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Free 30 minutes with lawyer, what to ask?

Somber posted 12/15/2020 06:33 AM

Okay so it seems no one around here gives free consults.
Iím looking at $300/hour for family collaborative lawyer and $500/hour for senior family lawyer recommended by a friend. Both rates are outrageous to me, are these normal rates???

I can do a free 30 minute telephone session with a family law lawyer or assistant?? It is through the law society.
I donít qualify for free counsel at the courts.

So with 30 minutes only, what are some questions I should ask?

If it helps for some background info: married 11 years, own a house, boat and 2 vehicles, have 2 children 7&9, my spouse struggles with addictions (alcohol primarily the one affecting the kids). I work part time but have the ability to go full time in a year or two (when few staff members retire), he works full time and makes more money. I have chosen part time since the kids were born to accommodate the family needs.

[This message edited by Somber at 6:35 AM, December 15th (Tuesday)]

Catwoman posted 12/15/2020 07:19 AM

Iím looking at $300/hour for family collaborative lawyer and $500/hour for senior family lawyer recommended by a friend. Both rates are outrageous to me, are these normal rates???

Yes, these are normal rates. There are any number of things you can do to keep your fees down. I'll address those later.

With regards to what to ask the attorney, give them the 5-minute brief overview of your situation (you have a good start here). If you own your home, give them an estimate of what is owed and how much equity you might have. Same for automobiles, balance in retirement accounts, how much debt, etc. Have it all written down on a sheet of paper so that you can briefly cover it all. If possible, send a copy to the attorney before you speak so that they have it.

Unless you have third party evidence of him having a problem (i.e. DUI, public intoxication), his addiction is likely to not be a factor, but I would include it.

Give your synopsis and ask what you might reasonably expect in a divorce in terms of division of assets and debt, child support, custody schedule, etc. It is highly likely you will be required to go back to work full-time, so I would start getting your ducks in a row NOW.

Ways in which you can keep your fees down:

Do all your own copying, and make three copies of everything requested. Organize them and put a cover sheet on each set detailing what is included. Give two copies to your attorney (one is for opposing counsel) and keep one for yourself. Attorneys will charge confiscatory rates for copying, and this is something you can easily handle at the local Staples or Kinkos.

Your attorney is not your counselor. Minimize time spent with your attorney unless you are strategizing or have a serious question to ask.

Be detailed and organize everything you provide to them. This minimizes the time they have to spend on your case, which lowers your fees.

You can ask the attorney you hire how you can contribute to keeping fees down--the good ones will tell you and will be open to you doing this.

Cat

crazyblindsided posted 12/15/2020 07:33 AM

The things I asked were mainly financial and in regards to the kids. How much you will receive in child support. In my state it is no fault and pretty much a 50/50 split. You can probably get alimony because you work part time. I couldnít get it because we both work and make about the same amount of money. You may be able to get custody of kids due to his alcoholism. You probably will be able to stay in the house while he pays alimony unless neither party can afford otherwise will have to be sold and split the sale. Same with any other community property.

[This message edited by crazyblindsided at 7:34 AM, December 15th (Tuesday)]

Somber posted 12/15/2020 08:31 AM

Thank you. Iím jotting all this down. Great tips for saving $. Catwoman.

CBS, same here, itís a no fault , starting at 50/50 access place where I am. I know thatís where it starts. I couldnít afford to go to court for infidelity and it has no impact on custody, access or $ anyhow.

Would it be better to do collaborative law? It is suppose to be more affordable? What really is the difference?

Somber posted 12/15/2020 08:42 AM

I do have some 3rd party evidence. He has had a DUI but before children. A recent fender bender which the other party called the cops thinking he has drinking (he was but manipulated his way out of that and the cops just followed him home), 2 years ago I made a report with childrenís aid re:episode of drinking & driving with the kids. Other than that, and those arenít all recent, I may have a text about his drinking and picking up the kids. This is where I demanded that he let me know if he is drinking and I will arrange someone else to get the kids as itís an expectation he picks them up sober, at some point mentioning his picking them up drinking that week. His only reply is yes I know Iím an asshole.
About it.

I certainly want him to spend time with the kids but when safe to do so. His behaviour and addictions are unpredictable and very often he is high functioning while drinking so itís not always easy to tell unless it is in excess.

skeetermooch posted 12/15/2020 09:01 AM

I really doubt your spouse is a candidate for a collaborative divorce. These are for two mature people who are on the same page and capable of behaving reasonably. You might ask about the chances you can get attorney's fees paid by your STBX - this varies depending on where you are - no idea about Canada.

The DUI evidence, hopefully helps and from what you said in another thread it's possible your STBX doesn't want a lot of custody - hopefully.

Good luck!

