When you’re in the middle of a divorce or family law matter, trying to find court-approved parenting programs in your area shouldn’t be a hassle. After all, you already have enough on your plate and these classes are meant to be helpful – not add more stress.
As mentioned in, 8 Tips to Navigate Court-Ordered Parenting Classes in Minnesota, it’s worth double checking that the parenting program you select is court-approved before taking the class. In addition, it’s important that the parenting program you select is not only approved in the state of Minnesota, but also in the specific county where your case is filed.
So, here’s 4 ways to find court-approved parenting programs in your area.
Option # 1: YOUR PARENT EDUCATION COURT-ORDER
If you’ve already received your parent education order, there may be a list of court-approved parenting programs after the court order. Some counties in Minnesota (for example, Washington County) attach a list of court-approved parenting programs directly to the parent education order. If that’s the case, you may be able to find a court-approved parenting program from the court’s list behind the order.
However, the list attached to your court order, may or may not be current. The courts are very busy. Therefore, they may not have had time to update the list. Thus, some of the court-approved parenting programs that are listed may no longer exist or be offered in your county. Thus, you may need to do additional research and inquiry to ensure that a program listed still exists and is approved in your county.
Option # 2: YOUR COUNTY’S FAMILY COURT WEBSITE
If you didn’t get a list of co-parenting classes attached to your parent education order, the county’s family court website may have that information.
We have attached the following links for the following counties:
If you do not find your county listed above, you can search for your county on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
Please note, that just as the lists attached to a court order may not be current, the same goes for the information on these websites. Therefore, you may need to do additional research and inquiry regarding the programs listed on the courts’ websites as well.
Option # 3: YOUR DIVORCE OR FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
If you have a divorce or family law attorney, another option is to ask him/her directly and s/he can help you find court-approved parenting programs in your county. Furthermore, your lawyer may be able to provide additional information about the programs and the providers and can help you with any of the processes along the way. For instance, if you have a divorce or family law attorney, s/he may be able to save you money by getting the fees for these parenting classes waived for you. Don’t be afraid to bring this issue up to your attorney, if s/he hasn’t already talked to you about it.
Option # 4: THE DISTRICT COURT ADMINISTRATOR FOR YOUR COUNTY
If you’re unsure if a parenting program is court-approved in your county, want to find a court-approved parenting program in your county or just want reassurance that a parenting program that you found is court-approved in your county, you always have the option of contacting the district court administrator for your county. Keep in mind, you may not be able to reach someone immediately. Therefore, contact him/her as soon as possible to ensure that you allow yourself enough time to participate in the program and meet the deadlines outlined in your parent education order.
Lastly, although the parenting program you select needs to be court-approved in your county, there are additional factors you’ll want to consider before choosing your co-parenting program.
Therefore, Read: How to Find the BestCo-Parenting Classfor You, and to make this entire process as stress-free as possible, here’s a Step-By-Step Checklist to help you complete your Parent Education Order.
Although most parents are surprised by a parent education order from a judge, it’s not uncommon in family law cases involving child custody, parenting time, and/or child support in Minnesota. Unfortunately, because most parents haven’t heard of a parent education order until a judge orders them to attend co-parenting classes, many parents don’t follow the proper procedures regarding a parent education order. As a result, parents end up unintentionally disrespecting and frustrating the judge early in their case.
However, when a judge is ruling over such important matters as the custody of your child(ren), parenting time, child support, etc…you need to be putting your best foot forward. To help you do just that, use these step-by-step instructions to walk you through a parent education order and our checklist (at the end of the article) to stay on track.
Step-by-Step Instructions for a Parent Education Order
Step #1: READ YOUR PARENT EDUCATION ORDER & CALENDAR DEADLINES
Step number one may seem obvious, but it’s still worth noting, since it can be tempting to skim over legal documents. (Especially when they’re filled with legal jargon that you don’t understand.) However, even if you have an attorney, you should carefully read all legal documents, including court orders. Along with all legal documents, you can (and should) keep the parent education order for your records.
When reading your parent education order:
Highlight important deadlines and procedures. Because procedures and deadlines may vary depending on your county, it’s important that you follow your specific parent education order.
Put any deadlines (for example, for registering for a program, attending the class(es), completing the order, etc…) into your calendar right away.
Underline anything in the court order that you don’t understand. Then, follow-up with your family law attorney or divorce lawyer for clarification.
Step #2: RESEARCH PARENT EDUCATION PROGRAMS
After you’ve read your parent education order and calendared deadlines, it’s time to research programs. After a quick search on Google, you’ll see that there are several co-parenting programs out there. However, not all programs are the same. In fact, only some programs are certified by the court and accepted for your court order. To save you time and reduce stress, read: How to Find the Co-Parenting Class for You. Once you know what you should be looking for, it’ll be much easier to compare the different programs.
