Often, a potential client will schedule a consultation with an attorney but then find themselves unable to think of any questions to ask about their case or the attorney’s practice.
Remember, the first meeting with your divorce attorney will set the tone for the rest of your working relationship.
Although the point of a consultation is usually for the lawyer to learn more about you and your case, it is also an excellent time for you to learn more about the attorney.
The best way to do this is by asking questions.
However, it can be very difficult to know which questions to ask your attorney – and why they’re important.
Because of the relative complexity divorce consultations, we’ve prepared this list of important questions you should ask your attorney at your first meeting.
General Questions About the Virginia Divorce Process
1. What does the Virginia divorce process look like from start to finish?
While every case is different, Virginia divorces still generally contain the same basic elements.
At your consultation, you should ask your attorney for a basic rundown of the Virginia divorce process, if only for your own understanding.
Formal legal processes can be complicated, so you’ll want to make sure you’re on the same page as your attorney about what services they’re providing.
For example, most Virginia divorces can be broken down into six “general” steps:
- File the divorce petition.
- Ask for temporary orders.
- “Serve” your spouse with divorce papers, and wait for a response.
- Negotiate a settlement or other form of agreement.
- Go to court (either to argue over contested issues or present your agreement to a judge).
- Finalize your judgement.
Basically, you should ask your attorney about the Virginia divorce process as a whole so that you better understand what they’re doing in each step of your case.
2. How much does it cost to file for divorce?
This is a bit of a trick question.
While many attorneys will hesitate to answer this question, it doesn’t mean that they’re hiding anything from you.
Instead, prices for divorces are highly variable depending on the specifics of your case.
Basically, highly complex cases will cost more than simple uncontested divorces, and your attorney’s rate will depend on how much they work on your case.
Additionally, the trajectory of each divorce case may change several times, making a simple estimate impossible.
When you’re speaking to an attorney, the important thing is to ask them about their billing structure.
Will they charge you an hourly rate or a flat fee? What services are included in that cost? Are you paying for the attorney’s time, or will a paralegal largely handle the issue?
There’s no simple answer to the question of “how much will my divorce cost,” but it’s still wise to get a handle on how your attorney will bill you for the matter.
3. How long will it take to resolve my case?
The answer to this question will also largely depend on the specifics of your case.
For example, uncontested no-fault divorces may be complete in as little as a few months, while contested divorces can take much longer (usually a year at a minimum).
The more issues there are to resolve, the longer your case will likely take.
Asking your attorney to ball-park your case’s length can help you prepare for the long-term investment of time and money required in a successful divorce.
Questions About the Firm or the Attorney’s Experience
4. Who will be my point of contact throughout the case?
As you might imagine, the answer to this question will largely depend on the attorney you hire and the general practices of their firm.
In smaller firms, you may be able to call or send an email to your attorney directly.
Larger firms, on the other hand, may ask that you speak with reception or a paralegal. They may even have a dedicated employee whose sole job is to answer client questions.
Remember, law firms are businesses, and have set hierarchies and priorities for who does what.
Familiarizing yourself with your point of contact can help you speed up your case and lighten the load of your divorce as a whole.
5. What’s the best way to get in contact with you if I have a question?
As mentioned above, every law firm handles client management in a different way.
For this reason, it’s often a good idea to ask about the “best” way to get in contact with your attorney should you have a question about your case.
Some firms may work solely through email, others might prefer the phone. Still others might ask that you come in for a face-to-face chat about your case.
Whichever form of communication they use, you should make sure to note the firm’s specific preferences for working with clients.
6. How many divorce cases have you handled, and how many of those were resolved out of court?
In all likelihood, you’re hiring an attorney because you want to draw from (and rely on) their experience and expertise in the subject matter.
For this reason, don’t you think it’s important to learn about the prior cases they’ve worked on?
Take the time to gauge your attorney’s experience in resolving divorce cases, and pay particular mind to how they resolved these cases.
For example, does your attorney take every single case to court? Or do they instead prefer to work out contested issues in mediation?
You’ll want to make sure that your attorney’s preferred way of doing things aligns with your own personal goals (and budget) for your case.
Questions About Your Case
7. What kind of information should I prepare for my case?
Case information is basically the “starter kit” for your divorce.
Information about your income, property, and relationship will become the building blocks for your overall divorce case, so it’s wise to ask your attorney what they need from you.
For example, most attorneys will ask for information about property of a significant value (such as your car or home), but what if you’re a business owner, or if you have unique circumstances such as if you recently inherited a large estate from a loved one?
In general, your attorney will want as much information as possible from three broad “categories”:
- Necessary information to complete your divorce, as required by law (such as information about your income or proof of residence in Virginia).
- Supporting evidence that backs up any claims you make (such as receipts for contested items or proof of care in a case involving child custody).
- Other evidence that backs up your case as a whole (as determined by your attorney).
Remember, only your attorney can tell you the specifics of what they’ll need for your case, so it’s best to get a head-start early by asking them what you need to gather for subsequent consultations.
8. What are the pitfalls I should look out for?
The question that most attorneys wish their clients would ask at a first consultation is “I want to do [X] action, what can I expect from this process?”