Somber posted 12/15/2020 17:22 PM

Yes Skeeter, you are likely right. His toxic self centred behaviour and inability to take responsibility for his actions will make any option difficult. Iím just trying to research ways to not become completely financially depleted.

Iíve spent many hours researching today. There is so much to learn and do. Itís overwhelming. One step at a time. I want to educate myself best I can to not waste lawyers time on things I can learn on my own. I want to gather such suggested documents ahead of time too. Gathering documents will be a challenge as he has always been the one to deal with our finances. Then I may feel a bit more in control or informed to move forward.

gmc94 posted 12/15/2020 19:11 PM

See if the court in your area has the financial forms online. If so, then fill them out yourself and bring them to the 30 min consult.

It sounds to me like your area will do a 50/50 split of assets - that's usually simple to confirm
So the remaining issues:
- alimony (esp if it's possible to get short term alimony for a couple of years until the full time opportunities open up).
- custody plan that requires STBXWH to be sober whenever he's with kids
I'd add:
- can the kids & I stay in our home and how to afford that (ie would child support be enough to make the mortgage?)

I'm in the US, so hard to know what the courts in your country, let alone your particular jurisdiction require. You could ask the consulting atty to send you those forms prior to your meeting - worst that happens is they say no.

ABSOLUTELY get copies of whatever financial records you can get your hands on. In my area, the court requires at least 3 months, as well as most recent annual statement for all retirement accounts, etc. (all of which is very clearly spelled out on their website. You may have to check things like "local rules" which should have a section on family law or domestic relations or divorce). Again, in my area that would include the mortgage/rent, utilities, banking, etc. I assume in Canada the principle is the same: how much do you make, have, and owe, and how best to "split the pie".

You may also want to look into costs for child care if you were to return to work full time.

And finally, even if the forms in your area don't ask, include EVERYTHING. Think of holiday gifts, vacations, etc. also things like haircuts, dry cleaning, etc.

Personally, I think it's easiest to just go over the bank statements for the last 3-12 months with a fine toothed comb. These days, you can usually download it to an excel spreadsheet and then add the categories the court uses (and your own for things the court misses). Doing that is another way to save attorney $$ (I can't tell you how many countless hours are spent basically creating spreadsheets from the paper copies that clients bring in). Another advantage is you can also do a spreadsheet for the assets (house, boat, cars, retirement, etc) and play with ways to make an "equal" distribution, as well as playing with how much monthly income is even available to split.

Chili posted 12/15/2020 19:23 PM

Then I may feel a bit more in control or informed

This was a big part of it for me - I knew exactly what was what - all outlined and organized and at my fingertips. It saved money for sure, but it also kept me focused on the "business" of the divorce. Or I could easily answer a question without paying someone to do the research.

And just to second - the lawyer is there for the business end of things - it's easy to want them to counsel or defend you in other areas as well.

I might also ask about timelines - especially in these strange days. What can you expect on that front in general?

And perhaps ask them what would be your first two or three steps to proceed? And what do you need to do to get them started? (Deposit, contract, etc.)

I've had to hire an attorney at several different junctures and a couple times I asked about options for payment. For example, X as a deposit and then monthly payments? I've worked out things a time or two when cash flow was wonky.

What are your biggest "concerns/fears/worries" about the divorce? Health insurance, visitation...whatever they are - it might help to hear your options.

I prefer email for communication with legal folks so I don't misunderstand anything and can go back to it for reference.

Somber posted 12/15/2020 20:24 PM

Omg thank thank thank you.

Iím so grateful for all this information and suggestions. Iím adding more to my list.

It definitely is a 50/50 split for assets.

I assume in Canada the principle is the same: how much do you make, have, and owe, and how best to "split the pie".
. This is also the same here too.


There are forms! Yay! That is beyond helpful. The forms I see that I could print off and use are: net family property form, financial statement form, general application forms (which I think is to apply for court date? Not sure, donít think I need this one). There seems to be a few to help me with information gathering.

And perhaps ask them what would be your first two or three steps to proceed? And what do you need to do to get them started?

Yes, I need a step by step process!! This is hugely unknown territory for me. I donít deal with our finances and Iíve never had to deal with a lawyer before.

All I really want to do is lash out at these other women right now and tell them what I think of them interfering in my family right before Xmas...I want to ruin their Xmas too if they even are capable of empathy to know how their role has played in my kids & my life. I would let them indirectly inform my husband that I know as talking to him is just asking to be manipulated into a spinning conversations with narcissistic type tactics. I donít think this will help me right now but I want to have my say, my word, be heard and ruin their affairs!