In addition, depending on your county, a list of parenting programs may be attached to your parent education order. If included, this list from the court can be a good place to start. Just check the date of when the list was updated as some of the programs may not exist anymore or program details (such as, cost) may have changed.
Step #3: SELECT A PARENT EDUCATION PROGRAM
Once you’ve researched different programs, it’s time to select the one that’s right for you. As mentioned in Step #2, you can’t just pick any class out there. If you do, you may complete a program that isn’t certified by the court, and thus, won’t count towards your parent education order. Besides saving you time and money, by selecting the right program you’ll likely be more satisfied with the experience and find the class(es) worthwhile.
Step #4: REGISTER/SIGN-UP FOR CO-PARENTING PROGRAM
As soon as you’ve found your program, sign-up or register for the class(es). By not waiting till the last minute, you may be able to save money on child care by arranging your class(es) when your child is with the other parent, in school, or in an extracurricular activity.
Also, it’s important that you meet any registration deadlines. For instance, in Washington County (Minnesota), parents are expected to contact and register for class(es) within 10 days of the court order. In addition, this registration deadline is 10 days from the date on the parent education order, not from the date you received the court order. Such specific details as these, are why it’s so important to carefully read and follow your specific parent education order. That way, you don’t end up unintentionally violating your court order.
Step #5: PAY FOR PARENTING PROGRAM
Depending on the program that you select, you may need to pay for the class(es) ahead of time. Some providers request advance payment to reserve your spot in the program. Make sure that you get a payment receipt and/or a confirmation number for your records.
Depending on your situation, you may need to arrange for child care while you’re taking the class. If so, do it now, after you’ve paid for the program and your spot has been confirmed.
Step #7: ATTEND & PARTICIPATE IN CO-PARENTING CLASS(ES)
Although this step is self-explanatory, it’s worth mentioning because you won’t receive a certificate without attending and participating in the whole program. In addition to lack of participation, instructors and program providers can decline certification for disruptive attendees. Therefore, come prepared to engage by getting a good night’s rest and turning your cell phone off before class starts. Lastly, if not taking online – arrive 15 minutes before class begins, and don’t forget to factor in additional time for traffic and parking.
Step #8: COMPLETE ASSIGNMENT(S) AND/OR TAKE FINAL EXAM
Depending on your program, you may be required to complete additional assignments outside of class. In addition, you may need to take and pass an exam at the end of the program. If you don’t pass the final exam, most online programs allow you to re-take the exam without having to take the entire program over again. In fact, you can ask about this during Step #2, when you’re researching and comparing different programs. Lastly, it may be beneficial to factor in additional time if you need to re-take the exam, when you’re arranging child care and/or considering deadlines.
Step #9: GET COMPLETION CERTIFICATE
Understandably so, many parents believe that they’re done once they’ve completed the class(es) and (if necessary) passed the final exam. However, now you need to get your certificate of completion. Your certificate is proof to the court that you attended and participated as instructed by the court’s order. Without the completion certificate, you risk having to take the program over again.
Depending on the program, you may get your certificate immediately, or you may have to wait a few days. However, it’s important that you’re on top of this and that you follow-up if necessary. Because, besides following proper procedures and deadlines for registering for the class(es) and taking the class(es), there are also certification deadlines. To illustrate, in Washington County (Minnesota), the certificate of completion should be submitted to the court and the other party within 10 days of completing the program.
Step #10: SUBMIT DOCUMENTATION
In order to fulfill your parent education order, the court needs to be provided with proof that you completed the program. Along with your completion certificate from the program, this often involves drafting a corresponding document, filing with the court, providing copies to the other party, and obtaining verification that all documents were received.
If you provide the necessary and properly-formatted documentation, the court should be able to easily identify:
The court file number of the case;
Who completed the program;
Which parent education program was attended;
When the parent education program was attended;
That the program was completed successfully; and
The date of completion.
Once you’ve verified that the court and the other party received all the required documentation, you’ve completed your parent education order. Congratulations! You’re done!
Just remember to keep all the documentation you submitted, along with your completion certificate and parent education order for your personal records.
Hopefully, now that you’ve seen all the steps involved in a parent education order, you have a better idea of how much time to set aside and the procedures involved. As promised, here’s a checklist for you to use when completing your parent education order.
Tell us, what are you hoping to get from your class(es) for your parent education order? And let us know if you found this checklist helpful or if there is anything we should add. Just drop us a message below.
