What to Expect When You Come To See Us
Family Law is unlike any other field of law in that there is a melding of emotional and logical thought. Regardless of whether you are the actor or reactor in the divorce situation, you are in an incredibly emotional place. Because most marriages begin in love, the breakup of most marriages is a story of love: lost, unrequited, thwarted, or continuing. While a client’s logic and understanding may be pulling him or her into Bender LeFante Law Offices, the client’s emotions are in the “R” stage, regret, revenge, reconciliation, resignation, recrimination, restlessness, or romance. At Bender LeFante, we understand that a person’s marriage is her/his most intimate of relationships and sharing it with us places you in a vulnerable position. We thank you for that trust.
I. Before You Walk In the Door
At Bender LeFante Law Offices, our staff is experienced in handling all aspects of family law. We will set a consultation so that we both have the opportunity to get to know each other and want you to feel comfortable in coming to see us. Before you enter any attorney’s office, you need to understand that what you tell your attorney is confidential. Your attorney cannot tell nor can a court make your attorney tell what it is you have said in the consultation. But beware, having a third party (ie: your mother, friend, significant other, translator) can break that confidentiality and that person can be required to testify about what you may have said. The best way to handle this situation, is to have the third party wait in the reception area and only call on that person if you need to ask a question or clarify something. While we believe that a face to face meeting is the best way for you to evaluate your comfort level with our office, for our out of state clients or for those who for other reasons may not be available to come into our office, we may be able to arrange a consultation by telephone. Whether you will be having your consultation in person or via the telephone, please set aside at least an hour of your time to speak with us.
The purpose of the initial interview is to receive and give basic information which will lead to an attorney-client relationship. For this reason it is important that you believe you have been treated with respect and courtesy and that the attorney will advocate your case with conviction. If for any reason this is not your understanding, we encourage you to let us know so that we can make any necessary changes or adjustments.
II. YOUR INITIAL INTERVIEW-CONSULTATION
Bender LeFante Law Offices has a one page intake sheet that gives us information about our prospective client which we can use as a spring board to the initial interview. The form has boxes for the client to check as to the areas of his/her concern. At a glance we can tell the length of the marriage, the number of children, the present work status of the parties, educational level, and whether the parties have yet separated. In looking at the boxes checked stating the client’s concerns, we can determine your immediate needs.
A. WHERE ARE YOU IN THE PROCESS?
Clients fall into several different categories. We suggest that you check out our article “10 things to do before you separate” to help you with this important decision.
- Not Ready to Separate
This client is seeking information on what (s)he should expect if a separation or divorce did come about. Often times things are not going well in the marriage and the client wants to know what would happen “if”. In addition to discussing basic Big Three issues of child custody, support and property division, (see section II infra) we look at planning issues.
If the client is the earning spouse, we discuss how to avoid alimony and how to protect assets. We discuss how to leave if leaving is the desired end and how to protect oneself should the other spouse leave. At this stage it is important to gather information in order to set a framework for later work, and begin or continue to keep notes about your situation.
- Have Discussed Separation or Desire to Separate
This client has the same situation as the client above but is at a more immediate point. At this time either both parties want to end the marriage or one party has indicated a desire to end the marriage. You are still in an excellent position to do pre-separation planning. At Bender LeFante Law Offices, we will go over all the applicable law and discuss what needs to be done. Often times the client will need some time to place our suggestions in progress before continuing with us.
Once you have separated from your spouse, there is no longer the opportunity to plan the separation, but there is the opportunity to start immediate damage control, if necessary, and see that your rights and needs are preserved and taken care of.
B. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Whichever category you find yourself in, you need to know that the attorneys at Bender LeFante Law are professionals who can help. You may have never been in a law office before, even if you have, you may not have been in a family law office before.
1. How You Can Help
We will help guide you through the process by giving you information and then based on what you tell us, apply it to your situation. The first thing we do is LISTEN to you. Everyone is different; your priorities and needs are different than anyone else’s.
Often times you may be unsure of the goals or the options. You cannot be expected to make a decision at the first meeting, but you can understand how you will be involved in your case. At Bender LeFante Law we will listen to you and then ask you to gather information. We will then review all the information and layout your options so that you can be a part of the decision making process. Most of our clients are not well acquainted with family law and the terms we use. Words which easily trip off our lips such as findings, QDRO, action, agreement, fault, ED have a specialized legal meaning to which most people are not privy. Basic definitions and statements about the law should, as much as possible, be stated in understandable terms. In this manner we will avoid inadvertent misunderstandings.
While it is important that both you and the attorney understand your priorities and your ultimate goals, it is our obligation to explain to you why other issues may be more pressing or why it is to your advantage to proceed in a different order or manner. It is your right to make the ultimate decision on how to proceed.
2. The Big Three Issues
The three major components in any action for separation or divorce are child custody and support; alimony; and property division. Unless your situation involves only one issue, we will give a general overview of the big three issues of family law. The initial consultation will be general rather than the specific. Since it is the first time we have met you, we have very little information on which to rely. At Bender LeFante Law Offices, we will begin by giving you general information and letting you know the definition of some basic terms and information and an overview on important legal issues such as:
- What are the grounds for divorce?
- When am I separated?
- If I can’t get divorced for a year what happens during that year?
- How can this matter be resolved?
- What is equitable distribution?
- What is marital property?
- What can I expect for child custody or child support?
- What are the chances I will receive or have to pay alimony or post separation support?
Last, we will always discuss fees with you. At Bender LeFante Law Offices, we always have a written contract which we will go over with you so you will know what to expect. Unless you are receiving a set fee service, you will most probably be requested to provide an initial deposit which we will work against. This is the time to ask questions about how you will be billed and what you can expect. However, no one can predict the cost of your case. More than any other field of law, family law is not always logical. When one is dealing with emotional issues, things do not always take a smooth or expected course. We will provide our fee information based on the anticipated best case scenario based on the information you provided and our experience and knowledge.