Top Tips for Your First Meeting with a Family Lawyer
Making the decision to see a family lawyer can be very difficult, marking a pivotal moment within your relationship. Whether you are considering meeting a family lawyer for advice about the breakdown of your relationship or marriage, or about parenting issues related to your children, I’ve set out my top tips for preparing for that first meeting:
- Seek out emotional support: Clients experience a whole spectrum of emotions when they first come to see us. For some, there may be so much going on that it feels completely overwhelming – they may be experiencing disbelief, hurt, anger, uncertainty and mistrust. Others may be completely at peace with past events and the decisions that have brought them to this place. That said, the process of resolving the issues with your former partner and their own family lawyer does inevitably have its ups and downs and can at times feel challenging. That is why having good emotional support in place wherever possible is recommended as it can be invaluable in helping you through the process. At FLiP we have an in-house counsellor, Jo Harrison, who is available to help you. We can also make other recommendations for therapists to support you, your children and your family.
- This needn’t be the beginning of the end: Remember, seeking advice from a family lawyer does not have to signal the end of your relationship. Some clients may not yet have reached the final conclusion that their marriage or relationship is at an end and may want some early advice about their options, should they reach that stage. Even for those currently separated, reconciliation can still remain a realistic option. A first meeting with a family lawyer does not commit you to taking matters forward any further. However, early advice can be useful in assisting you to make an informed decision about your future. We can always pass on recommendations for professional support if working on reconciliation is the right step for you.
- What should I bring? Before every first meeting with a lawyer, you will be asked to send a copy of one item of photographic ID (e.g. a copy of your passport or driving licence) and proof of your address (such as a utility bill). You may also be asked to send in some other items of key documents in advance, for example, copies of any previous court orders made, deeds of trust, pre-nuptial agreements and any existing parenting plans.
- Keeping your meeting confidential: If you do not want your partner to discover that you have been to see a lawyer, avoid paying for the consultation from any joint accounts. If in person appointments are available, then it may be possible to pay for your appointment in cash, depending on the total cost. If matters proceed then there is likely to need to be some degree of mutual financial disclosure, including of bank statements, which could reveal when you first came to see your lawyer. Also ensure that the email address from which you communicate with your lawyer is secure and consider changing your password if your partner has access to your emails in order to protect your confidentiality.
- Context is key: Even before your first meeting, we will want to know about you, your partner, each of your personalities and your family dynamics. At FLiP we use a detailed form called ‘Settify’ on which you can provide us with this information. This helps us to have an understanding of what is motivating your decision making, and it can better inform our approach to the issues in your case.
- What and when – key dates: Before your first meeting, have a think about the chronology of key dates and events over the course of your relationship. When did you meet, move in together and marry? When were properties purchased and how were they funded? Have you lived abroad for any periods during the relationship? How is the balance of caregiving for the children divided between you and your partner, and how has that changed over time? Again, our Settify form also asks for broad details of each of your assets, income, pensions and liabilities. It is not a problem if you do not have all of this information to hand by the time of the first meeting, but it helps to use the time more efficiently during the meeting to focus on the matters that are most important to you if your lawyer can have this information beforehand.
- What are your objectives? In advance of your first meeting, it is important to consider what are your long and short term objectives; what matters to you most in terms of the outcome; and what are your priorities? Down the line it may also be useful to reflect on these same points from your partner’s perspective to help identify where common ground can be found and where the significant differences lie. Key priorities can include having a secure home for yourself and your children; being able to spend as much quality time with your children as possible, with a workable pattern of care that serves your children’s best interests. It can also include sustaining a positive and amicable relationship with your former partner which is free of conflict. At FLiP, we always endeavour to find the most constructive way forward that can best preserve the integrity of family relationships in the long term, and we take a principled approach to conducting our clients’ matters.
- What do you want to know? During your first meeting, there is a lot of information to take in. It is helpful to write down any questions you have before the meeting and raise any questions that haven’t been answered with your lawyer. You can of course email over additional questions after the meeting but be aware that there may be a charge for this (depending on the extent of the questions) as most lawyers will charge on a time spent basis. In terms of your expectations for the first meeting, quite often your lawyer may not be able to have all the answers that you are seeking, usually because it is too early in the process, more information is needed and a lot may depend on how matters unfold. Given also that family law is a discretionary area, it may not be possible to categorically predict an outcome.
- What route is best for me? There are many different process options for resolving disputes with your former partner. Going to court to resolve the matter is certainly not an inevitability (although there are some cases in which making an application to court is appropriate or unavoidable). At your first meeting these process options will be explained to you and considered in light of your circumstances.
- Moving ahead quickly: As previously mentioned, you are not committed to moving matters forward after your first meeting. However, there are some limited circumstances in which there may be a benefit in taking urgent steps following the first meeting – for example, if your partner has links to another jurisdiction and may start divorce and financial proceedings abroad; or if protection is required for example to prevent the unlawful removal of a child from the jurisdiction or the dissipation of assets.
- How do I pay for this? Funding legal representation can be expensive. Your lawyer should be able to provide a very broad estimate of the potential fees. There are various options for funding your legal fees which can be discussed further, and the following link may be useful in considering this: https://www.flip.co.uk/our-fees/.
Instructing a family lawyer can be a daunting prospect. At FLiP we are here to help make that first move as comfortable as possible. We have many experienced family lawyers, mediators and arbitrators to assist you in taking those first steps. Profiles of our lawyers can be found here: https://www.flip.co.uk/people/.