Hindsight might be 20-20. After a divorce, it can be downright telescopic. And that’s why it’s not uncommon for a divorced person to lament, “If I had only known that before my divorce.” While you will learn much about the process while it’s underway, the reality is you can and should learn as much as you can about it before you set foot in your attorney’s office for that initial consultation.
When does that education start? That’s a good question and completely subjective. Are you merely contemplating divorce or is this something you and your spouse have discussed? In other words, do you need to be discreet with your information gathering? Fortunately, there are resources available that can be accessed privately to provide you with some insight even if you are just exploring the possibility.
One resource is The Divorce Center (www.thedivorcecenter.org). In addition to helpful information and articles on its site, the Divorce Center also hosts workshops. These workshops are not only about the process of getting a divorce, but some of the issues you will face as a divorced person (e.g. parenting with your ex).
If you are considering divorce mediation as a possibility, the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation (http://www.mcfm.org) offers a wide range of information. It also includes a Find a Mediator tool if you are not sure how to begin. It’s important to note that the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation provides certification to mediators in the state who have more than one hundred hours of experience.
For more information on collaborative divorce, you can visit the Massachusetts Collaborative Law Council website (http://www.massclc.org). Again, this is another organization where you can acquire information about collaborative divorce and offers tools for to finding a collaborative divorce attorney.
These sites should be able to provide you the information you need before seeing an attorney for your initial consultation.
Most divorce attorneys offer a free initial consultation. Depending on the attorney, that can be no charge for the first 30 minutes or first hour. You are unlikely to have an initial consultation for a longer time period than that at no charge. If the cost of the divorce is an issue—and in almost all cases it is—you really do want to be as informed as possible BEFORE your initial consultation to get the most out of that session.
Several decisions have to be made after that initial consultation. Some of those decisions are based on information. Some are based on how you and the attorney mesh and whether or not you think you might be able to work together. Both are important.
At the end of your initial consultation, you want resolution to several questions/issues:
- Do you have a good sense of the process?
- Do you feel the attorney was listening to you?
- Do you feel comfortable with the attorney?
- Was the attorney up front about fees?
- Did the attorney give you a ballpark figure for total cost and explain ways to reduce costs?
Clearly, the money portion is important. Yet do not underestimate your comfort level as well. Does the attorney understand what’s important to you? Did you make that clear? Did you ask for referrals or do you know somebody who used that attorney?
At the end of the consultation and after some reflection, you may still not be sure about working with that attorney. While you may not be looking to spend more than you have to, it might be worth the money to pay for a second meeting. The money will be worth it if it makes the decision to or not work with that attorney easier.
Of course, the self-education does not stop once you hire an attorney. In many ways, that’s when the real learning starts. But if you do the prep work before selecting an attorney, you will be that much better off during the divorce proceedings.