What to Bring to Your Initial Consultation with a Divorce Lawyer
What to Bring to Your Initial Consultation with a Divorce Lawyer
Your initial consultation with a divorce lawyer is about presenting the facts of your situation in order to receive some legal advice from the lawyer. The goal is to gain an understanding of what to expect. After a consultation, you’ll decide if you want to retain that lawyer to represent you and guide you through the process of your divorce, otherwise, you may decide to seek other legal counsel.
Why you need to bring paperwork and documents
When you first schedule an appointment with a divorce lawyer, you may be asked to bring in certain paperwork and documents for the lawyer to review. These documents allow the lawyer to do an initial assessment of your situation. The sooner a lawyer can get that snapshot of your circumstances, the less time the lawyer spends asking you a lot of questions, and the less time you have to spend trying to remember that information on the spot during the consultation. An initial consultation typically lasts one-hour. The goal of this consultation is for the lawyer to gain an understanding of your situation, provide some advice about the next steps you should take, what you should do as well as what to avoid doing. If you don’t come in with the requested information, the lawyer will be asking you questions like:
- “What properties do you own?”
- “What are the addresses?”
- “How much is each property worth?”
- “How much is owing on your mortgage?”
- “What bank accounts, investments, pensions do you/your spouse have?”
- “What’s your annual income?”
- “What’s the annual income of your spouse?”
To elicit all of that financial information may result in running out of time. If you come prepared, you avoid a situation where the lawyer’s time is up and you leave without getting much legal advice. By bringing the appropriate documents, the lawyer can absorb that information in a discrete period of time, and then is able to offer advice. By understanding your financial situation and that of your spouse, the lawyer is able to identify problem-areas pertaining to such things as spousal support, child support and the division of assets and is better able to help you plan for the ensuing negotiations between you and your spouse.
Assets & Taxes
Some information that’s important to bring to that initial consultation are your/your spouse’s last 3 years’ tax returns and a list of properties you own. In conjunction with the list of properties, it would be helpful to have an idea of how much each property is worth, the amount owing on your mortgage, the monthly mortgage payment and an estimate of how much your various other assets (vehicles, RRSP’s, investments, for example) are worth. As divorce negotiations progress, it may be necessary to have appraisals done of certain properties and assets, however, for the time being it’s important that your lawyer has a broad picture of what assets will be shared between the spouses. It is also helpful to bring in printouts of your bank accounts (including account numbers), as well as any Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP’s) or Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA’s) that you or your spouse have. When doing this, it is important to take into account your date of separation. If you separated 3 months prior to your initial consultation with a lawyer, then be sure to have print-outs of your financial situation on or around the date of separation as well as current printouts. Assets can be valued on different dates, such as:
- at date of separation;
- at date of sale (of asset(s) sold); or
- at date of trial.
Because there are a number of ways to value assets, it’s useful for the lawyer to have your current information and the information from your separation date if time has passed between then and your consultation.
For example, imagine your home is worth $225,000 and when you separated from your spouse, there was a mortgage on it of $125,000 leaving $100,000 equity in the house. If, by the time you consult with a lawyer, you have (solely) paid the mortgage down by $5,000 that information is important to tell your lawyer. For instance, if your spouse keeps the matrimonial home in the division of assets and requests retroactive spousal support from the date of separation, it could be pertinent that you’ve been paying the mortgage, so in one form or another, you may have been paying spousal support by virtue of the mortgage payments. This example outlines the potential intricacies involved in a divorce, while articulating the importance of your lawyer having a full picture of your circumstances.
When you bring all (or as much of) the information at your disposal regarding your assets, the lawyer is able to add up the value of these assets as well as any debts that exist.
For example, if your bank account, equity in your home, RRSP’s (after tax value) and the value of your vehicle equal $400,000 and the debts (mortgage, credit card bills and car loan) equal $200,000 then that leaves $200,000 in equity to be split between the two spouses, so, in most cases, $100,000 each.
- (The above example is only meant as a simple illustration and does not reflect the true nature of what happens in a divorce. In reality, assets don’t all get sold and debts don’t all get paid off, so it’s a matter of balancing the joint assets and debts between the two parties so that each receives a fair and balanced outcome. Business assets and inheritances are dealt with differently).
The lawyer will likely then ask you what assets you would like to keep (i.e. the house, the car, etc.) and will break it down for you:
- What you want
- How much you may have to allot to your spouse to get this; and
- How feasible it is based on your situation.
If you decide to retain this lawyer, then there is an opportunity for a more in-depth examination of your circumstances. Further steps can be taken to negotiate a division of assets between you and your spouse that you find suitable. In some cases an agreement can be reached. In others, a trial may be necessary.
Again, the goal of the first consultation is for the lawyer to examine the information you bring in, absorb it, identify the issues and provide some information and advice. When you leave the lawyer’s office, you know you’ve left with value in the form of specific advice that pertains to your circumstances.
An important factor to keep in mind is that everything is determined on a case-by-case basis, and most everything can be up for argument. While there are specific online calculators designed to provide information on spousal support and child support, they may not capture the entirety of your circumstances. This is why it is important to be transparent with your family law lawyer, and why it is important you have an experienced lawyer in your corner.
If you are divorcing or separating from your spouse, consider Kimball Law for your legal representation.