Hi, remember me? I’m the guy you called because you wanted to get out of your unhappy marriage. It was super scary to call and take that step, but you powered through, picked up your phone, and dialed the number for Toepfer at Law to talk with an expert in family law matters. You knew the experienced divorce attorneys at this law firm would be able to take care of you. That was a big step, and you should feel good about it.
Now, I have some questions. Oh… you didn’t think that far ahead yet? You’re scared again? Worried you won’t have the information ready for our first meeting or don’t know where to look for it? That’s ok! Tell you what, since you’re on my website doing some research before calling me, why don’t we just discuss what I’ll ask for now instead of later? Sounds good? Awesome. There may be lots of questions your family law attorney may have during your free consultation, but they all boil down to fit in three categories – safety, finances, and children.
Your divorce lawyer needs to know that you’re in a place where you can safely discuss your issues. They may gingerly approach the topic of whether there was any abuse, whether physical, emotional, or mental, during your marriage. They need to know this because it informs me on the methods of negotiation and conflict resolution that will be available to me and best suited for getting you through your divorce as emotionally whole as possible. For this reason, my office also requires that for an initial consultation with an attorney the client calls us. This way, we can ensure that you are not in a place where your significant other might overhear, and that there is no risk that the call might possibly incite a domestic violence incident. We never want to do anything that makes you feel like you might be in danger, and we want to set you up for safety and success. It is crucial that you be honest with us about these topics. I know there are a whole host of negative emotions that can crop up when discussing these matters, but while we are excellent divorce attorneys, we aren’t magic – we can’t work with what we don’t know.
In answering questions about abuse, please be aware that not all abuse takes the form of physical violence. Emotional abuse is very real. One particularly common form of abusive control that we see is financial control. I might ask you if you have access to money, bank accounts, credit cards, etc. I might ask if your spouse “gives” you an “allowance.” Answers to these questions and similar ones will give me insight into whether you and your spouse existed on a level playing field or whether coercive and manipulative control tactics were used on you during your marriage.
This part of the discussion may feel invasive for you. You may wonder why you need to share data with me that many in America have been taught is sensitive and isn’t generally a topic for discussion. The fact of the matter is, from a practical standpoint a divorce is not terribly different from dissolving a business partnership. There are slightly different rules, but we will be looking at every dollar you earned or borrowed from the day you got married to today, sometimes the dollars you earned or borrowed before you got married, and any dollars or other assets you may have inherited, what you did with those assets, and how you did it. We look at all of this to develop a complete picture of the marital finances to determine not only what needs to be split, but how it should be split, what the most advantageous method of dividing assets is, and the logistics behind the division.
During your consultation, your attorney will ask rather basic questions in this regard: Did you and your spouse sign a prenuptial agreement? Do you own real estate? How has it been paid for and when? Do you have retirement or other investment accounts? Were there contributions made to those accounts before marriage? Have you inherited any substantial assets, and how have those assets been handled since the inheritance? Do you hold any cryptocurrency? What do you use for wallet storage for those funds? Is any of it staked or untradeable? What does your monthly budget and income look like? How about your spouse’s? Do you think they will be asking for spousal support or maintenance (sometimes called alimony)?
If you retain Toepfer at Law to represent you, we will send you a questionnaire that goes into much greater detail. Your attorney may ask you to provide documentation regarding some or all your accounts and assets. It may well be that you don’t know the answers to these questions because your spouse controlled all the finances during the marriage. That’s ok! We just want whatever information you do have. Everything else can be learned through the process of investigative discovery (legal steps which our attorneys would discuss with you in detail to be sure you understand the process before we do any sort of deep dive investigation into your marital finances).
Do you have children? If you do, we’re going to need to know how old they are, what special needs they might have, what their schedule looks like, what extracurriculars they are engaged in, etc. In general, I’m going to need to get to know your kids without talking to your kids.
Part of divorce involving children is making decisions regarding child custody labels and parenting schedules. We need to be able to make coherent arguments regarding whether the other parent should be involved in major life-affecting decisions, and what parenting schedule is in the kids’ best interests. We also need to be able to determine how best to fund children’s existence. We ask about extracurriculars because child support does not directly address topics like, “Will my ex have to pay for half of the hockey fees?” These are things that can be dealt with, but not if we don’t know about them.
So, you might be asking yourself, “How can I prepare for my divorce consultation to get the most out of it?” We can’t speak for every office, but we would recommend having the following information ready for your first meeting with a divorce lawyer:
Throughout the divorce process, the odds are good that you will have more questions about your divorce case than your divorce lawyer will. That’s to be expected – we do this every day, and you (hopefully) only do it once. The best thing to remember is that the more open and honest you can be with your attorney regarding the questions they have, the better the job they can do on your behalf.
Hiding information from your attorney is never a good idea (in fact, it usually just results in a larger bill in the end). Remember – we can work with bad facts, but we can’t work with what we don’t know. All that said, I like to think the attorneys at Toepfer at Law are friendly, awesome people, so please don’t be afraid to call us and let us help you through the most difficult part of your life. We’ve literally been there, and we’re ready to guide you to the end as painlessly as we possibly can.
Attorney Anthony (Tony) Toepfer began his legal career in the area of business and technology law. While successful in that field, he felt there was something missing. He turned down opportunities, because, as he says, “I wanted to see the faces of the people I was helping.” He transitioned into family law practice, and found what he was looking for.About Tony Toepfer