If you’re a separated or divorcing parent currently involved (or will be) in a child custody, parenting time or child support matter you may be court-ordered to participate in a parent education program. If you’re less than enthusiastic about being court-ordered to take a parenting class, you’re not alone. A lot of separated and divorcing parents initially feel this way.
Some of this initial annoyance and frustration stems from the “shock” of the unexpected and the assumption that it’ll be a waste of time. Fortunately, finding out that you’ve been court-ordered to take a parenting class isn’t so bad when you’re prepared and you know what to expect. Therefore, this article is the first in a series titled, “The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law,” which aims to do just that!
Parent Education Requirement in Minnesota Family Law Cases
Although this parent education requirement isn’t new to Minnesota (started in 1998), as a separated or divorcing parent, it’s probably new (and reasonable so) to you. Therefore, here’s a quick look at what the law says about the parent education program in Minnesota.
Any parent can attend a parent education program voluntarily (without a court-order). (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3).
Minnesota law permits a judge to order parents in any child custody, parenting time or child support case to attend a parent education program. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3).
Parents involved in a contested child custody or parenting time case must attend a parent education program. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 3).
Depending on the judicial district, your child(ren) may be required to attend a separate program as part of the parent education program. (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 1).
So, now that you’re aware of parent education laws in Minnesota, at least if you’re court-ordered, it won’t be coming completely out of the blue. Like mentioned above, having this awareness tends to eliminate the “shock” factor, and thus, reduce some of the initial frustration. However, there’s still the reasonable question,
“I’ve been parenting my kid(s) for years, so why would I need to take a parenting class now?“
Fortunately, these classes are different from the general perception of “parenting classes.”
Court-Ordered Co-Parenting Programs in Minnesota
The parenting classes that we’re talking about are different from the “parenting classes” that we typically imagine. Instead of being geared towards expecting parents, eager to learn the fundamentals of raising a child and gain basic parenting skills, these classes focus on issues that come up when parenting from two separate households. To illustrate, the type of parenting programs we’re talking about have titles such as, “Children in Between” from The Center for Divorce Education or “Co-Parenting Plus” and “Legal and Economic Aspects of Divorce (LEAD)” from Headway Emotional Health Services in the Twin Cities.
What’s Taught in a Parent Education Program?
Minnesota developed the parent education program to provide parents with the knowledge, support, resources and skills to effectively co-parent. In addition, the conflict prevention and dispute resolution methods you learn in the program can save you time and money. Lastly, these co-parenting classes emphasize how to reduce the impact of divorce and separation on children. As a result, many separated and divorcing parents report that the program was more helpful than they thought it would be and tend to be satisfied with their experience.
Therefore, although you may be court-ordered to attend a parenting class, we hope that by giving you a heads up and a better understanding of the type of parenting class you’d attend, that we’ve reduced some of the initial frustration.
However, there’s still a lot more to know about parenting programs and parent education orders in Minnesota. To learn about your parental rights; how to protect yourself legally when it comes to co-parenting classes; how to save money on the classes; and more… check out our second article in the series, 8 Tips to Navigate Court-Ordered Parenting Classes in Minnesota.
Now that you’ve gotten a chance to check out our previous posts, here are 5 tips to make the most out of your intake appointment with your divorce attorney.
TIP # 1: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, make sure the Divorce Attorney Listens to and Matches Your Goals.
Not all divorce attorneys are the same.
Some divorce attorneys are more aggressive and confrontational than other divorce attorneys.
For example, although alternative dispute resolution (methods, such as mediation, for negotiating with your spouse) is required in most cases in Minnesota, some divorce attorneys push more strongly for a trial. Going to trial is where the majority of legal fees and costs reside during a divorce. –> If you’re looking to avoid going to trial in your divorce, then going with an attorney with a high percentage of divorce cases that go to trial, may not be the best fit.
Some divorce attorneys are more comfortable with a client completing case tasks that don’t require attorney oversight than other divorce attorneys.
For example, some divorce attorneys allow a client to arrange a property evaluation, such as a house appraisal with a third party, while other divorce attorneys view this as part of his/her billable services. –> If you want your divorce attorney to handle everything, than you’ll be dissatisfied with a divorce attorney who gives you a list of tasks to complete independently. Whereas, if you’re goal is to save money, you’d be happy that you didn’t get charged for things you could do yourself.
The point is, in order to guarantee a good fit, you need to identify ahead of time what your goals are and evaluate what kind of divorce attorney you want representing you.
Thus, it’s important to make sure that you get a divorce attorney that matches what you’re looking for and is able to meet your needs. So if you haven’t already, use the intake appointment to get to know your divorce attorney better.
Signs that You’ve Found a Divorce Attorney that Listens to and Matches Your Goals:
– Your divorce attorney takes notes when you’re talking about your goals.
