You are thinking of getting a divorce. You might not even be sure at this point, but you need to talk to someone. The whole idea can be scary. Are you committing yourself to divorce just by meeting with a divorce lawyer? Will he or she understand your situation? And most importantly of all, how can he or she help you?
Almost all attorneys provide a free consultation, so a meeting to ask questions won’t cost you anything.
It’s important to make good use of this time. It is recommended you make the best use of your consultation time by bringing along financial papers, tax returns, and, if possible, a list of assets and liabilities. However, that’s not absolutely necessary.
Here are some of the questions you should be prepared to ask:
What is your area of legal expertise?
Just because he or she is an attorney who comes highly recommended, don’t assume he or she is an expert in divorce law. Verify by asking.
What is your experience with divorce and family law?
You should find out what their court experience is (many divorce cases don’t go to trial). How many cases such as yours has he or she handled?
What can you do to help me?
Florida is a no-fault divorce state. It is your attorney’s responsibility to ensure that you get your fair share of the assets (that does not mean half) and equitable custody of the children. However, some divorces can get acrimonious. A good divorce attorney will suggest mediation for issues on which the parties cannot agree. He or she will also use all legal tools, such as discovery, to find any assets your spouse may be keeping hidden.
How much will a divorce cost me?
In Florida the cost of divorce is emotion-driven. But it is also about dollars and cents. On your initial consultation, ask your prospective attorney what retainer he or she is expecting and what the hourly rate is. Most attorneys will try to accommodate your personal. If the hourly rate is high, ask if an associate with a lower hourly rate could perform the majority of the basic grunt work.
How will the property and assets be divided?
Florida is an “equitable distribution” state. However, certain assets, such as property owned prior to the marriage or items acquired through inheritance during the marriage may not be considered marital property. A divorce attorney will be able to sort out your assets.
As for debts, any debts your spouse signed during your marriage will be owned by both of you, even if you never signed the papers. Any debt brought into the marriage by your spouse (such as student loans) is not considered your responsibility.
How will alimony and child support be handled?
Many factors will determine how the court handles alimony and child support payments. You can judge your prospective attorney’s experience in this area by how he or she answers the question.
What information do you need from me?
Little remains personal during a divorce proceeding. And the more acrimonious, the more dirt will be dug up in court. Now is the time to provide all necessary information to your prospective attorney and discuss possible ramifications. That includes any actions of yours (infidelity, etc.) that you might find embarrassing. It will come out anyway, and it’s best to provide the information to ensure your attorney is prepared.
Once we get started, what is the next step?
Your lawyer may need more documentation than you have brought. However, the initial step to begin divorce proceedings is to file a complaint with the court. This document will be served on your spouse. If you and he agree on all, or most, issues, you can simply file the divorce papers, along with a settlement agreement. You don’t even need an attorney to do this. This is the easiest divorce, call an uncontested divorce.
If there are issues to be settled, attorneys for both parties will start the discovery process – all relevant information is exchanged with the other party. This includes finances, abuse, infidelity, addiction problems, etc. How complex the discovery period gets depends on you and your spouse. At any time, you can come to an agreement and stop discovery and submit a settlement agreement. In most cases, that will take of getting a divorce. If no settlement can be reached, the case will go to trial.
You will absorb a lot of information from your initial meeting with your prospective attorney. Your next step depends on how quickly you need to act. You may do nothing for months, or you may decide to hire the attorney on the spot. It’s your decision.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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