At one or more points during any divorce, there will be a need to talk to someone who knows the “road,” who can tell if you are on the correct route, and who can tell you where the next fork will be and help you decide which branch to take.
This need can come when support from friends or family has morphed into opinion, and opinion has morphed into advice you didn’t request.
It can come during the mediation process when you want to make sure you know what your doing – or you don’t know but you want to.
It can come when you are represented by counsel and you want to ensure that s/he’s adequately representing your interests. You want an second opinion about your case, but you really want a fresh opinion about your lawyer.
You need to talk with someone who the whole story about what you are going through, is impartial to your final decision, and will give you information you can use. This person doesn’t give advice unless it’s requested; when advice is given, it is not “from the hip.” Rather, it is based on evidence that can be explained to you.
Businesses and professions often use the “initial consultation” or “free evaluation” as a hook to sell you goods and services that you may or may not want. This can’t happen with your divorce consultation if the attorney charges a one-time flat fee and has no further connection with your case.
The Extended Consultation conducted for the uses listed below and the “Roadmap” are based on the same model. The client is first asked, “Tell me what you think I should know to be able to help.” When the narrative is concluded questions are asked to complete the equivalent of the “complete history” taken in medical practice. At this point the kind of help that’s needed can be identified and we can make up an agenda for the balance of the session. Thereafter, the session continues in the ways determined by its use.
Mediation (general support). The client is provided with sound legal advice when needed, at a cost far below the going rate for Certified Specialists, and in a way that is not inflammatory or detrimental to the progress of the mediation.
If the client is in mediation and wants to know how well it is going from the perspective of an informed and knowledgeable outsider, the consultation allows for the time to collect the necessary information and provide the expertise needed to evaluate it.
Mediation (evaluation). If the mediation is stuck on a single point, the consultation provides an opportunity for informed and knowledgeable impasse analysis and coaching.
If one party feels the need of support during one or more mediation sessions, he should have it if his spouse and mediator agree. The three hours can be broken up so that it is divided so that part of it takes place during the mediation, part immediately before and part immediately after. (This almost always promotes progress in the mediation.)
Mediation (direct support). In a divorce it can be hard to keep a clear line between therapeutic and legal advice. The consultation can be used by a client to meet with both a therapist and lawyer at the same time, so that legal and psychological advice and information can supplement each other.
Coordinating professional support. Where there is a trusted ally or especially concerned relative, the consultation can be used to make this person informed about the legal aspects of the case so future conversations will be well-informed. For those who need reassurance that the case is being properly handled, the consultation allows time for all the essential information and the concerns be explained in detail. If the opinion is that the case is being properly managed, those who have sought reassurance know that the opinion was given with full knowledge of both the facts and the fears.
Coordinating personal support. If a client is concerned about things that have or haven’t happened while represented by another attorney, the consultation allows enough time to study the case and the quality of the representation. I am not interested in protecting lawyers who perform below the appropriate standard of practice, and I am not interested in taking over a case that has been poorly managed. The client will get an sincere and informed opinion. It is negative, we will work on the problem of what to do about it.
Second opinion about quality of representation. A self-represented client often wants to know how well she’s done with her case. The consultation allows the time necessary to study the basic facts and how the case has developed. If it has been going well the client is reassured and encouraged. The work could be significantly improved, there is time for coaching. If self-representation has not gone well and the problem is too difficult for the client to handle alone, there is time to discuss the level of assistance needed and where it can be found.
Assisting with self-representation (general support). There are certain tasks that are performed during the course of case that must be well-done. Two examples are: (1) The Declarations of Disclosure Bundles, and (2) A declaration, usually by the client, that lays out the basis for a request to the court for some form of relief. Whether the work can be done in three hours depends of the complexity of the case and the matter under discussion. At a minimum, the nature of the task can be outlined and a plan can made for bringing it to completion.
Assisting with self-representation (major tasks). Self-representation can stumble when the case hits a difficult opinion from an appellate decision, a statute consisting of sentences that all exceed fifty words, or a set of forms that seem to be designed to be non-user friendly. Each is a common occurrence because there are plenty of opinions, statutes, or forms that are either unintelligible to the uninitiated or simply unintelligible. During the consultation their meanings can be explained and applied to the case. If they are meaningless your conclusion will be confirmed and the implications created by an incomprehensible rule of law will be discussed.
During the twenty years this service has been offered, university professors have used it more than any other group. Some have come in four or five times during the course of a very mild divorce. They use the service because it is inexpensive, it is non-threatening, it does no harm, and they are accustomed to discussing and making decisions with a group.