Ratpicker posted 12/16/2020 10:16 AM

Somber, consider starting a spreadsheet as suggested. I always recommend using a 12 month running average for expenses, even if the attorney only asks for 3-6 months. The heating bill expenses wouldn't be reflected if going back 3-6 months in Oct. As the new Jan bill comes, last year's Jan amount drops off and you can program the spreadsheet to do the math to get the average.

I always suggest starting a word type document with all your questions as the pop into your mind. Just prior to your next appointment with the attorney/experts, change the order and put the most pressing questions at the top. Print off the top page of most pressing issues. Make a copy to hand your attorney during appointment and a copy double spaced for you to jot down their answers. It helped keep me on track & if I got weepy during appointment, he could read next the next question.

Also do a bit of internet research for the divorce process in your area. Get the best info you can find from reliable sources. Then instead of spending $ for your attorney to explain the whole thing, you can word your question to them in a cheaper way. For example: "Is it accurate that his entire retirement fund would be divided 50/50 as of the date of filing or is it date of final? Would it only be divided 50/50 of the contributions made during the marriage? See how the answers would be quicker & cheaper during your appointment? Faster than asking how retirement is divided.

When you get home, insert the answers you got from attorney into your word document. Move that issue to the bottom of the pile so you have it for reference.

By leaving a copy of my top issues/questions with my attorney, he could see where my concerns were. Even if we didn't get to go over all of it during appointment, he was able to use it to jog his memory during contact with opposing attorney and working on my case. And he could track what had already been covered with me.

We don't see many successful collaborative divorces around here. Maybe there are but seems like the selfish attitudes of waywards thwarts that process. From my understanding, if the collaborative process fails and agreements can't be reached all of those $ are spent, then you have to start all over with new attorneys? Is that how it works there too?

Bigger posted 12/16/2020 10:33 AM

I was once at a tech-conference when I met an old friend at a hotel-bar. He too was at a conference, only a family-law conference. I sat down with his friends Ė all family- and divorce attorneys. The war-stories they shared were heart-breakingÖ What they did agree on though was that in nearly all cases they could tell right away with amazing accuracy how a divorce would end. The cost Ė the real expense Ė was spent on relatively minor issues that rarely changed the picture in any major (or even minor) way.

This fits in with a 60 Minute segment I saw years ago about divorce. Two experienced and probably 500 per hour attorneys shared how they had to argue for their client for half a day about who got the lawn-mover (!!!). Nothing special about the mower and definitely worth less than the legal fees either party spent.

With this long intro then this is what I would do:
All the above advice about being prepared is so absolutely true.
The vehicles: use KBB to get fair market value.
The boat: what would it sell for?
The house: Market value.
The income: Tax returns.
Debts, credit-cardsÖ

Frankly I then I think the above can be decided with relative ease. But I would want to be 100% certain that all lose knots are tied, all tís crossed and all Iís dotted. You do not want your husband to drink his life away and for his credit-card company to come after you for debt that might have been incurred while married. Thatís where the attorney comes to play. His experience in wording, using the right forms and all that should ensure the divorce is final.

This should take about half your time. Maybe less.

The second issue is the custody. Itís pretty simple:
ďMy husband is an alcoholic and I have caught him repeatedly driving with the kids while drunk. Is there anything I can do to limit or control his time with the kids? At the very least how can I ensure prime custody?Ē

Somber posted 12/16/2020 13:37 PM

Oh thank you tremendously for your responses and suggestions. I am very grateful for all of you, your advice and experiences.

Iím having a very difficult emotional day and although I planned to accomplish a lot, I have failed to do so. I had very few last minute Xmas things to complete and it took me all day. I feel like a zombie, so foggy, difficulty concentrating and just want to crawl in a hole! Iím so overwhelmed but when I gather myself again: I plan to implement all suggestion listed here. So again thank you thank you thank you.

gmc94 posted 12/17/2020 00:36 AM

Aw sweetie, don't beat yourself up for being zombified by life... covid, holidays, and a SAWH to boot can all make for "those days". You'll get there.

Somber posted 12/17/2020 10:02 AM

Thanks gmc for that validation. I expect to have many more days like that. I did manage to pull myself together and take the kids sliding after school. Iím at work today.

I am wondering about proof of risk of harm to the kids.
Do texts I have screen shot hold any legal value? If not, do they build character reference at least?
So I may have a few texts over the past year stating to his friend that he is Ďfucked upí picking up the kids. One stating he drank x amount of beer, 2 lines of coke...
It wouldnít sound like it from reading just that, but most people at school wouldnít t notice. Thatís how high his tolerance is but I notice and documented it best I can. Luckily I am always home shortly after so Iím in the home and in control. We walk to and from school.
But when we separate, I wonít be home when he is with them and this frightens me. His behaviour is unpredictable. Most days he can relatively follow through and be there for them but other days itís the opposite and the risk is too great with that.

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