How to Work with Your Family Law Attorney

Family law, more so than other areas of law, requires communication and cooperation between the attorney and the client. Unlike other types of lawyers, family law attorneys must react to ongoing events and fluid situations. A client facing a DUI charge repeatedly discusses the same event to his attorney: the night he enjoyed a couple of drinks at the local watering hole and was pulled over while driving home.

Conversely, a divorce attorney deals with events during the course of the marriage, during the divorce proceedings, as well as future situations that may arise well after the divorce (e.g., the sale of the marital home or the date that child support obligation terminates for one of the parents). The breadth of facts that a family law attorney must be familiar with demands an open, honest, and harmonious attorney-client relationship. The family law client can take the following three steps to be sure of being on the “on the same page” with the attorney:

(1) Present All Court Documents at the Initial Consultation.

This may seem obvious to some, but too many potential family law clients neglect to do this when consulting with their lawyers. In a pending divorce or family law issues, it is the prospective client’s responsibility to obtain all of the documents that have been filed with the court. This is because the client has a more direct access to the documents, thus is in a better position to find them.

Furthermore, we cannot provide precise legal advice until we have reviewed what has been filed in your case. Can you imagine a doctor making a diagnosis without first examining the patient? If you do not have all of the pleadings and motions in your case, you can have the clerk of the court in your county print copies for you. These copies usually only cost a dollar per page.

However, once you hire your attorney, you need not worry about document retrieval. All of the documents filed with the court, as well as orders issues from the court, are sent to your attorney. And if you do not yet have a case pending at the time of the initial consultation, you obviously do not have to concern yourself with fetching court documents. However, you still need to pay attention to items (2) and (3) below.

(2) Provide Your Attorney with Basic Information and Your Long-Term Objectives.

At AAA Family Law, prospective clients are given a basic intake sheet to fill out before beginning their consultation. Much like what medical patients are given at their first appointment with their doctor, these intake sheets provide us with the client’s contact and biographical information. If your case is pending, it is also important that you list the case number (e.g., 2015-DR-000123), and case styling (Smith v. Smith) on the intake sheet. This allows us to review your online docket of the case (unless it is a family law case in Seminole County, which does not allow online access for these cases). Keep in mind though, that even the counties that do provide online access do not reveal the actual content of the filings. This is why it is crucial for the potential client to bring these to the initial consultation.

More importantly, let us know what you want to accomplish in your case! However, “I want to bury my spouse” is not a legitimate goal. These are examples of appropriate goals: (a) if you’re going through a divorce with children, we want to know what type of time-sharing schedule you envision with your spouse and your children and (b) in divorces involving valuable assets, you should tell us what assets are vital to you, and which ones are expendable. Without knowing where you want to take your case, we can’t create the road map.

(3) Stick to the Plan

How quickly do you think you will arrive at your intended destination if you keep making unnecessary side trips? I spend a great deal of time keeping my current clients focused on the big picture. I often advise them not to allow a one-time inconsequential event (e.g., “look at what he texted me!”) to distract them from what we’re trying to accomplish. You hire a family law attorney for his or her knowledge, insight, and experience. Trust your lawyer to be able to distinguish between what is truly important, and what is merely an unpleasant distraction.

If you follow these simple suggestions, you’ll increase your chances of securing a favorable final judgment.

Contact AAA Family Law.

If you are involved in a situation requiring a family lawyer, I encourage your to call AAA Family Law at (407) 260-6001 in Altamonte Springs for your free initial family law consultation. We cover cases in the courtrooms of these jurisdictions of the Orlando metro area: Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Lake and Oceola counties. At the initial consultation I will inform you of the amount of the legal fees. In almost every case the fee is a fixed amount. Therefore, you will know the total cost of your case in advance of signing a contract or paying.

Family lawyers (or divorce attorneys) in Orlando and everywhere else in Florida undoubtedly face unique challenges. In addition to providing legal advice, we are often called upon to act as therapists, sounding boards, and financial advisers. Because we wear so many hats, our advice to clients varies greatly. However, regardless of what you hire your family law attorney for, you should ask the following questions:

What is your level of specialized experience?

Family law has both breadth and depth. For example, a divorce may require a lawyer to analyze recent case law about time-sharing (child custody), draft a memorandum of law about the proper date of the valuation of a marital asset, and make compelling arguments about how much income a college graduate with a particular degree can earn. Each of these issues, by themselves, have generated dozens, if not hundreds, of appellate opinions that delineate the applicable rule of law.

Would you trust a “jack of all trades” lawyer (e.g., “your lawyer for life”) to appreciate all of the nuances and complexity of family law? Would you rely on your family doctor to guide you through a double-bypass heart surgery? Of course not.

For these reasons, if you have a family law issue, you should ask these questions of the lawyers you are considering:

(a) How much of their practice is devoted to family law?

(b) How many family law trials have they litigated?

(c) How often do they settle divorces at the mediation stage?

(d) How many of the local family law judges have they appeared in front of?

Do I have a case?

A former boss of mine once instructed me to just tell potential clients “what they want to hear.” His cynical approach alienated me, and ultimately, many of his clients. You should expect honest advice from your family law attorney, not false words of encouragement. Many of my clients were misled by their former attorneys who made unrealistic promises to them. These broken promises resulted in thousands of dollars of wasted attorney’s fees.

The family law attorney that you hire should give you a realistic range of outcomes. Beware of the lawyer that guarantees final results. Not even experienced attorneys can predict with certainty how a family law judge will rule at a trial.

What is our game plan?

Even though few certainties exist in family law, a skilled family law attorney should inform you at the conclusion of the initial consultation what the “game plan” will be. This should include an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, an achievable goal, and the steps that will be taken to obtain this goal.

You should walk out of that consultation with the peace of mind of knowing the path that lies ahead. This may seem like common sense, but too many family law attorneys leave their clients guessing about the directions of their cases. Therefore, it is up to you to ask for this plan if the lawyer that you are considering does not provide it.

Eduardo J. Mejias, Orlando divorce attorney