– Your divorce attorney makes direct eye contact with you when you’re speaking and provides his/her undivided attention to you and your case.
– You and your divorce attorney, together, create a plan on how to proceed with your divorce that incorporates your goals and meets your needs.
*NOTE: If your divorce attorney hasn’t asked about your goals by the intake appointment, that’s a BIG red flag and it’d be advantageous to evaluate your decision to hire him/her.
Tip # 2: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Be Prepared to Offer Personal Information.
As discussed briefly in our previous post, your divorce attorney will want to collect information about a wide variety of topics that may pertain to your divorce at the intake appointment. Aside from core issues, like your property, debts, incomes, and children, often times more uncomfortable and private issues arise, like domestic abuse, drug & alcohol use, mental health issues, etc… It’s easy to feel like your being judged and that your life is under a microscope when you’re being asked such questions by an outsider.
However, you may find it helpful to know that the client-patient relationship you have with your doctor is very similar to the relationship you share with your divorce attorney.
To illustrate, just like what you tell your doctor is private and confidential, the same goes for what you share with your divorce attorney. In addition, similar to your doctor, your divorce attorney is ethically bound to do what’s in your best interests. And lastly, just like the recommendations a doctor makes and the medical plan that s/he creates for you is based on the information you share with him/her, an attorney’s counsel and legal advice is also directly related to the information you provide him/her.
So although it’s difficult opening up to a stranger, omitting certain facts is detrimental to your case because it limits your divorce attorney’s abilities. Therefore, it’s best to be completely honest and trust that the divorce attorney is only asking you such questions so s/he has a thorough understanding of your situation. After all, your divorce attorney can’t provide the best possible counsel and legal guidance if s/he doesn’t have all the facts.
TIP # 3: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Clarification.
Some people shy away from asking questions. Don’t. Although hopefully your divorce attorney does a good job of explaining things to you, if you don’t understand something s/he said, ask for clarification. There’s no need for embarrassment. The divorce attorney does this for a living. You don’t.
Therefore, neither your divorce attorney nor yourself, for that matter, should expect you to be well-versed in family law and divorce procedures. Instead, your divorce attorney should be willing to talk with you until you not only understand, but feel comfortable and confident in the decisions being made in your divorce.
TIP # 4: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Make Sure You Understand What the Next Steps Are.
As mentioned in our previous post, at the end of the intake appointment with your divorce attorney, s/he should clearly explain what the next steps are in your divorce case. It’s essential that you know what the divorce attorney needs from you and what s/he will be doing to proceed with your divorce.
In fact, it’s important that you not only understand what the next steps are after the intake appointment, but throughout your divorce case. There will be times in your divorce, when your divorce attorney won’t be able to proceed until s/he hears back from you or gets something signed by you, etc…so it’s important that you’re always on the same page. When there’s a disconnect in communication and responsiveness between the two of you, it prolongs the divorce process.
TIP # 5: When meeting with a Divorce Attorney, Take a Proactive Stance with Your Divorce (Starting at the Intake Appointment).
There should never be a time when you feel like your divorce attorney has lost focus of your goals. If you find yourself in this situation, regardless of whether it’s after the intake appointment or later on, let your divorce attorney know immediately. The more you discuss your goals and expectations with your divorce attorney, the more likely you’ll be satisfied with the end result.
You can satisfy tip #4 and #5 by requesting that at the end of each conversation or meeting with your divorce attorney, that s/he summarizes the key points and the next steps in your case for both him/her and yourself. This way you can be confident that you’re divorce attorney is working towards your goals and you ensure that you always know what’s happening with your divorce case.
Thanks for checking out our series, What To Know Before Meeting With A Divorce Attorney. Hopefully, you’ve gotten a better idea of what to expect when meeting with a divorce attorney, you feel more prepared for the intake appointment, and you’re able to find the divorce attorney that’s right for you!
Love To Hear From You…
Besides knowing what to expect, what else would make meeting with a divorce attorney easier? Chime in below ~
Most people are a little uncomfortable during an intake with a divorce attorney. However, a lot of the initial discomfort can be avoided when you know what to expect and have a good idea of what happens at intake with a divorce attorney.
Welcome to our fourth blog post in the series, What to Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney.
Which brings us to today, What Happens At An Intake Appointment With A Divorce Attorney? So let’s talk about the actual intake appointment itself. Again, not all divorce and family law firms are the same, but we’ll give you a general idea of what happens so you can feel prepared.
Basic Agenda for an Intake with a Divorce Attorney
Ideally, you can expect these five things to occur during an intake with a divorce attorney:
1. Establishing a Relationship:
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the intake appointment, is that it’s your first opportunity to establish your relationship with your divorce attorney. It’s essential that you feel comfortable talking to your divorce attorney and that you can confide in him/her. We’ll go into more detail next week about the client-attorney relationship.
