The Consult

Faith Miller Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her blog. Read the full article below.

The First Phone Call

When you call our law firm inquiring about a divorce, a senior paralegal will talk with you to gather important details. There’s no fee for the phone call.

The paralegal will ask you a series of simple questions. Our paralegal will ask for your name and your spouse’s name. Your answer helps the paralegal rule out a potential conflict of interest. If your spouse has already had a consultation with our firm, we are legally constrained from meeting with you or discussing any part of your case with you.

One important point to keep in mind: If your spouse has simply called our firm but didn’t follow through with a consult, then we can work with you. Only a consultation, in which a prospective client discussed confidential information with one of our attorneys, creates a conflict for the firm.

We also want to know whether you may have had a consultation with our firm in the past so that the paralegal can review the attorney’s notes and can help your attorney get up to speed on your case more quickly.

Next, our paralegal will ask questions about the length of your marriage, whether or not you have children, and what their ages are. These questions help to determine if spousal support, child support, and custody may be an issue in the divorce.

The length of your marriage helps the Court determine how long spousal support will last. Spousal support is sometimes called maintenance–it’s no longer called alimony. To give you a rough idea, for marriages lasting 15 to 20 years, a spouse may be eligible to receive maintenance for 30% to 40% of the length of the marriage. For marriages lasting more than 20 years, maintenance may be paid for 35% to 50% of the length of the marriage. Although New York State has a formula for determining possible spousal support, the amount and duration of maintenance often deviates from this formula and is negotiated as part of a global settlement.

If you have children, New York State law requires parents to support their children financially until they reach age 21. However, if your child is under age 21 and is married, or self-supporting, or is in the military, then your child is considered “emancipated” by the state and parental support (child support) ends.

The details and concerns you have with regard to Custody and access with your children can be discussed in the consult. However, a child custody schedule cannot be imposed on any child over age 18.

We also ask if your spouse has retained an attorney so that your attorney can contact opposing counsel to discuss the case and so that service of the summons and complaint can be accepted by an attorney, rather than you or your spouse.

The Consultation

The first meeting with me will cover a lot of ground. Currently, we prefer to conduct Consults with our potential clients by phone or a Zoom video call but we can meet in the office too (we have implemented COVID safety protocols) —it’s up to you. The meeting lasts about an hour and costs less than my hourly rate.

You need to bring only one completed document with you to the Consult. We’ll send you this document, called the Client Information Sheet, in advance of the meeting. The document will gather the basic family and financial details we need to hit the ground running.

In advance of the meeting, we will ask you to sign (and send to us) the statement of client’s rights and responsibilities. This standard statement outlines the relationship between attorney and client, spells out the basic expectations of both parties and is signed by you and by me. New York State law also requires that we provide you with information on fee arbitration.

During the Consult, it’s important to know that everything you tell me is confidential. This includes any personal information or financial information you give us. Every employee of the firm is bound by confidentiality.

A Consultation with me is streamlined and goal-oriented. It includes discussing and determining issues such as: 

·      What is the divorce process? I will be able to explain the specific steps to you.

·      Your specific concerns for your divorce. If there are issues which may affect support, division of property, access with the children, domestic violence, you can discuss these with me and I will help you understand how they may impact your case and how we can properly address them.

·      Joint marital property distribution – what assets & debts do you and your spouse have? What does “equitable distribution” mean?

·      Spousal support, if requested by either spouse. How is spousal support decided?  

·      Child custody issues – visitation, decision-making and child support. What’s in the “best interests” of your children?

.       Domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, mental illness or other issues that may require immediate attention can and also should be discussed.

·      An uncontested versus a contested divorce – if the parties have terms on which they agree, we draft a formal agreement and the papers to submit to the court to obtain a divorce. That’s considered an uncontested divorce. If you request the court’s assistance settling a particular issue or a set of issues, that’s considered a contested divorce.

I will quote you a retainer fee, based on the specifics of your case. I personally manage and handle all of my cases for my clients. In order to best serve my clients, I also work with associates and paralegals to assist both me – and you.

Many clients are ready to move forward with the divorce process and decide to retain me at or shortly after the consultation. Some clients are still exploring divorce and gathering information; they may return months later. 

When you are ready to move forward, my team and I are here to help you through the process.