How you manage the initial meeting with your client sets the tone for the entire divorce process, so make certain your first meeting is positive and constructive. It’s important to allow your client to tell you what is going on and how he or she feels, to review divorce options, deal with unrealistic expectations about the outcome of the divorce, explain your role as a collaborative attorney, outline the collaborative process, share the benefits of the various divorce options, and answer your client’s questions.
Learn About Your Client’s Situation. Ask your client about the history of his or her marriage and current situation. Listen carefully to the emotional tone and content of the narrative. Reflect what you are hearing to validate your interest and concern for your client and make certain you begin with a clear understanding of what’s involved in the divorce. Ask about the early years of the marriage, find out about children, ask what triggered the divorce, who initiated it, and how your client feels about getting a divorce.
Review Divorce Options. Explain to your client the various ways to get a divorce in Texas, including do it yourself, mediation, collaborative divorce, and adversarial litigation. Discuss how each works, the pros and cons of the various procedures, and answer any questions your client has about the processes. Review the dynamics of the couple’s interactions, learn how they communicate, find out if they are able to resolve disputes, and if your client is comfortable advocating for himself or herself. Give your client materials to read and discuss with his or her spouse. Make a recommendation to your client about which divorce process you believe is most appropriate for their case and explain your reasons for the recommendation.
Manage Your Client’s Expectations. It’s fine to validate your client’s feelings about the divorce, but be careful to avoid creating or encouraging unrealistic expectations. For example, don’t let your client believe he or she will be able to keep the family home, get a disproportionate share of the community estate, and gain sole custody of the children if these goals are not realistic, given the facts of the case. Discuss your client’s expectations and make certain you don’t encourage your client to believe he or she will get everything out of the divorce settlement.
Identify Immediate Legal, Financial, or Emotional Needs. Make certain you know the source of funds to pay for the divorce, and suggest that your client avoid relying on legal, financial, or emotional advice from friends or family. Explain the importance of the date of separation and discuss the standing orders issued by the court prohibiting certain actions during the divorce process.
Explain Attorney Only and the Team Approach to Collaborative Divorce. Make certain your client understands the pros and cons of using attorney only vs using a full team of collaborative professionals to handle the divorce. Explain that it’s often less expensive to engage a full team to handle the divorce, because financial data collection and analysis can be handled by the Financial Professional and the parenting plan can be developed by the Mental Health Professional at lower cost than having these tasks handled by the attorneys.
Discuss Your Client’s Goals and Interests. If your client seems interested in a collaborative divorce and you believe that’s the best option for him or her, help your client clarify goals and interests. Discuss what are his or her most important goals, the reasons why these goals are important, what your client believes are his or her spouse’s most important goals, and why those goals are important to the spouse. In addition, ask your client to list his or her most important concerns and what are the spouse’s most important concerns. Steer your client away from taking positions, such as “I want the house” and shift toward more fundamental goals, such as “I want sufficient funds to support myself, assuring the children are well cared for, reaching a fair resolution of our disputes, and being able to co-parent when the divorce if over.”
Answer Your Client’s Questions. Finally, make certain your client has had time to ask any questions and understands the various divorce options. It’s critical that you obtain informed consent from your client when he or she opts for a collaborative divorce.