Why Do Divorce Lawyers Charge for the First Visit?

If you are hurt in a car accident or on the job, the lawyer doesn’t charge to meet with you. They agree to get paid at the end.

If you need a Will, the lawyer doesn’t charge to meet with you. He or she charges only for the Will.

If you want to buy or sell a home, the real estate lawyer doesn’t charge you until the closing.

If you need a lawyer for a traffic ticket (even a DUI), the lawyer doesn’t charge you for the first meeting.

It’s the same with lawyers who handle contract and lease disputes, bankruptcy lawyers, foreclosure lawyers, adoption lawyers, probate lawyers, criminal lawyers, and the list goes on.

Why, then, do divorce lawyers charge for the first visit? Even when you aren’t even sure that he or she is the right lawyer for you? Why should you have to pay someone that you may decide you don’t want to hire?

It’s because divorce is a different animal. Initial office visits with other lawyers involves a single situation that affects just one (usually momentary) aspect of your life. The lawyer doesn’t need to spend a lot of time with you. He or she must learn only the facts surrounding your injury or your arrest, who you want to sue and why, who you want to protect in your Will, etc.

Divorce lawyers do some things the other lawyers do not do. They must take the time to learn about the many, many facets of your life. Then, they provide specific legal advice as to each one of these items.

When someone wants to know their rights and obligations in a divorce and what the divorce legal system might have in store for them, the lawyer must spend at least one hour speaking with and listening to the prospective client in order to learn the particular facts of that client’s situation. Every case is different, and special attention must be paid to every detail.

For example, the divorce lawyer must inquire about the general climate of the parties’ relationship, each party’s emotional propensities and their ability to negotiate reasonably, the parties’ assets and liabilities, approximate values of homes, autos, bank accounts, investments, retirement accounts, business interests, if any, of either party, medical and life insurance needs, affordability of health insurance coverage, co-pays, deductibles, prescriptions, children’s daycare and extracurricular activity expenses, each party’s ability to contribute to college expenses, entitlement to child and spousal support and to tax exemptions and child tax credits, eligibility of each parent for the allocation of parenting time and parental responsibilities, division of personal property and the contents of the marital residence, liability for past income tax returns, who pays the attorneys’ fees, how the credit card and other debt should get divided, and, again, the list goes on.

It is not until the divorce lawyer understands the whole picture that he or she becomes able to advise the client responsibly. The client learns their rights and obligations as to each item or issue that will be involved in their particular divorce.

The lawyer learns the facts and the client learns how the law applies to their facts.

Becoming familiar with the many things that are required to give a client competent advice takes time and skill. When a client leaves our office after an initial visit, he or she will know the law, how judges have ruled in similar situations, and what to expect from the divorce legal system in general, including reasonable approximates of timelines and costs.

The veil of mystery of the myth and reality of the system gets lifted, and the client leaves feeling much better than they did when they walked in. They get a working A to Z knowledge of everything that they will need to know.

Some attorneys advertise that they provide free 30-minute initial consultations. We submit that it is virtually impossible for the lawyer to learn everything that he or she needs to know in just 30 minutes, and then provide proper legal advice, to boot.

Pleases always be reminded of the salespersons’ adage that “You can’t sell someone a car until you get them in the showroom.”


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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.