An Initial Consultation is the process that most family law attorneys use when meeting a potential client for the first time. It's the interview process for you as the client to find the lawyer that is right for you. It's important that you get a good feeling from your lawyer and that you trust the advice that your lawyer is giving you- you may not necessarily like what you are hearing, but knowledge is power!
Just as people have different personalities, attorneys have different ways of practicing law, and you need to find someone who is the right fit for you. You may want to approach your case in a less adversarial matter, and you should find an attorney that understands that goal. Or, you may know from past experience that the other party will only listen to a judge,so your attorney will need to be zealously advocating for your interests in court. Choosing an attorney is a big step, so it's important to properly vet your potential attorney carefully.
There are several reasons why most all family law attorneys charge a fee for the initial consultation. One, is that we are giving you legal advice about your particular situation, and at least in my case, I typically meet with potential clients for an hour to two hours during the initial consultation. We go over every aspect of your case and I give you my opinion about the likely outcome based on my years of experience and expertise. This opinion has a value to it.
Another reason most attorney charge for initial consultations is so that some people will meet with a variety of attorneys to "conflict out" attorneys from the other party. I have seen potential clients meet with ten family law attorneys because he didn't want his wife to hire any of those attorneys. If initial consults were free, then it would be difficult to people to find attorneys to represent them.