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Top tips for the first meeting with your family solicitor

We understand that making the decision to see a family lawyer can be daunting. With that in mind, here are some top tips.

So you’ve made the appointment… what now?

We understand that making the decision to see a family lawyer can be daunting.

For some people, it can mean facing up to the sad reality that your marriage, or relationship, has finally broken down and reconciliation is no longer a realistic prospect. For others, it can represent the first step on a path to resolve disputed arrangements for the children. In any event, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees and know how best to focus your meeting time.

From your first meeting with your solicitor you want to walk away feeling informed, with knowledge of your options and a strategy for moving forwards. The more detail a client can give, the more detailed the initial meeting and the advice given can be.

In order to get the most out of your initial meeting with your solicitor, there are a number of ways you can help yourself in preparation. Here are some top tips:

  1. Cost of your appointment: before the meeting, find out what it will cost and how long it is likely to take. For example, Weightmans offer a free initial meeting of 30 minutes and any time spent beyond the initial 30 minutes is charged on a pro-rata hourly rate basis. Find out the hourly charging rate of the legal advisor dealing with your case.
  2. What is your agenda? Ahead of the meeting, it would be useful to provide your solicitor with a list of your main concerns and details of any incidents or issues which you would like to discuss. If your meeting is limited to 30 minutes, be realistic about what you expect to discuss. In a short period of time a general overview of the law is more likely. A longer meeting would usually be required to provide specific advice and strategy.
  3. Right fit: make sure the solicitor you are seeing is right for you. For example, if you want to make sure that your case is handled in a positive way, minimising potential animosity, then look for a family law solicitor who is a member of Resolution. Resolution is a body of family law professionals committed to seeing divorce and separation handled in a way which minimises conflict and stress for those involved and minimises the impact on children.
  4. Keep a record: if you are meeting a solicitor to discuss disputed arrangements for children, try to keep a record/diary of key events focussed around contact and overnight stays. This will give your solicitor an idea as to the problems and any patterns of behaviour. It is also useful detail to have should court proceedings ever become necessary.
  5. Keep evidence safe: if there have been social media posts or messages back and forth which may potentially be referred to in the future, make sure you take a screenshot and save it for future reference (should it be necessary).
  6. Timeline and key dates: try and prepare a brief chronology of your relationship for your solicitor, including when and how you met, when you started cohabiting, when you got married (if applicable), names, ages and dates of birth of family members, when you separated, any dates when agreements were reached, whether that be verbally or formally.
  7. Key information: find out if your solicitor would appreciate a snapshot of your situation before your meeting. A “factsheet” of key information can be a great reference guide – names, dates of birth, key addresses and headline financial information (about your own finances and what you know of your (former) partner’s finances with estimated values) all assist in simplifying that initial information-gathering exercise. That way, your solicitor has some knowledge and background to the issues you might want to discuss when you meet. Whilst it won’t always be possible to carefully review detailed narratives before or during the meeting, it will help to focus your – and your solicitor’s - thoughts. It can also save time within the meeting as this is information your solicitor will need to gather from you.
  8. Confidential information: make sure you do not actively hunt around looking for financial information relating to your (former) partner. If you come across information or documentation belonging to your partner, recognise that they have a reasonable expectation to privacy and the information should not be read. It is important to be aware that if you provide your solicitor with confidential information or documentation belonging to your (former) partner, they will be obliged to tell the other side and there is also the possibility they may need to cease acting for you as they have been privy to this information. You can however rely upon your own recollection of information which you have.
  9. Ask questions: don’t be afraid to ask a question! No question is stupid and no answer obvious – for many people this is their first time navigating what could be a complex procedure.
  10. Take time to reflect: don’t feel rushed into making decisions at the first meeting. We will be clear if we think urgent action is required, but we want you to have the opportunity to reflect in your own time.
  11. Consider practicalities and schedules: when it comes to arrangements for the children, it can assist to spend some time before the meeting considering what arrangements you think might work. We can suggest common patterns for sharing arrangements. However, there are no fixed rules, and every family will have to work to find the arrangements that best suit their children’s individual needs. What time commitments do you and the children currently have e.g. sports, Brownies?
  12. Support: a supportive friend or family member, who can sensitively support you whilst acting as a second pair of ears during a meeting, can be invaluable. There is always a lot to take in during the first meeting and emotions are often running high.
  13. Consider all the options: bear in mind that it is our duty to advise you of all possible routes for resolving your case, which includes contested court proceedings. In a great number of cases it is possible to settle swiftly and amicably, and it is by no means a given that your case will proceed to a final hearing. However, it is important to understand the full picture – and all of your options - at the outset.
  14. Be realistic: remember that we want to help and guide you to the best outcome. However, it helps for you to be as commercial and realistic as you can be. Ask your solicitor for the best and worst case scenarios and what can be done to try and influence the better outcome.
  15. Funding options: your solicitor has an obligation to explain about, and ensure that you are clear about, how much your case might cost in legal fees, and what funding options might be available to you. Don’t feel awkward asking questions about this, it is important that you are able to fund your case through to the end.

For further information or any enquiries you may have, please contact Becki Smith, Solicitor at becki.smith@weightmans.com.

If you need family law advice, contact our family law solicitors. We offer a free 30 minute consultation.

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