How To: 5 Tips to Prepare for Your 1st Meeting with a Family Law Lawyer
It’s no secret that the Alberta economy isn’t exactly thriving. Yet the demand for divorce and family law lawyers remains pressing and consistent. Many more clients, however, are keenly fixated on their mounting legal fees and interested in keeping fees down, as much as possible. Much of the time, given the nature of the litigation involved, there is very little that can be done. However, there are some significant ways that new clients can prepare, in advance of that first meeting to retain a family law lawyer, which can greatly assist your lawyer while also serving to reduce many of the front-end costs associated with opening your file and initiating the process.
1. FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
Whether there is property to divide, children entitled to support and/or spousal or partner support claims at issue, the financial disclosure process is a necessary first step in nearly all divorce and family law proceedings. Good family law lawyers will not serve as “rubber stamps” and so even if you believe you and your spouse have reached or will be able to reach an agreement on these issues, the disclosure process is both necessary and in your best interests. Agreements entered into without full financial disclosure are weaker in that they may be much more easily attacked, down the road. This process can be lengthy, time-consuming and thereby costly, depending upon the amount of time and energy that is necessary both for your lawyer to obtain the necessary items from you, as well as from the other party. Often, the process involves the formal filing of what is called a Notice to Disclose court application.
This information is often met with grumbling, but the good news is that there is something you can do about it: Gather the necessary documents in advance of your meeting to retain a lawyer. Take a look at the Notice to Disclose form here and gather as many of the documents that apply to you, listed in numbers 1 through 16, as you can. Bring hard copies to your meeting. If there are items you do not have copies of (such as tax returns and assessments for the last 3 taxation years), obtain an online CRA account (if you don’t already have one) and/or call CRA to order copies ASAP. If there are documents your accountant would be in possession of, contact him/her in advance of your meeting and make arrangements to obtain those copies.
If you happen to have access to any of the listed items for your spouse as well, bring those along too. And, on that note, it is never a bad idea to make copies of family financial documents that you may only have access to for a small window of time at the outset of your separation, while you can. In many cases, the cost associated with the disclosure process is largely due to unwillingness of the other party to fully disclose in a timely manner.
The bottom line is that the broadest picture you are able to provide to your lawyer from the outset will be of considerable assistance in terms of time, efficiency and cost.
2. MARRIAGE LICENSE
Ultimately, in order to finalize your divorce, your lawyer will need your government issued marriage certificate (not to be confused with anything you may have signed or received from a pastor or church where you were married). Plus, if the strategy involves filing a Statement of Claim for Divorce right away, your lawyer will want to make sure all information included on that court document matches your government-issued marriage certificate. Claims can be amended down the road, but if that step can be avoided it is obviously more cost-effective for you.
If you do not have a copy in your possession, it is best to attend at your local registry right away and have one ordered and mailed out to you.
3. PARENTING AFTER SEPARATION (“PAS”) COURSE
In order to bring an application regarding custody or parenting, in the Court of Queen’s Bench, the party applying must have completed the Parenting After Separation course. It is also a requirement in order to obtain a divorce, if you have children under the age of 16. In either case, your lawyer will need a copy of the completion certificate you receive upon completing the course, so make sure you keep that in a safe place and provide it to your lawyer as soon as possible thereafter.
The course can be taken online here or you can register for the in-person course via the same website.
If you know you are facing separation and divorce, take the PAS course right away, and bring your completion certificate with you to your meeting. There is no need to wait until you have filed anything with the court or taken any other formal steps in terms of your separation or divorce.
4. PREPARE A CHRONOLOGICAL SUMMARY
Your lawyer will need a lot of information from you, pertaining to your family history and circumstances leading up to your separation or other family law issue. It is always helpful in cutting down the time required at an initial meeting if you have prepared a comprehensive, chronological summary of facts and events from the time you and your spouse met, leading up to the present day.
Prepare this in advance and bring it with you. That way, your lawyer can quickly review it and focus primarily on getting additional detail and information from you that may have been left out, or that pertains more so to your primary, more pressing goals and concerns, as per below.
In addition to this, fill out the Vogel Verjee Client Interview Form in advance.
5. COMPILE A LIST OF QUESTIONS & PRIMARY GOALS/CONCERNS
Meeting with a lawyer, especially to discuss something as personal and emotionally-charged as separation, divorce and your children, is without question difficult. It is common and natural to feel somewhat flustered and to lose track of those most important questions in your mind or of your primary concerns and goals.
Make a list to guide yourself throughout your meeting, so you can ensure you have asked everything you wanted and need to.
Good luck, and don’t hesitate to contact our office. We would be happy to assist you with your family law matter.
Due to COVID-19, we are conducting consultations by telephone only at this time.