With the coming of the New Year brings the dreaded New Years flood of new clients who have survived the holiday season and made the decision to separate. I thought it appropriate to share the advice I give to clients on how to prepare for a first meeting with a family law lawyer.
If you have decided or are in the process of deciding to separate from your spouse, the wise thing to do is to consult with a family law lawyer before taking any steps, so you know what to do and more importantly sometimes, what not to do in the early stages of your separation. The initial steps you take, particularly in choosing the process (litigation, mediation, or Collaborative Law) will significantly impact the reaction you may get from your spouse.
- Do some online reading Find out about Mediation, on the Mediate BC website and about Collaborative Divorce, on the Collaborative Divorce BC website. Talk to a lawyer to see if either of these processes are appropriate for you and your spouse.
- Call a family law lawyer and speak to them on the phone before you set up a face to face meeting. See if you connect with the lawyer. A good fit with a lawyer is really important. As a client, you need to feel that your lawyer hears your concerns and is acting on your behalf and in your best interests and understands the specifics of your particular situation.
- Speak to the legal assistant and have them send you a list of documents that you should bring to the first meeting. Most lawyers I know have a family law document check list that they will send you before the meeting. The more you prepare for your meeting, the more effectively the lawyer can understand your issues and provide you with the advice you need. The general rule I tell my clients is to bring anything that is connected to the financial issues in their case, for example, tax returns, property assessments, bank account statements, investment account statements. Anything that will be divided or accounted for, needs to be provided to the lawyer. If you don't have access to documents, or you are worried about taking documents that will be missed, don't worry, in many cases, one spouse controls all of the finances and documents, and you can talk to your lawyer about how to go about getting copies of documents that you don't have.
- Make a list of questions before the meeting. Don't be afraid to ask, there is no such thing as a silly question. Separation is a process that no one prepares for. Your lawyer and their team are there to help you, and to make sure you understand the process every step of the way, so be prepared to ask lots of questions.
- Don't make any changes to your Will or your insurance policy or anything else for that matter, without talking to a lawyer first.
- If you have safety concerns and you are worried about your spouse finding out that you are seeing a lawyer, make sure you tell the lawyer immediately so all appropriate steps are taken to ensure your privacy and protection.
Lastly, use your resources wisely. Lawyers are great at giving legal advice. If you need emotional help, there are tremendous resources for counselors and Mental Health Professionals in Vancouver. And if you need advice about your finances, you can ask your lawyer to refer you to a Financial Specialist .