In addition, if possible, take a moment to introduce yourself to any other additional staff you’ll be working with, such as a paralegal, before leaving the intake appointment. Although paralegals can’t provide any legal advice or guidance, you save money by working directly with the paralegal on case matters such as scheduled court appearances, correspondences, and filings.
2. Completing the Engagement Letter & Fee Agreement (Contract):
The divorce attorney you meet with might refer to this as the client retention contract, the engagement letter, the representation and fee agreement, etc… Regardless of what the contract is called, it’s important that you’re able to review it with your divorce attorney, ask any questions you may have, and receive a personal copy for your records.
The contract sets forth the parameters of the client-attorney relationship, legal fees and service payments, client and attorney responsibilities, and other additional information regarding representation and firm policies. Although the contract can be intimidating at first due to it’s length, it’s reassuring to have everything in writing and clear expectations from the start. If the divorce attorney doesn’t have a contract, his/her contract is extremely vague and short, or s/he is unwilling to sign a contract with you, this is a BIG red flag and consider looking for a different divorce attorney.
*REMEMBER: It’s important that you understand the contract before signing it. If there is anything you don’t understand, don’t hesitate to ask the divorce attorney. S/he should be more than willing to explain and answer any and all questions. In addition, if a concern or question regarding representation and/or legal services isn’t addressed in the contract, bring it up and consider adding it to the contract before signing.
3. Depositing the Retainer:
Work on your case will start and you’ll officially have representation when you and your divorce attorney have both signed and dated the contract, and you’ve provided the retainer. Since we’ve discussed the retainer throughout this series (see links in the first paragraphs of this article for past posts), we won’t go into more detail here.
4. Discussing Your Divorce & Providing Legal Guidance:
Most divorce attorneys will collect information about you, your family and your spouse at the intake appointment. It’s not uncommon for the divorce attorney to ask you a wide-range of questions during the intake appointment. Although it can feel invasive, it gives the divorce attorney an overview and helps him/her spot possible issues that may arise in your case. We’ll talk more about this in our post next week.
At this time, you can also bring up any other issues not yet discussed and seek legal advice on any pressing concerns or family matters. In addition, if you’ve been served with divorce papers or have any other previous court orders, your divorce attorney will review such documents with you at this time. If you’re unable to bring these documents to the intake appointment for whatever reason, it’s essential that you and your divorce attorney still discuss such matters and that a plan is set in motion to get these documents as soon as possible.
5. Developing a Plan & Next Steps in Case:
At the end of the intake with a divorce attorney, the client and divorce attorney should develop a plan for moving forward the case, based on the client’s specific situation, goals and preferences. Before leaving the intake appointment, the divorce attorney should clearly explain what s/he will be doing and what s/he will be needing from you.
Preparing for an intake appointment with a divorce attorney is difficult when you’ve never met with an attorney before, you don’t know what to expect, and/or you don’t know what happens at an intake appointment with a divorce attorney. Therefore, welcome to the third post in our blog series, What to Know Before Meeting with a Divorce Attorney.
In our first post, we discussed what to expect during a consultation and how to use the consultation to find the best divorce attorney for you.
Next, in our second post, we talked about scheduling an intake appointment with a divorce attorney and what to ask when scheduling an intake appointment.This article includes a handy checklist to use when you’re on the phone so make sure you check it out.
Now, in today’s post, we’ll help you prepare for your intake appointment with a divorce attorney by explaining what to bring with you when you meet with him/her.
What To Bring to an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
1. Current Court Documents:
This refers to any and all court documents you’ve received before your intake appointment with a divorce attorney. For example, if you’ve been served by your spouse or s/he has filed for a divorce in Minnesota, you should have received two documents known as, the Petition and Summons.
It’s essential that you bring these documents (such as, the Petition and Summons) to avoid missing the deadline to contest your divorce and thus, forfeit your right to express your opinion regarding significant aspects of your divorce (such as, property division, child custody and child support).
To illustrate, in Minnesota you only have 30 days to respond after you’ve been served and your reply must be properly formatted into a legal document called, the Answer, which typically also includes one’s Counter-Petition.
For more information about the initial steps in a divorce in Minnesota and the legal documents mentioned above (such as, the Petition, Summons, Counter-Petition, Answer, etc…) read: How Do You Get a Divorce in Minnesota.
2. Previous Court Documents:
It’s also helpful for you to bring any other court documents from previous divorce and/or family law cases that you were involved in (if any) before this divorce.
