understand any potential issues that may arise related to child custody and support.

4.     Do you own any property together (e.g. a home, car, investments)?

Your Attorney will need to know about any shared property to determine how it should be divided during the divorce process.

A divorce lawyer shares a house or property between spouses

5.     How are your finances structured (e.g. joint bank accounts, individual accounts)?

Your Attorney will need to understand the details of your financial situation to determine how assets and debts should be divided during the divorce.

6.     Do you have any debts or liabilities (e.g. credit card debt, loans)?

Your Attorney will need to know about any debts or liabilities you have to determine how they should be addressed during the divorce process.

7.     Have you and your spouse tried any form of alternative dispute resolution (e.g. mediation)? 

Your Attorney will want to know if you have already attempted to resolve any issues through alternative dispute resolution methods, as this may impact the approach taken during the divorce process.

8.     What are your goals for the divorce process and the outcome?

Your Attorney will want to know what you hope to achieve through the divorce process and your priorities regarding the outcome.

9.     What is your budget for legal fees? 

Your Attorney will want to know what you can afford to spend on legal fees to determine the best approach to your case.

It’s essential to be upfront about your budget so that your Attorney can provide you with realistic expectations and options.

In conclusion, asking the right questions during your first consultation with a divorce Attorney is essential and being honest and upfront about your situation and goals.

Asking about the Attorney’s experience, communication style, approach to negotiations and dispute resolution, and overall strategy can help you choose the right Attorney for your needs.

You can also expect to be asked about the reason for the divorce, the length of the marriage, children and custody arrangements, shared property and debts, and your legal fee budget.

By being prepared and thoroughly understanding the process, you can ensure that you have the best representation possible and the best chance of achieving your desired outcome.

Read More about:

The Divorce Process in South Africa

How Much Does A Divorce Lawyer Charge?

How to Divorce a Missing Spouse?

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