What to Look For in a Divorce Attorney
Going through a divorce can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety and heightened emotions. No matter how amicable the separation, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse still need to deal with tough topics like child custody and division of assets as well as the division of marital debts in the divorce paperwork.
Many people find it helpful to go through this legal process with an experienced family law attorney. Divorce laws are different in every state so it is important to talk to a divorce attorney in your area familiar with the local divorce court process and state law.
There are endless choices when you start looking for legal advice and legal services. Websites, phone book listings, and even billboards offer local lawyers who may be available to handle your case. However, not all family lawyers are equal, and you should make sure you find the right divorce law firm to handle your case. There are several factors to consider when looking for a divorce attorney, including:
You want an experienced divorce lawyer who has experience with divorce cases, and who has a focus on divorce (and child custody issues if you have children). Any attorney licensed in your state may technically be able to represent you but you would not want a lawyer who primarily practices criminal defense or personal injury and is not familiar with issues around divorce.
Instead, you want to find someone with experience handling local divorce and family law. Each practice area is different, with different judges, court rules, and legal options available. You want an attorney with extensive experience with local divorce and child custody laws who will be able to provide you with legal advice that is specific to your case.
You will want a family law attorney who is familiar with the local court system and local family law judges who might be hearing your divorce case. Family law judges have their own personalities and different approaches to cases. A competent divorce lawyer can take a calculated approach to take your case before a specific judge, which can go a long way to avoiding an expensive divorce.
The ideal attorney or team of attorneys should have a track record of guiding their clients through divorce proceedings efficiently, maximizing results, and minimizing costs to you. This should be from the very first initial consultation, through divorce mediation or divorce trial when final orders are entered by the court. Going through an entire divorce can be expensive. Make sure your prospective lawyer understands your expectations and acknowledges if you need to avoid unnecessary expenses.
You should look for a potential lawyer who promptly returns calls/emails and keeps you informed every step of the way. Most people going through a divorce have never gone through one before, and it can be confusing at times. Family law issues may also take longer than you expect, with delays from the court, opposing counsel, or your own scheduling conflicts. Find out a lawyer’s approach to communication before making any decisions.
A divorce law firm may be made up of a team, with a senior lawyer, associate attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants, and administrative staff. You may want to anticipate communicating with multiple members of the team, understanding who is in charge of your case, and who are your points of contact to get a clear response to your important questions.
You do not have to hire the first lawyer you call unless you think they are the right fit for you. You should consider the initial consultation like a two-way interview. The attorney you are meeting with can decide whether to take your case. You also need to make sure the lawyer is the right one for you and your case.
Referrals from friends or family members can be a good place to start when looking for a divorce attorney but that attorney may or may not be the right fit for your and your unique situation. You can also use a legal resource website like LawInfo to help you find licensed attorneys in your area that can answer your questions about specific areas of law, including divorce laws. To search for a divorce attorney you can use this link to search for a divorce lawyer where you live.
Choose your attorney by matching their strengths to your most pressing needs. You will want a lawyer who focuses on the issues that are most important to you and there are many approaches to divorce cases, so make sure you have a good understanding of how the attorney does their approach to divorce cases.
Are there complicated financial issues to resolve? What about a contentious child custody issue? Will this be an uncontested divorce or a more complex divorce, with many assets in divorce to divide or complex child custody issues? Are you seeking a more collaborative divorce process?
Are you predicting a contentious divorce that could get dragged out in court? Then it may help if you have an experienced attorney who has trial experience in divorce court.
Maybe you and your soon-to-be-ex are working together toward an amicable and collaborative divorce. If so, then finding an attorney with experience taking a collaborative approach to divorce, to maintain a positive relationship with your child’s other parent, would be ideal.
A high-priced lawyer is not necessarily better for your case. Being able to afford the legal services provided by your divorce attorney is essential. There’s no need to go broke in the process. Find a lawyer who charges what you can afford and is transparent about costs and fees. Being surprised when you receive your first invoice is not a positive experience for the client or the attorney.
Make sure to ask what the hourly rate is for each person who handles your case (not just the attorney, but paralegals and other staff) as well as what retainer fees are expected to be paid upfront.
In some cases, spending money on the right attorney may cost you less in the long run if they have the experience to be more effective and efficient in resolving your case. Your attorney of choice is especially important when there are complex custody issues, high-value assets, business assets, or multiple properties involved.
Whichever attorney you decide to hire is ultimately up to you. Research your options and know what you are looking for — as well as what you can afford — before you start. Preparing yourself before beginning your divorce attorney search may help you find the right one for you that much faster, and potentially make the process less stressful.