For example, if applicable, you’ll want to bring the following documents listed below:
Court documents from any/all previous divorces, such as the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgement and Judgement and Decree. The judgement and decree is the final court document that is signed by the judge, establishes the divorce between the couple, and spells out the duties and responsibilities of each party regarding such matters as, property and asset division, child custody and child support.
Other family law related court documents, such as Orders For Protection, Recognition of Parentage (ROP’s), Child Support and/or Child Custody Modification Arrangements, etc.
3. Financial Documents and Other Important Documents:
If you have any original financial documents such as, you and/or your spouse’s paystubs, 401k statements, pension plans, tax returns, etc… it’s in your best interest to start collecting these immediately so that you can give them to your divorce attorney.
Although we don’t require original financial documents right away, some law offices like to collect these documents immediately. As mentioned in our previous post, it’s best if you find out exactly what documents your divorce attorney will require from you at the intake appointment by asking during the consultation or when you’re scheduling the intake appointment.
* NOTE: Please be assured that although most divorce attorneys will ask for such financial documents, if you don’t have access to some/any of these financial documents, your divorce attorney can help you get access. In Minnesota, both parties are required to disclose any and all information to one another, but here’s what you should do if you believe your spouse is hiding assets from you.
4. Retainer Payment:
Most divorce and family law firms require some form of an initial retainer before working on your case. You can think of the retainer as an initial, good-faith deposit that demonstrates you’re ability to hire a divorce attorney and that you’ll use to pay for his/her legal services. It’s expected that you’ll bring the retainer to the intake appointment when you meet with your divorce attorney. As mentioned in our previous post, you should use the consultation to request information about retainer amounts, payment methods, and fee agreements.
One last thing about the retainer payment, if someone other than yourself will be paying on your behalf, it’s best that you inform your divorce attorney of this ahead of time (such as, during the consultation or when you’re scheduling the intake appointment). Some divorce and family law firms will only take checks from a third party. Some divorce and family law firms require the third party to appear in person to confirm identity and to obtain permission; while other divorce and family law firms will take a third party’s credit card number over the phone. The point is, if a third party will be paying the retainer, you’ll want to know if there are any additional procedures that are required ahead of time to ensure you’re prepared for the intake appointment.
5. Driver’s License and/or State Identification Card:
Your driver’s license and/or state identification card will be used by the divorce attorney to confirm your identity at the intake appointment. Identity confirmation is a very important practice because it ensures your safety and confidentiality by preventing someone from obtaining private information about you and your case by pretending to be you. In addition, if you’re paying the initial retainer with your credit card, your driver’s license or state identification card will prove that you own the account. Lastly, if you’re working with a small law firm or solo practitioner for your divorce, you most likely won’t need to show your I.D. card again to the divorce attorney after the initial intake appointment.
6. A Guest, such as a Friend or Family Member:
We’ve added a guest to the list of things to bring to an intake appointment with a divorce attorney not because you necessarily should or shouldn’t bring someone with you, but because it’s something that you should decide before the intake appointment with the divorce attorney. In addition, it’s something that you should discuss with the divorce attorney either during the consultation or when you’re scheduling an intake appointment. Before you decide, know the pros and cons of bringing someone with you to an intake appointment with a divorce attorney.
Hopefully you’ve gotten a better idea of what to talk about with a divorce attorney during a consultation and when scheduling an intake appointment, and what you’ll want to bring with you to the intake appointment through this blog series, What to Know Before Meeting with Your Divorce Attorney.
When you’re looking to hire a specific divorce or family law attorney, you need to schedule an intake appointment with him/her. Because it’s typically the first time you meet the attorney, most people are a little apprehensive about the intake appointment. After all, it’s normal to feel awkward initially when we’re in an unfamiliar situation and we can’t rely on previous experience. However, our blog series called, What to Know Before Meeting with Your Divorce Attorney is all about uncovering the unknowns so you can be more at ease and comfortable with the entire process.
Today’s blog post is dedicated to what you should do next after you’ve selected a divorce attorney – schedule the intake appointment. To make this process as easy as possible for you, we’ve included a checklist you can use with the 8 things to ask when you’re scheduling an intake appointment with a divorce attorney. You can find the checklist at the end of this article.
Schedule an Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
Once you’ve decided to retain an attorney for your divorce, set up an intake appointment with the divorce attorney as soon as possible. This may seem obvious. In fact, you may be wondering why we even brought this up. However, it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done.
For a lot of people, calling to schedule an intake appointment to retain a divorce attorney means the start to the end of a marriage. Even if you haven’t been happy for a long time or have been talking about getting a divorce, it’s the completing of this step that often makes it “more real” for people and with that realization can come a flood of unwanted emotions and unanswered questions. At this point, it’s very easy to become paralyzed with fear and worry.
