Going through a child custody case can feel like being lost in a labyrinth, where your child is at the center. You want the basics: quality time with your child, the power to be involved in their lives, and the opportunity to have a great relationship with them as they grow. When those things are being denied to you, it can feel worse than any physical injury. It’s an emotional wound. You miss them, love them, and want nothing more than to protect them from the world and be a part of their lives. Their other parent, for whatever reason, is getting in the way of that.
When you make the difficult decision to talk to a child custody lawyer about your legal rights, it’s important that you go into your first meeting armed with information and compassion for yourself and your child, and even though it can be difficult, depending on circumstances, for your other co-parent. You can do a few things to help prepare for your first meeting with a child custody attorney to help them jump into action on your case and get you in front of the Court as soon as possible.
1. Know Your Timeline
Some of the things you will want to be able to tell your attorney right at the beginning are the basics:
- when you and your co-parent got together
- when you broke up or parted ways
- when the child or children were born
If they live in a different state than you, it’s a good idea to try and figure out when they moved or when you did. Dates and timelines matter in family law cases, so it’s good to figure these out beforehand.
2. Explain Whether It’s An Emergency
In a meeting with a new potential client, a good parentage attorney will want to know what’s going on with your parenting responsibilities and time and how they can help. If the situation is an emergency – as in, an unforeseen and sudden circumstance that arises that could harm your child emotionally, physically, mentally, or morally – you are going to want to tell them exactly what’s happening so that they can assess the need for an immediate hearing, or whether there is time to wait. If there’s time to wait, the case will proceed through a normal due process service that allows the other party to have notice and retain an attorney on their own. If it’s an emergency, the attorney will want to get something on file before they have been formally served, and try and get it in front of the Judge without the notice. The more information you can give to your attorney about the urgency of the matter, the better they will be able to respond to it.
3. Think About Your Child(ren)
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s not. Suppose your child has particular needs, concerns, or challenges. In that case, it’s a good idea to inform your lawyer about those challenges and to be prepared to answer follow-up questions about those challenges. For example, if your daughter, Wednesday, is an introverted goth who relishes the macabre and has a history of being involved in summer camp arson, that would be something you should inform your lawyer about. Suppose your son, Sheldon, is on the autism spectrum and is astute and observational, and requires academic challenges to stay interested in school. In that case, that should be something you should feel encouraged to discuss with your lawyer – especially if you are the parent to be able to meet those challenges). If your daughter, Ellie, is the only person on the earth to survive and not turn into a clicker after being bitten by one after a cordyceps outbreak wipes out 90% of humanity, and you still have a lawyer and are still going through a parentage case, that would be something you definitely want to mention to your attorney.
All children have particular interests, needs, and demands. If you are a parent with a viable, workable plan for promoting your child and ensuring the best possible life, that plan is a plan you should share with your custody attorney. The more you communicate your goals and desires with your attorney, the better it will go at the outset of your case and the better it will go as a whole.
4. Think About Your Co-Parent
This also seems obvious, but it’s not as obvious as it might seem. Instead of thinking about them as your adversary, it’s a good idea to consider your co-parent a fellow captain on Team Child. It is quite likely that you and the other parent are going to spend a significant amount of time together, working together to give your child or children the best possible life. The sooner you shift your worldview into one that allows them to be a good person, a good parent, and separate from who they are or were with you, the better it will be for both of you. If you are meeting with an attorney to help with a parentage case, inform them if there have been any instances of emotional or physical abuse in your relationship. If you have an Order of Protection or other restraining order against them, be sure to figure out when that order ends and whether any additional action needs to be taken to extend it.
If things are going well with your co-parent, and you need an attorney to more or less formalize the way you have already been co-parenting, that’s also a great thing to bring up.
Ask Questions About the Law Firm and Its Attorneys
The more you know about your custody attorney before the case begins, the better prepared you will be for what sometimes seems like a slow, arduous process. I recommend asking your attorney questions about their billing practices, including their hourly rate and the retainer. I also recommend you ask them whether they have “team meetings” or other multi-attorney events to work on the cases for which you will be billed. Ask questions about the particular attorney working on your case – what year they graduated law school, when they passed the bar exam, and how long they have practiced in this area of the law.
In general, the more detail and information you can provide at your first meeting with your child custody attorney, the better prepared they will be to help you and ensure you have that relationship with your children that you, and your children, deserve.