Every consultation with a prospective family law client begins with a very similar request from the prospective client “Please tell me what results I can expect, both financial and custodial”. The financial questions include (but are not limited to) those pertaining to expected results as to payment/receipt of spousal and child support, division of liquid and investment assets, division of retirement assets, division of personal property and the necessity of carrying insurance to secure various obligations. The custodial questions include (but are not limited to) those pertaining to legal custody, physical custody, relocation of one parent with the children, parenting schedules and parenting dispute resolution.
It is not a difficult task for a family law attorney to spout endlessly as to the statutory and case law pertaining to the above-referenced subjects. In fact, once you get many of us started, like many other professionals, it may be difficult to get us to stop discussing the nuances of our fields of expertise. But the general knowledge that we can impart upon first meeting a prospective client is relatively meaningless to that client. Why? Because each client is a unique individual with a unique set of circumstances. Those unique circumstances create almost a limitless set of possible settlement/trial scenarios that must be explored prior to devising a final strategy.
I am a firm believer that no two sets of litigants (spouses, partners, non-married parents) are alike. In a divorce, a client and her spouse bring to the litigation an extensive number of variables. For instance, as to alimony alone, we must explore the ages of each party, the number of years married, the education of each spouse, the earnings of each spouse, the numbers of years in the workforce, the parental responsibilities of each spouse, the health of each spouse, and much more. As to division of the value of a family business, we must explore the business tax returns, the total benefits derived from the business, the source of funds used to create the business, the involvement of each party in the business, the stability of the business, and on and on.
For each issue to be properly explored it is essential for the attorney to request specific information from the client and it is essential for the client to provide that information to the attorney. The specific information will allow the attorney to tailor advice and create a strategy that is tailored to the client. Divorce is not “one size fits all”, even though many attorneys do attempt to take a simplistic cookie-cutter approach to divorce litigation.
During the course of litigation, gathering the necessary information takes on an important role towards optimizing the final settlement/trial terms for that client. But it is also just as important for each attorney and client to understand that not only are each client’s “facts” different, the client’s “wants” are different as well. It is the combination of maximizing wants based on what the facts have revealed that allows a client to achieve optimal results.