THE COMPLEXITY OF INTAKE WHEN FIRST-CONTACT IS MADE WITH A MATRIMONIAL CLIENT

Written by: Glenn P. Milgraum, Esq.*

You have utilized traditional forms of advertising: print, electronic and word-of-mouth to announce to the world that you are available to be of assistance in resolving marital conflicts and custody issues. Now you have reached the point that your telephone rings. How the initial call is handled will determine if a client relationship will be formed. You, now need to perform a task that eludes many professionals – “Salesmanship.” “Salesmanship” is a very personal task, and as such, I am not going to address it in this article. Instead, I am going to attempt to keep the focus on the initial exchange of information, without having to discuss style.

When first-contact is made with a potential client, popular and frequently asked questions or statements are: “What is the most efficient and inexpensive way I can get divorced?;" or “What is mediation and how will it help me with my divorce;" or “I want (my spouse wants) a divorce and I was told I should contact you;” or “I am (we are) already seeing a marriage counselor, why are your services needed?” Since each matrimonial case and/or potential matrimonial client are unique and different, these are not inquiries that can be easily answered by following a script prepared in advance. It is further complicated if the professional being contacted is not only an attorney, but a qualified mediator as well.

To properly respond to these inquiries, basic information should be gathered during that initial conversation that inevitably contains the following evaluative questions (listed in no particular order):

  1. Is divorcing your spouse a fleeting thought, or have you given it much consideration?
  2. Is there any chance of reconciliation?
  3. Are you separated from your spouse, or have you considered how that separation might go?
  4. Have you been served with any legal papers? If so, who are the attorneys already involved?
  5. How communicative are you with your spouse?
  6. Are there any custody or visitation issues that need to be considered urgently?
  7. Is there, or has there ever been, any history of “domestic violence” between the parties?
  8. How, or from whom, did you hear about me?

Depending on the response to these simple, but invasive questions, the attorney/mediator can then realistically assess, with the potential client, their various options.

  1. You, and your spouse, can mutually retain the services of a “neutral third-party mediator” to assist you both in drafting a mutually agreed upon “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that can be transformed into a “Marital Settlement Agreement” (MSA) to be incorporated into the “divorce.” (Emphasizing the simple fact that if the firm is retained as the mediator, the attorney will not be able to represent either party if the mediation fails); or
  2. You can, as an individual, retain the law firm’s services as a “review-attorney” to give you guidance during the mediation process (including assisting in selecting an appropriate mediator), or simply to review the mutually agreed upon MOU, previously reached at mediation. The law firm would be retained to determine if any important issues may be absent therefrom or explain where the courts may deviate from the agreed upon terms if it were to hear the case. The “review-attorney” may also be asked to prepare a formal MSA and may even be asked to process the divorce through the court; or
  3. You can retain the law firm’s services straight-away as your attorney to take you through the divorce process, whether it be through collaborative meetings, mediation, arbitration, or the courts.

Unwinding a marriage is not a simple task. Potential clients should not be misled as to “cost-savings” resulting from utilizing one method over the other, as each has its benefits and pitfalls. However, it can be safely said that those matters resolved in mediation have been statistically proven to save the clients substantial monies over those that get fully litigated through trial. Potential clients need to have explained to them the procedures for obtaining a divorce through the courts, from beginning to end, and how much time it can possibly take to complete. They should have a rudimentary understanding of the mediation process and how “mediation” may vary from the “litigation process.” Emphasis should be placed on the fact that ultimately there needs to be “full financial disclosure” exchanged between the parties to make the terms of any agreement reached binding on the parties. They should be advised that “Mediation” cannot only shorten the “discovery” process, but that it can also be just as useful to “extend” the process, as “pacing” is ultimately up to the parties. The obvious needs to be reinforced by stressing the simple fact that the mediator does not have the power to grant a divorce and that ultimately legal filings will have to be made with the Court.  Regardless of how the initial intake call is handled, it behooves the attorney to express that they are not the potential client’s attorney, or mediator, until a written retainer is entered into between the parties.

 

* Glenn P. Milgraum, Esq. is the principal attorney at Glenn Milgraum P.C. and is a litigation attorney with over 30 years of matrimonial experience in New Jersey and New York. He is a qualified mediator and appears on the court rosters in New Jersey and New York for “Civil,” “Matrimonial” and “Economic aspects of Family Law” cases. He has also been trained to handle cases that have aspects of “Domestic Violence.” As such, he is a mediation-friendly “Review Attorney.” In New York, his mediation services are conducted under the name of “Morningstar Mediation.”

 

Click HERE to contact Glenn P. Milgraum, Esq. for more information.