Remember, the whole point of hiring an attorney is so that you can rely on their experience and guidance.
Listen to their advice, and actively ask why they might be wary about your plans or goals (even if only in a minor way).
Alternatives to this question could include “what are the pros and cons of this strategy?” and “what are the risks involved in this action?”
Or, if you want to be more proactive in your questioning, “I want to take ‘this’ strategy, help me bring my goals in line with what you expect from my case.”
9. What are the strategies you would recommend for my case? What’s the backup plan?
In a similar fashion, you should note that, in some cases, a divorce won’t go as planned.
Whether that’s if your spouse decides to contest your property settlement agreement or if a judge decides against you on a particular matter, it’s always a good idea to draft not only a strong Plan A, but a Plan B and a Plan C as well.
Many attorneys will have a “recommended” strategy in their heads when they hear the details of your case, but they’ll also have a secondary plan for if things go wrong.
For example, mediation may be the preferred resolution in your case, but what happens if you can’t come to an agreement with your spouse?
Instead, you should take the time to go over any supplemental plans with your attorney in addition to their recommended strategy for resolving your matter.
10. Based on your experience with previous cases, what do you expect the outcome of my case to be?
This one is similar to the previous question, but it’s still a good idea to gauge the relative risk involved in your case.
Rather than directly asking “how will the judge rule on my case,” your goal here should be more along the lines of “how risky is this particular strategy?”
While no (sane) attorney would say that your case is a “sure thing,” and most will opt against answering this question at all, it can still be productive to find where your case lies on the line between “this is a common, run of the mill divorce case” and “this is a rather risky matter and our success will depend on our argument to the judge.”
Miscellaneous Questions that can Help Your Case
11. How much contact should I have with my spouse during the divorce?
Again, this answer will depend on your unique situation.
Some couples are able to remain civil during the divorce process. Some couples, such as those with children in common, will be forced to stay in touch.
Generally speaking, the answer here is that the more conflict there is between you and your spouse, the less contact you should have.
While this may sound harsh, most spousal communication that happens during a divorce will only complicate your relationship (and, as a result, your divorce).
In a high-conflict divorce, if you must contact your spouse, you should do so through your attorney.
At the barest of minimums, you should contact your spouse through a written format, such as email or texts, so that you can save these messages for later.
However, depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have to contact your spouse for certain matters.
For example, children will often complicate this process, as the courts will generally frown on parents who let their divorce negatively impact their children.
For this reason, you may want to communicate with your spouse through text or another written medium about temporary measures for taking care of your children (such as for who. takes them to school or for where they stay on the weekends).
Regardless, this is very much a topic you should talk to your attorney about, as it can have drastic implications on your case.
12. Can I date during my divorce?
Generally speaking, you should avoid openly dating during your divorce unless you receive different advice from your attorney.
Virginia courts do not recognize legal separation, so dating during your divorce proceedings will only provide ammunition to your spouse’s attorney.
Whether they use that ammunition is up to them, but it’s still a risk you should avoid.
While the “golden rule” is to avoid dating during this time, there are of course exceptions.
For example, many property settlement agreements will include language that states you and your spouse will live “as if single and unmarried” for the remainder of the divorce.
Such an agreement will provide you with a basic level of legal protection should problems involving your dating arise in the future.
Basically, if you’re thinking about whether you. should ask this question, you absolutely should ask your attorney about their opinion.
13. Can you think of anything that might complicate my divorce?
While your attorney’s answer will almost always be “yes,” the specifics behind their answer may change depending on the circumstances of your case.
Generally speaking any material change to either spouse’s life during the divorce will make the entire divorce more complicated.
As a few common examples:
- Job changes (such as if you change companies or receive a promotion) will usually affect the settlement agreement due to the change in income.
- Moving (especially if one spouse is moving out of state) can impact custody orders and other aspects of the divorce. In some cases, it may prevent you from filing for divorce at all.
- Dating, as mentioned earlier, means that your attorney needs to be more careful in how they approach the case. The same is true for any other accusations that might lead to fault-based divorce proceedings.
Basically, the specifics of your case may place you at risk for several problems that can complicate your divorce.
You should make sure to ask your attorney about potential problems such as these before they become real problems.
14. I’m currently living with my spouse…what should I do?
While you and your spouse must live “separate and apart” for a period of time before you qualify for a no-fault divorce in Virginia, you don’t necessarily need to live in different households.
In most cases, you and your spouse can continue to live in the same home during your divorce, though it’s rarely recommended.
All of this relies on the fact that you take steps to establish an “in-home separation.”
There is no single way to go about in-home separation.
However, usually it entails creating separate bank accounts, sleeping in separate rooms, and generally living as “roommates” rather than as a couple.
If circumstances force you to live with your spouse despite the fact that you’re getting divorced, you should most certainly mention this to your attorney.
When you’re first meeting with a divorce attorney, you may have questions about both their practice and the divorce process as a whole.
For this reason, it’s often a good idea to come in with a list of questions that you’d like for the attorney to answer.
In this article we’ve listed the fourteen most common questions we receive, but there’s really no limit to what you can ask.
Remember, a divorce can be one of the most important decisions you make in your life.
Make sure to ask the questions you need to make an informed choice about your future.