However, if you’re past the contemplation stage and you’re absolutely sure that you want a divorce, allowing yourself the chance to meet your divorce attorney can help with some of those unanswered questions and fears and provide some support.
Schedule an In-Person Intake Appointment with a Divorce Attorney
Personally, we recommend meeting with a divorce attorney in person at his/her office for the intake appointment. This allows you the chance to meet face-to-face and get to know the divorce attorney who’ll be representing you and anyone else (such as, a legal assistant or paralegal) who’ll be working with you throughout your divorce.
The only time we don’t meet in person is when the firm has been retained by an individual who lives far away, has mobility concerns or time constraints, and therefore, prefers to have the intake meeting over the phone or by using video software like Skype or FaceTime.
What to Ask When Scheduling an Intake Appointment with an Attorney
1. If you’d prefer not to meet at the office or if it’s difficult for you to meet in person with the divorce attorney, determine if the firm has the resources and ability to accommodate your needs/preferences before you schedule an intake appointment. For example, you can ask if the divorce attorney is willing to meet you at a different location that’s more convenient for you.
* If this is the case, just make sure that the location you select still ensures your privacy and confidentiality. Or if you’ve decided to phone or video conference make sure to exchange information, such as Skype user names, and arrange who will initiate the phone/video conference when you set up the intake appointment.
2. When you schedule the intake appointment, ask how long it will take so you’re not stretching yourself too thin.
* Trying to rush through the intake appointment because you only allocated 30 minutes (when you could really use an hour) adds stress. It’s hard to focus if you’re worried about making it to your next commitment on time. Therefore, schedule the intake appointment for a day when you’re less busy. If that’s not possible, you can always ask if the lawyer would be willing to spread the intake appointment out into 3 smaller meetings. Or try to get some help with your commitments to lighten your schedule. For example, arranging a carpool with another parent for your kid’s soccer practice that night so that you have enough time for the appointment.
–> In addition, map out your route ahead of time and make sure you take into account parking and traffic on the day and time of your intake appointment. Always give yourself longer than you think it will take to get to your intake appointment. That way, you’re not running into your intake appointment already frazzled because you’re late.
3. Provide a safe and secure (meaning, it should be private, confidential and password-protected) phone number with voicemail and/or email address, in case the divorce attorney needs to reach you before your intake appointment or if you’d like to receive an intake appointment reminder from the firm.
* If you haven’t been asked already, let the firm know the best way to reach you and your preferred method of contact. If you don’t have access to a secure phone line or you have reason to believe that your email has been compromised, inform the firm immediately so that steps can be taken to protect your confidentiality and privacy.
4. Confirm the address of the law firm and don’t be afraid to ask for directions and nearby landmarks.
5. Ask about parking options for the intake appointment.
* You’ll want to confirm ahead of time if you need to find a nearby parking ramp, have cash/change for a meter, or if the firm provides free parking through it’s own parking lot.
6. If you didn’t do it at the phone consultation or forgot, confirm the retainer amount and discuss the method of payment.
* If you’re planning on having someone else pay the retainer on your behalf, it’s a good time to bring this up when your scheduling your intake appointment.
8. Before getting off the phone, ask if there is anything else you should know at this point. This gives your divorce attorney the opportunity to add anything else s/he may want you to know or discuss ahead of time.
Most divorce attorneys or family law firms advertise for a free or low-cost consultation. However, we do a bad job of explaining them. In addition, consultations can vary depending on the law office.
The ambiguity surrounding a legal consultation is a disservice to you. It creates confusion and frustration during the consultation, which often translates into a missed opportunity for you to get to know a divorce lawyer better.
Legal Advice and a Consultation: What the Consultation is Not
Needing legal guidance and counsel in your divorce are reasons to hire an attorney. At the consultation, the divorce attorney will not provide any legal advice or guidance regarding how to proceed with your divorce, what steps you’ll want to take next.
“Legal advice” is not always well-defined. This also is the fault of us lawyers. I consider legal advice to be any of the following:
I have “X” family situation, what do I do?
I have “X” family situation, what happens in the legal system?
How do I do “X” legal procedure?
Lawyers don’t give free legal advice for three reasons. First, lawyers are pay for service professionals. Providing legal advice is a service.
Second, a phone consultation typically does not provide enough information. A lawyer can’t give fully informed advice based on a phone call.
Third, legal advice creates ethical problems. This relates to the second point, providing advice without fully understanding the situation. Also, it may create ambiguity about my role with the person receiving the advice. If it were wrong, and the person relied on that information, the lawyer could be liable.
