Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer During the Initial Consultation

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

Woman with lawyer

Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

When meeting with a divorce lawyer for an initial consultation, it’s beneficial to obtain as much information as possible. Maximizing your time requires that you prepare a list of questions you need answers to before your meeting. If you fail to prepare and forget to inquire about vital information, you may end up having to pay the attorney to answer those questions at a later time. Generally, your questions will likely relate to financial and child custody issues.

Attorney Fee Structure

The first question you should ask the divorce lawyer during the consultation is about her fee structure. Specifically, you want to know whether the attorney will bill you for each hour she spends on your case, including the time she spends answering your questions, or whether it’s a fixed fee. Since divorce proceedings can sometimes take years to finalize, you must prepare for the financial implications.

Divorce Procedures

Every state has different procedures you and your attorney must follow to file for divorce. Although the length of time necessary to complete a divorce will always depend on the complexity of your situation, your attorney should provide you with an estimate of the timeline. If you work full-time or have other obligations that consume a majority of your time, knowledge of essential divorce procedures and the time commitments they require can help you prepare for what lies ahead.

Alimony Issues

States have specific rules that dictate whether a spouse may seek alimony from the other spouse. In some cases, eligibility relates to the length of your marriage, whether you or your spouse stays home to raise children, or even the discrepancy in earnings between spouses. Therefore, regardless of whether you are the spouse seeking the alimony or have concerns about your liability for its payment, raising the question during the initial consultation with your attorney can provide you with insight into your potential liabilities as you proceed through the divorce.

Child Custody

When you have children with your spouse, and are unable to privately agree as to who will retain custody, it’s important to understand from the outset which factors are important to state judges when deciding which parent to award custody to. Therefore, you should ask your attorney what your chances are of obtaining custody of your children. Since child custody issues sometimes prolong divorce proceedings, it’s best to know which issues are best to concede and which to challenge. You might also ask about alternative dispute resolution like mediation or arbitration if you feel going to trial is something you'd like to avoid.

Splitting Marital Assets

Most state divorce laws provide a straightforward formula for allocating joint assets between spouses. However, the formula varies for each state since state property laws will dictate the ownership rights of each spouse. Therefore, it’s important to ask the divorce lawyer what the legal framework for splitting marital assets is in your state.