How to Get the Most Out of Your First Meeting with a Lawyer
Separation and divorce can be a truly daunting experience filled with personal, financial, and legal uncertainty. Meeting with a lawyer soon after separation can help you to understand how relevant legal principles will interact with the circumstances of your family. Here are some tips to help you prepare to meet with your lawyer and what you can expect.
What will I discuss with my lawyer?
Your lawyer will look to identify the applicable legal issues. The main topics that generally arise in a separation are 1) parenting (parenting time with the children and decision-making authority), 2) support (child and spousal/partner support), 3)property division, and 4) process. Expect that your lawyer will ask questions to probe these broad topics.
1) Parenting: This topic can be broken down into decision-making and parenting time (formerly referred to as “custody” and “access”). Broadly, your lawyer will want to know the answers to questions such as:
- Which parent, if any, is the “main” or “primary” parent for the children?
- What was parenting like before you separated and throughout the marriage?
- What would be your proposed parenting schedule, or parenting plan for the children?
- How do you want decision-making for the children to be shared between you and your spouse?
- Are there any concerns relating to family violence, or a history of family violence? If so, your legal counsel will discuss the steps that can be taken to ensure safety, such as Emergency Protection Orders, Restraining Orders or No Contact Orders (mutual or otherwise). While not the focus of this post, additional information regarding steps that can be taken to protect against Intimate Partner Violence can be found here:
2) Support: This topic can be broken down into child support and spousal support (with the latter being known in the United States as “alimony”). Your lawyer will ask you about:
- the educational and employment background of both you and your spouse,
- your respective incomes, and
- your roles during the marriage in terms of working inside and outside of the home.
You can prepare to discuss this topic by having both parties’ income tax returns from the past year ready to give to your lawyer. This income information will help your lawyer calculate child and spousal support payments, as well as determine how any extraordinary, or “special”, expenses for the children should be paid.
Finally, be prepared to provide your lawyer details on the children’s expenses if they have special needs, childcare costs, extracurricular activities, etc.
3) Property Division: Your lawyer will ask questions to assess whether you have a claim to family property (formerly called “matrimonial property”), and what that claim may be.
Expect that your lawyer will ask about the current assets and debts of both parties. Your lawyer will also ask about any property that could be considered exempt from division, such as property from before the marriage, inheritance, gifts (from someone other than your spouse) to you alone, or certain amounts received from insurance or tort claims. Property claims can be complex, and your lawyer may not be able to provide you with a full assessment of the value of your claim without further financial disclosure.
Additional information regarding the principles of property division can be found here: https://familylaw.svrlawyers.com/no-money-mo-problems-family-property-division-and-debt
4) Process: Your lawyer will talk to you about the different processes that are available, which include mediation, arbitration, the formalized court process, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) available privately or through the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta.
The processes that are available to choose from are very case-specific and what is appropriate for your individual circumstances will depend on many factors including the urgency of the issues, the level of conflict present and the complexity of your case.
What documents do I need to give my lawyer?
Financial disclosure refers to documents that you and your spouse are obligated to produce at the outset of a separation. These documents help the lawyer identify potential financial claims, calculate child and/or spousal support, and assess the overall division of family property. You and your spouse each have the right to see financial disclosure from each other.
The initial list of financial documents that will be required will include:
- Income tax returns and notices of assessments for the past 3 years
- Your last 3 months’ paystubs
- Any other source of income, including income from employment insurance, pensions, disability payments or dividends, or student loans
- Corporate financial statements
- Your bank statements and credit card statements for the past 6 months
- Any investments in your name, including RRSPs and pension plans
You are not required to have these documents ready to give to your lawyer at the initial meeting. However, gathering these documents and having them ready will give you a head start in the legal process and will help ensure that you receive the greatest benefit from your initial meeting.
The team at SVR Family Lawyers is pleased to assist in all matters relating to your separation. To find out more about your rights and obligations, please contact the lawyers at SVR Family Lawyers.