Your First Meeting with a Divorce Lawyer


By Howard I. Goldstein, Esquire
Goldstein, Egloff, Ramos & Wood, LLP

For most people the first step they take in getting divorced is contacting a divorce lawyer. A lot has been written on how to choose a lawyer. This article assumes that you already have chosen a lawyer who you think you will be satisfied with.

There is a fair amount of anxiety surrounding that first meeting with a new client and his/her divorce lawyer, and it is important for the clients and for their lawyer to understand how charged that first encounter is and to expect that it will be somewhat difficult for clients. Clients are fearful because of the predicament they are in. Regardless of how well thought out their decision is to consult a lawyer, and this lawyer in particular, it is a moment of high tension. Clients are not generally at their best in these first meetings. It is often helpful for clients to receive handouts of materials they can read later, and to be able to take notes at that first meeting.

It is this author’s practice to have a fairly long telephone conversation with a client prior to a first meeting, at no cost, for the purpose of figuring out whether there is any legal emergency, and to discuss in general what is involved in the particular case. Frequently when clients have had a reasonable conversation with their lawyer prior to coming in, that first meeting is more productive and the client is more relaxed.

In a surprising number of cases, my client’s spouse does not know that his/her spouse is meeting with a lawyer. In some cases “papers have been filed” and the client is coming only after having been served with legal process: a summons. In other cases, the spouses have had fairly transparent communications about divorce and have already pledged to each other a commitment to a process other than all out litigation, to obtain their divorce and resolve all issues between them. Some clients are in an immediate financial emergency, others have adequate finances so this is not the case. The client’s circumstances will dictate what happens at a first meeting.

Often clients have not disclosed to his/her spouse that they are consulting with a lawyer. Sometimes the client is unsure that they want a divorce, but they want to know what they can expect if they go forward with a divorce. The first thing I do with this client is to reassure them that if they don’t want their spouse to know they are in my office, that will be assured. Often this involves receiving payment for the consultation by cash or money order, rather than personal check. The client’s right to privacy is absolute and no client should feel that they cannot consult a lawyer because their spouse will find out.

What I like to do at a first meeting is get to know my client as a person, and try to learn as much as possible about their spouse and children. It is very important that I learn as much as I can about the psychological and financial situation this client is in. At this point I will sometimes refer clients to psychotherapists, divorce coaches and financial planners to get specialized advice. Clients are frequently surprised to hear that I work with other professionals and find that reassuring.

It is never easy to predict with total accuracy what will “happen” in a divorce, but there are certain rules of thumb for financial situations and for custody and visitation problems and we can generally go through all of them at a first meeting.

I am always surprised that clients are fairly uninformed about alimony. Many men worry that it is forever or that it will leave them broke. It is rarely that way. On the other hand, most women are fearful they will get nothing. That is never the case if support is needed.

There are child support guidelines in Massachusetts that determine how much child support is to be paid, and rules of thumb when the guidelines don’t apply. It is usually fairly straightforward and informing clients how much they are likely to pay or receive can be very helpful in relieving their anxiety.

Similarly, asset division creates a fair amount of worry and a rough estimate of how the assets will be divided can usually be obtained at a first meeting, subject of course to further evaluation of exactly what assets exist, what they are worth, and later tax and investment analysis if appropriate.

Clients will have concerns that they are about to “lose their children” if they are the mothers, or that they will “never see their children:” if they are the fathers. In fact, Courts encourage both parents to be very involved with their children unless there is some severe pathology in the family or a particular parent, and it is almost never the case that one parent will be totally excluded from involvement with their children. Similarly, the Probate Court will not generally disturb what has been the ongoing pattern of child rearing, unless there is some reason to think that present circumstances are particularly harmful to the children.

At the end of the first meeting, clients, generally leave with homework which includes learning as much as possible about the finances, in terms of assets, liabilities and ongoing expenses. It is frequently the case that only one spouse has been in charge of finances and before a divorce can be resolved, both spouses need to have a complete understanding of the family finances before their divorce lawyers can help them. If you can provide as much detail on your finances as possible at a first meeting with your new lawyer, that meeting will be all the more productive.

Although every divorce case is different, that first meeting with a lawyer can set the tone for the entire process. For that reason it is important that clients leave their first meeting with the feeling that they have been understood and listened to, and that they have, in their lawyer, a resource who is tuned in to their specific needs, and someone who is accessible and available to help them through the stressful time ahead. Although there are many uncertainties, most clients can leave their first meeting with answers to their most worrisome concerns, and will be reassured.

19 Responses to Your First Meeting with a Divorce Lawyer

  1. Diane Pappas October 29, 2015 at 2:14 pm #

    Well said, Howard! I can’t agree more that the first meeting is often very difficult for clients and how important it is for clients to be aware of their financial condition from the very beginning.

  2. James Hobusch November 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm #

    This article mentions that the first meeting with an attorney will generally end with some homework. This is very interesting to me, I think it is important to know the general worth of assets as it is. Thanks for sharing, this article has been very interesting.

