As the old saying goes, in difficult situations the first step is always the hardest. For those contemplating or in the midst of a separation, the first step is meeting with a lawyer to discussions your individual circumstances, something that is incredibly personal and challenging for most people. At Forge Legal, we strive to ensure that our prospective clients feel comfortable and at ease in their initial consultation, however, we understand that this is a daunting situation and can be stressful for those who are unprepared or do not know how to prepare.
Generally, there are a few simple steps that you can follow to prepare for your initial consultation whether you are liaising with a lawyer regarding a parenting matter or for advice about property settlement, or in most cases both.
Here are my top 10 tips to prepare for your initial consultation:
- Write down dates of important events: Whether you are coming in for advice regarding a parenting matter or property settlement, there are key dates which are applicable in both scenarios. The most relevant dates are the date of cohabitation; date of marriage; date of separation and date of divorce.
You may wish to add onto your list of important dates with events such as:
- The time you spend with the children;
- The date you attended mediation (if you have attended); and
- The date you purchased and/or sold any property.
These are just examples of relevant events.
It may be easier for you to prepare a chronology starting from the date you commenced a relationship to the date of separation and all things in between that you consider relevant.
- Write down a list of questions that you would like to ask your lawyer: It can be easy to forget those burning questions that you wanted to ask your lawyer particularly, in circumstances where you are discussing emotional and sensitive subject matter.
Take a notepad with you and have a list of questions that you have thought of prior to your meeting. Your lawyer may also give you some advice or request that you attend to a task that you will need to jot down.
- Update your contact details: It is not unusual for spouses to share an email address or have access to each other’s mobile phones and personal contact information.
Your lawyer may need to contact you either before or after your initial consultation. It is important that you are able to freely engage with your lawyer without fear of being intercepted by the other party.
Think about creating your own private email address or opening a PO Box where your lawyer can contact you without being intercepted. This is especially important if you are separated under the one roof.
- Bring your financial documents: If you are liaising with a lawyer about property settlement, it is helpful for you to have an idea of the composition of your asset pool. That is all assets, liabilities, and superannuation in your sole name or in joint names. The most helpful documents to bring with you include but are not limited to:
- Your most recent tax return;
- Redbook valuations for vehicles.
- Your most recent bank statements including credit card and loan statements;
- Your most recent superannuation statement;
- One or more market appraisals for any property;
- Share certificates;
- Profit and loss statements for any business;
- Trust deeds;
- Mortgage statements;
- Car loan documents;
- Evidence of any debt.
- Bring copies of your court documents: If you have already commenced proceedings or the other party has served you with court documents then you should bring in a copy of these documents to your initial consultation. Try to make copies so you can leave them with your lawyer to review at a later date.
Any document that you have in your possession or have been served with that has the seal of the court will be relevant in your initial consultation. Documents such as applications, affidavits, notices or reports are extremely helpful and can give context to your matter.
Your court documents will also help your lawyer ascertain important dates like upcoming court attendances and filing dates for material.
- Think about what your goals and expectations are: Your lawyer should give you advice about your expectations and whether these are achievable. If you have a clear, concise idea of your short-term and long-term goals, your lawyer should be able to give you advice about the prospects of achieving those goals.
- Get to know your lawyer: Most law firms have websites with profiles of their lawyers. Have a look at each lawyer’s profile and ascertain their experience, areas of expertise and familiarise yourself with their face.
The more you know about the person you are speaking to, the more comfortable and at ease, you are likely to feel prior to and during the consultation.
- Bring a copy of your will and/or power of attorney: If you do not have these documents then you should seriously consider asking your lawyer to prepare these documents for you.
If you do have these documents, then you may need to update them.
Most people are surprised to learn that without a power of attorney your husband/wife will be the ones left making all decisions in respect of your health, finances and other substantive matters for you in the event you lose capacity.
A Will and Power of Attorney are priceless documents and something you should always have and keep up to date.
- Ask a friend or family member to come with you: Family law is inherently emotional and it can be difficult to discuss separation with a stranger. It is okay to bring a friend or family member for support and it can sometimes be helpful. They may ask questions that perhaps you had not thought of or just be there to lend a hand and offer support. Irrespective of why they are there, your close friends and family are the ones who will walk with you through this journey and should be there from the beginning.
- Ditch the pub advice: Your initial consultation is your first opportunity to receive legal advice. It is always best to have an open mind and not compare your circumstances to others who have been through separation and sought legal advice in respect of their family law matter. All matters are different and whilst you may share similarities with your friends and family, no two matters in family law will ever be the same. Be open-minded, ask questions and rely on the opinion and advice of experts.
At Forge Legal, our initial consultation is designed to give prospective clients the necessary information they need to make an informed decision about their circumstances moving forward. Our lawyers give frank, pragmatic, sensible legal advice with a view to achieving your short-term and long-term goals. The advice given is tailored to your individual needs and we strive to create an environment were our clients feel comfortable and taken care of in the most stressful times.
To arrange your first strategy session with one of our expert family lawyers, contact our office on (07) 3172 3777. We offer after-hours appointments and will accommodate you as best as possible.