If your legal union isn’t going well — you’re fighting, you’ve grown apart, or you’re just plain unhappy — you may be considering ending your marriage. If divorce is even a remote option, you should meet with a divorce lawyer as soon as possible to make sure that you’re prepared and protected. “Ideally, when marital difficulties arise, even prior to separation, it is prudent to consult with a divorce lawyer,” Rebecca A. Provder, a partner with the New York law firm Moses & Singer, tells Refinery29. Meeting with a divorce lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to divorce — it means that you want to be informed about your options, just in case.
There are a few reasons to meet with a divorce lawyer early. First, “there's no one-size-fits-all approach to a divorce,” Provder says. A lawyer can walk you through the different options when it comes to the divorce process, including mediation, collaborative law, negotiated settlements, and litigation. If you have children, you’ll want to know about custody options as soon as possible. If you separate or divorce, you’re going to want to have a co-parenting plan in place.
If you begin working out informal custody plans and separating your belongings without talking to a lawyer first, that could have unexpected legal effects. “The status quo and informal agreements tend to have far-reaching implications,” Provder says. “So it is highly preferable to consult with a divorce professional as soon as possible.”
Provder adds that meeting with a divorce lawyer can be empowering. Even if you decide not to go ahead with a divorce, being informed about your options and knowing how the process works can give you peace of mind.
So, you’ve decided to schedule a meeting with a divorce lawyer — what next? First, find out how much it costs. Ask if there’s a price for the initial consultation, and inquire about the lawyer’s hourly rate and retainer fee so you know if their services falls within in your budget. Next, prepare: if you have a prenup, or if you were served with a divorce summons or any other papers, bring those to the meeting. Statements showing net worth and recent tax returns are also useful. “This first meeting is a major step and can be highly emotional. Therefore, it may be helpful to prepare a one page summary of important dates and background facts to concisely relay your family situation,” Provder says. And keep in mind that if you’re not sure what to bring to the consultation, you can simply ask.
It's often not a good idea to tell your spouse that you’re meeting with a divorce lawyer, though “it varies from family to family,” Provder says. If you’re still just considering divorce, silence is generally the best option. If you are concerned about your safety or access to finances, you should also stay silent. However, if both spouses are “on the same page and want to move forward with a divorce,” full transparency may work.
Even if you do decide to tell your spouse that you’re meeting with a divorce attorney, “a couple should not jointly consult with a divorce lawyer because of conflicting interests,” Provder explains. “It is important to relay and receive candid information, which would be potentially jeopardized by a joint meeting.” There is one big exception: if the lawyer is functioning as a mediator, someone you and your spouse both jointly hire to help you facilitate your divorce without going to court.
While you are experiencing marital difficulties, you do not want to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. “Do not underestimate your spouse,” Provder says. “In rocky times, your spouse may meet with a lawyer without your knowledge. The consultation can give an upper hand, so is important that you protect yourself and seek legal advice.” Meeting with a divorce lawyer does not mean that you’re committed to divorcing — many people have met with a divorce lawyer and ultimately stayed with their spouse. But if a divorce or separation does end up happening, the information you learn at this consultation will help you be prepared.