  3. Theodore Winston July 6, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    I really like that a divorce lawyer will give you things to learn and review as you go through the process of divorce. I think that it’s very important for people to learn about information such as finances and liabilities so that they can make informed decisions while working with a divorce lawyer. I hope that I never have to go through a divorce, but if I ever do, I will want a divorce lawyer that helps me understand my finances, liabilities, and other important information instead of doing everything for me. Thanks for the advice!

  4. Olivia Nelson September 27, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    I like your advice on helping your lawyer get to know you as a person when you first meet with them. I would imagine that because divorce is fairly personal it would be important that you attorney knows a little about you in order to best serve you. My sister is going through a divorce right now so she should take the time to get to know her attorney first before they proceed with any legal action.

  5. Olivia Nelson November 22, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    I like your comment on how you should get to know your divorce lawyer in the first visit. I would imagine that taking the time to get to know them would help you figure out if you will work well together. This knowledge could really help you choose the right divorce lawyer for your case.

  6. Rachel Lannister February 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    A close friend of mine is considering divorce, and wanted to learn more about the process of choosing an attorney. You wrote that an attorney will generally want to get an idea of how the client is psychologically and financially. If they got a good idea of those two things, they could probably more easily determine if they could successfully help them in court. I’ll be sure to tell my friend to meet with an attorney, and clearly describe her situation.

  7. Bernard Clyde March 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    I appreciate you walking us through what to expect in a meeting with a divorce attorney. It’s important, I think, that we find someone who we are comfortable working with through the legal aspects of divorce. It’s easy to let our emotions or stresses get in the way of our decisions when going through the pains of divorce.

  8. Howard Goldtein March 7, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

    Thanks for all your comments. I have not read this article recently, but the other day a client finished a meeting with me and told me that it was exactly how I described it in the article! I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

  9. Scott March 9, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    I like that you point out that it is a good idea to get handouts of materials when meeting with the lawyer for the first time. My cousin is currently looking for a lawyer to have represent her when she goes to get divorced from her husband. I’ll have to remind her to grab as many handouts as possible when going for his first consultation.

  10. jresquival March 17, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

    That’s good to know that lawyers often offer a degree of privacy. Sometimes people just need a consultation to learn about the process, but not to go through with it. Lawyers often provide a first consultation for free as well.

  11. Tomas Killington March 30, 2017 at 10:51 am #

    My sister is currently going through a divorce. She wants the advice of a family lawyer, but is worried her ex-husband will find out and get angry. I didn’t realize attorneys will keep their client’s right to privacy and will keep the representation quiet. I’ll be sure to let my sister know about this benefit.

  12. Pam Lassila April 13, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    I like how this author pointed out that if you don’t want your spouse to know that you are meeting with a divorce lawyer, then they can keep it confidential. That is very comforting because maybe you’re just doing it for a hypothetical potential situation but if they found out a lot more problems could be solved. I think it’s important to remember that lawyers’ jobs are to help us and represent us in the best way possible.

  13. John Mahoney April 13, 2017 at 2:27 pm #

    My brother is going through a divorce and I want to educate myself so I can help him best. Thank you for talking about the importance of making sure you find an attorney that has time for you when you need help. It makes sense that understanding this can help you make sure you learn about the process a lot more and build up a good case.

  14. Annika Larson April 28, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    Right now my sister is experiencing a difficult situation between her and her husband, and they are looking to get divorced. We want to help her prepare for this process by knowing what to expect with her lawyer. The first meeting can be crucial in establishing a good relationship with a lawyer. Like you said, it’s also good to be informed about alimony, so we’ll be sure to learn more about this.

  15. Rachel Lannister June 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    Thank you for the terrific read. In it you mentioned that one of the first things the divorce lawyer will want you to do is gather all your financial information, as it will help determine a lot in the case. A good friend of mine might be getting divorced, and I wanted to have advice ready for them. I’ll advise they get their finances together now, so that when they do find a good lawyer for their situation, things can get started right away.

  16. Tiffany Locke June 1, 2017 at 10:28 pm #

    It’s great that you talk about getting to your client, their family, and their situations. If you are a client, you’d probably want to make sure you choose a divorce lawyer that will take the time to learn about your situation. I’d imagine that making them feel comfortable could help them open up and be willing to provide you with the information you need to give them the divorce assistance they’re looking for.

  17. Afton Jackson June 13, 2017 at 10:25 am #

    Currently, my sister is going through a divorce. She is having some difficulty with the process because her ex-husband isn’t cooperating. I never knew that a good divorce attorney with give their clients homework to ensure they have a clear picture of what assets and liabilities are involved. I’ll pass this info along to my sister.

  18. Marcus Coons August 14, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

    It really helped when you mentioned how a divorce attorney needs to learn all they can about the client’s family and financial situation. I understand that doing this can help the lawyer create a profile and be able to choose the best course of action to benefit the client and their family the best. As I see it, taking the time to get all the information ready and be ready to share all you can with your attorney can help your divorce go smoothly and result in the best way for your needs.

  19. Alexandria Martinez September 20, 2017 at 6:52 pm #

    My cousin is looking for a divorce attorney and she wants to know what to expect with her first meeting. I think she will find it relieving that most lawyers just want to talk about the family like it was mentioned. It makes the process a lot smoother than just jumping into legal work right away with her.

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