Free consultations by divorce lawyers are common in some situations and rare in others. It often depends on what exactly you are consulting about.
In Chicago, Illinois, my office offers free consultations largely because every family law office in the Chicago area does the same. My consultation is usually brief. I ask a series of pointed questions about children’s schedules, the spouse’s issues and general financials. Then I outline a brief strategy that is almost always the same: We should begin at the end.
“To begin you must study the end” – Jose Raul Capablanca (World’s Chess Champion 1921-1927)
My Standard Recommendation in a Chicago Divorce.
Beginning at the end means preparing the final documents as drafts while we simultaneously prepare the petition for dissolution of marriage. Sooner or later, we will have to prepare the final documents: the judgment for dissolution of marriage, the allocation of parenting time and parenting responsibilities and the marital settlement agreement. I almost always recommend preparing proposal drafts of these documents as we prepare the documents that start the divorce process: the petition for dissolution of marriage and the summons.
I advise my clients, “Tell me exactly what you want and we’ll put it in the proposed final divorce documents. The worst your spouse can do is say ‘no’”
Upon the filing of the documents that start the divorce, I advise my clients to provide their spouse with the petition for divorce and the final documents at the same time.
The alternative is for the client to simply declare “I want a divorce” and to then have their spouse served by a process server in a public place. This is clearly a horrible way to start negotiating, what is essentially a transaction, a divorce.
A paralegal will be assigned to your case who will go over the details of your desired post-divorce arrangements regarding your children’s schedules and your marital finances. The paralegals will then turn those desires into the proposed final divorce documents.
By receiving the proposed final divorce documents along with the initial documents, the spouse will both know what you want from the divorce and, even if they disagree, the framework within which the final divorce arrangements shall be made.
I tell my clients, “People aren’t really afraid of divorce. People have thought about it dozens of times. What people are afraid of is the unknown. This is what causes anxiety and aggravation. Giving your spouse the final documents will take your spouse’s anxiety level from an 8 down to a 4.”
What’s more, your spouse will either sign the final documents or proceed to consult with their own attorney. Your spouse’s attorney will review the final documents and outline the areas of disagreement with your spouse and possibly help all parties reach a full settlement.
More typically, the spouse’s new attorney will call me up and discuss the matter briefly to see what issues are flexible and what issues are immovable so the parties can narrow down the points of actual disagreement.
Of course, if you have no idea what your spouse’s true finances are, preparing final documents may be impossible and we’ll be forced to do what almost every other Chicago divorce lawyer does: file the petition for dissolution, serve the other party and initiate discovery.
Chicago has a lot of divorce lawyers and, therefore, free consultations with divorce lawyers are common because there is a fair amount of competition. Other communities, I have a satellite office in Naples, Florida, where there is less competition and, therefore, divorce lawyers with free consultations are rare.
Often, a paid consultation is necessary because the client needs 1) to be educated about all the possible options in their divorce and 2) given the various strategies that they may wish to pursue.
A paid consultation doesn’t involve the same “send me your wish list” advice that I described above.
You may have several other events in your life that would alter how your divorce would proceed or whether it would proceed at all. Perhaps you are planning a move. Perhaps you are waiting for you or your spouse to get a raise or an inheritance. Perhaps, most commonly, you are waiting for your children to leave the home.
Given these variables, I can lay out a plan outlining what would happen if you pursued a divorce upon any of these various junctures in your life. Additionally, I can advise how you can best prepare yourself so that your divorce is a process and not a managed disaster.
These paid consultations usually take just an hour or two and are done at my standard rate of $ 385 an hour. I can write up a memo to memorialize my recommendations but I rarely do (I know my clients are all paying very close attention during these paid consultations).
Invariably, the paid consultations take quite some time in considering their divorce and rarely file right away. I am selling peace of mind for if and when the clients do file.
Paid consultations most often turn into an attempt at preparing a postnuptial agreement.
Important Considerations regarding a Chicago divorce consultation.
In this previous article, I have outlined the things you should bring to a divorce consultation. Your visit to a Chicago divorce lawyer will be significantly more productive if you bring the items listed in the article and any other items you’ve collected in anticipation of your divorce.
Additionally, by engaging in a consultation with a Chicago divorce lawyer you are almost certain to have revealed confidential information to that Chicago divorce lawyer that creates an attorney-client relationship under the model rules of professional responsibility. Upon developing an attorney-client relationship, a lawyer may not consult and thus develop another attorney-client relationship with the opposing party (your spouse).
You may think, ‘Well, I will just consult with all the best Chicago divorce lawyers and thereby deny my spouse the opportunity to hire a good divorce lawyer.” I assure you that this is a futile strategy. There are dozens and dozens of divorce lawyers in Chicago that do excellent work. Outside of Chicago in Dupage, Lake, Kane and Will county, hundreds more divorce lawyers are happy to take a quick drive into Chicago to represent your spouse in a Chicago divorce.
If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with Chicago, Illinois law office and learn more about your options (including whether you’ll need a free consultation or a paid consultation with a Chicago divorce lawyer)