Therefore, if you’re looking to the free consultation for free legal advice, it can be irritating to you and a waste of your time.
To compare, think about the medical profession. When you go to the doctor, you report your symptoms. Based on his or her knowledge, expertise, training, etc… s/he determines what’s wrong and provides a remedy.
You see a doctor because you lack the knowledge and experience required to diagnosis yourself. Therefore, you pay the doctor for these services. Similarly, when you obtain a lawyer, you’re paying for his/her legal knowledge, experience and expertise.
Understanding the Consultation: What the Consultation Is
A legal consultation is like a job interview. At the consultation you’re asking questions of multiple applicants (in this case, several different attorneys and/or law firms) to determine the best person for the position of being your divorce attorney.
It serves two major functions. First, the lawyer needs to know that your situation is one he or she is qualified to handle. In the case of my firm, most people find me through the internet. So, they know I work in divorce and family law. Therefore, it’s pretty quick for me to tell if I have the expertise for your case.
Second, it gives you the chance to evaluate the lawyer. You can determine if he or she is a good fit for you. Questions ideally focus on the lawyer’s practice, general procedural questions, and cost questions. This consultation typically doesn’t need to be more than 15-30 minutes for divorce and family situations.
Either the divorce attorney or a good legal assistant/paralegal can conduct the consultation with you and answer questions you may have before making your decision. Therefore, although you won’t receive any free legal advice or counsel, a consultation still has great value to you and you should seek consultation before retaining a divorce attorney.
Benefits of a Consultation
1. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring practices in family law and has experience with divorce cases similar to your own.
Although hopefully the firm’s marketing takes care of this issue by making it clear what types of cases and areas of law the attorney practices on the firm’s website, it’s always good to double check.
Especially with large law firms, you’ll want to make sure that the divorce attorney who is representing you in your divorce case not only will be the same attorney throughout your divorce, but also that he or she practices in divorce and family law, and has significant experience with divorce and family law cases.
2. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring can dedicate the time and effort your divorce case deserves and that s/he isn’t overloaded with a number of other matters at the moment.
It’s reasonable to ask during the consultation about the attorney’s caseload in order to confirm that s/he is equipped and capable serving you as a client.
3. You ensure that the divorce attorney you’re looking at hiring doesn’t have any conflict of interests or any other ethical reasons for why s/he would not be a good fit for you and your divorce.
This is why a divorce attorney requests basic information about you and your divorce case. This includes your full name, address and spouse’s full name. It’s the divorce attorney’s responsibility to inform you immediately if s/he is not able to talk with and/or represent you due to a conflict of interest.
4. You ensure that any questions you have about the divorce attorney and/or the firm are answered ahead of time, free of charge (or for some firms, at a reduced rate) before committing to a divorce attorney.
5. You ensure that you understand the divorce attorney’s and/or the firm’s legal practices, such as, the engagement and fee agreements.
6. By consulting with a divorce attorney beforehand, you increase your chances of finding a divorce attorney that fits best for you. As a result, you’re more likely to be satisfied with his/her services in the end.
7. A consultation allows you to shop around so that you can find the best divorce attorney for you and your divorce. In no way are you bound to one divorce attorney simply because you participated in a consultation. Instead, a attorney-client relationship only forms after the both of you have signed some sort of engagement letter.
Hopefully this cleared things up on the free consultation for a divorce lawyer, or any lawyer for that matter. Please feel free to review more questions or contact my office.
Erik Simonson is running for the DFL nomination for a Minnesota house seat. Mr. Simonson has a 20-year old daughter from an earlier marriage who he allegedly hasn’t seen since she was two-years old. Mr. Simonson reportedly dutifully paid his child support obligations.
However now, his daughter Leah Simonson has spoken to the press. She has alleged that her father “abandoned” her. She has also expressed regret that she has not had contact with her father. The full story is here.
Mr. Simonson responded that by paying child support as required he “did everything I was supposed to do …” I don’t know their situation, of course, and the point of this post is not to put him or anyone else down.
Child Support is only part of the Equation
This not uncommon situation is sad in the respect that a parent believes that all the child needed was money and the parental obligation was fulfilled. Of course providing for your child financially is important.
However, parents often underestimate the importance of the parenting time they spend with the children. It’s easy to fall into the trap in a divorce, particularly a bitter one, that it’s all about who pays who and how much.
More important is the fact that children need their parents regardless of their marital status. The amount of time, love, and attention provided will influence their wellbeing incredibly and should never be underestimated.
If anyone is in the unfortunate circumstance of going through a divorce, they should always keep in mind what’s best for the children. With the exception of cases of abuse, what’s best will almost always include regular contact with both parents. This is something parents should keep in mind throughout the process.