You have finally decided to initiate a family law court case, and have scheduled an appointment with your attorney. Whether you are using the same attorney you have utilized in the past or you are hiring a new attorney, there are certain questions that must be asked in your initial consultation. Feeling comfortable with and confident in your attorney will make a highly emotional and stressful situation easier. As with any important relationship you must ensure that you and your attorney are the right fit.
A. What is my attorney's litigation style?
The most important aspect of a client attorney relationship is a common agreement upon litigations style. Different attorneys have different litigation styles. You must be clear on your attorney's litigation style prior to going down the litigation path together. While no style is "better" than another, each can benefit or hinder your family law proceeding. If you are anticipating a highly contentious and litigious case, you may want an attorney whose style is more aggressive and adversarial. On the flip side, if you want to mediate and negotiate the majority of the issues of your case, an attorney who is acrimonious and adversarial is not going to be a good fit. You need to discuss the factors with your attorney that affect the tone of the litigation such as fault, opposing counsel, and your desired outcome and attitude. Once you can pinpoint the projected tone of the litigation you can determine what litigation style will be appropriate. Keep in mind that any litigation tone can change on a dime, and you need to be prepared.
B. What type of proceeding should I pursue?
Often times, there is more than one course of action available in any given situation. Whether you are contemplating separate maintenance versus divorce, parenting time modification versus a change in custody, or a change of domicile versus a change of custody you must make an informed decision. Ask your attorney what courses of action are reasonable in your case and the pros and cons to each. Moreover, ask your attorney to explain, thoroughly each course of action as if that were the type you are going to file. Make sure you are clear on what situations each case addresses, how long each will take, the hurdles associated with each, and probability of success. Specifically, ask what the long term ramifications are to each course of action, and what to expect down the road with each. One question I often get in initial consultations is whether a party should file for divorce or separate maintenance. These are two very different proceedings with different financial outcomes and ramifications. Most importantly, they will elicit two very different responses from your spouse. Make sure you ask as many questions as you need to, so as to be clear on each option available to you.
C. What are the Probable, not definite outcomes?
Clients always ask me what the outcome of their case will most likely be. Let me be clear, attorneys are not omniscient. We cannot predict the outcome of any case with absolute certainty, and parties should be wary of any attorney that professes they can. What we can do, is utilize our experience to give you the probable outcomes of your case and give you a clear and concise picture of what the proceedings will entail. Many factors will determine the outcome of your litigation, including but not limited to, the judge you are assigned, the type of case, the factual idiosyncrasies involved, the opposing party's attorney, and past litigation. For example, in almost every custody case, the parties will be referred to the Friend of the Court for an evaluation and recommendation of custody. This process can take many months and is different in each county. However, you can count on the recommendation being submitted to the Judge. This recommendation carries a lot of weight in the custody determination. Knowing the path of the litigation and probable outcomes will help ease your anxiety throughout the proceedings.
D. What are my attorney's method and frequency of Communication
One of the biggest complaints of most individuals going through family law litigation. Make sure you ask your attorney in the initial consultation how they will communicate with you, the best way to communicate with them, and how frequently you can expect to hear from them. Keep in mind that you will be charged for every communication you have with your attorney, so you may want to ask them which form is most cost effective. Specifically, ask your attorney if it is easier and faster to ask questions via email, or telephone. In addition, there are many times during family law litigation where very little is going on in the court room. During these down times, make sure you are still going to have consistent and regular communication with your attorney either through status letters and/or emails or weekly phone calls.