Other than the decision to divorce itself, there are two no more important decisions than choosing a divorce method and a professional to handle your divorce case.
Because how the divorce process is handled (and who handles it), can have lasting implications for you and your children – quite possibly for the rest of your lives.
As a divorce mediator and divorce coach team, we’re proponents of divorce mediation. But since mediation is a voluntary process, both spouses must be willing to participate. If one spouse wants to mediate but the other spouse refuses to cooperate, another divorce method will be needed.
And that typically means hiring legal representation.
But there's a big difference between picking the lawyer who comes up first in your Google search and hiring a divorce attorney who will advise you well, listen to what you want, and whose style and approach to the divorce process is aligned with your values.
With a little education, you can choose the divorce attorney right for you in your situation.
This post is all about how to hire the right lawyer for divorce.
13 Questions to ask a divorce lawyer to help determine if they are a good fit for you:
1. Are you supportive of the mediation process?
While it may seem counter-intuitive to ask a lawyer this question if your spouse isn’t amenable to mediating, it can tell you a lot about how they approach the divorce process.
In our experience, attorneys supportive of the mediation process are either mediators themselves, or collaborative professionals, and are more interested in a cooperative resolution rather than a combative one.
In our opinion, cooperation should be the goal of every divorce proceeding - regardless of the process or professional(s) you use to move through it.
2. Will there be other people working on my case?
When meeting with an attorney, it’s common to think they’ll be the only person with whom you’ll be working, but that’s not usually the case.
The attorney you hire may also have an associate, and even a paralegal working on your behalf.
Make sure you meet all of the key players you’ll be interacting with so you can see if you feel comfortable with not only your attorney, but the entire team. Especially since you may have more interaction with the supporting staff than your lawyer.
3. Who will be my lawyer?
Similarly, you may meet with an attorney, feel comfortable with them and sign their retainer agreement, only to find that your actual attorney is not the person you met with, but their associate or colleague.
Be sure to ask the attorney you’re considering who exactly will be representing you in your case.
Certainly, your lawyer won’t be the only person you interact with at the firm, but if your expectation is for them to represent you, and you learn after the fact they aren’t, you may be unpleasantly surprised - having done your research on them, and knowing nothing about their associate.
4. Do you know the attorney my spouse hired? What do you think of them?
Why is this important?
If they do, and have a good working relationship with that person, it might lead to settlement faster.
Divorce is local, so if you hire an attorney local to where you live, chances are they know your spouse’s attorney. And you want to make sure they can work together and not butt heads - which could drag things out just because they don’t get along.
5. Are you familiar with the local family court judges?
While most cases will settle, if you do have to go to court, it’s best your attorney knows which judge they’d prefer to be in front of, as well as how that judge and the various other judges in that court division are likely to rule on a particular issue.
6. Before planning your legal strategy (and before executing it), will you ask me if I’m on board with it?
Whether or not you want to be informed on your lawyer's strategy is up to you.
But be sure that you and your lawyer are on the same page before you hire them to represent you.
7. Do you have experience negotiating financial support or settlements in cases similar to mine?
If a lawyer specializes in divorce, they should by nature have experience working through the basics of a parenting plan, child support, alimony and division of marital property.
But if you have a more complex divorce case (involving a business, high assets, a child with special needs, military divorce, etc.) you want to make sure your family and divorce lawyer has plenty of experience handling those specific complexities.
8. Do you practice collaborative divorce?
The collaborative process is a hybrid between traditional divorce litigation and mediation.
Each divorcing spouse and their respective collaborative attorney signs a contract stating they are committed to using cooperative dispute resolution techniques instead of aggressive tactics to settle the divorce issues.
If you cannot use mediation due to a dishonest or antagonistic spouse, collaborative divorce process might be worth trying in order to avoid a court trial.
Note: Your spouse and spouse’s attorney must be willing to take part in this divorce method.
9. How big is your firm?
From solo practitioners to a team of thousands, law firms come in all sizes.
Maybe you’re thinking you want a solo practitioner.
While these types of professionals may prove more cost-effective as they may have lower overhead, and they may be able to provide you with more personalized attention, their lack of support staff may leave you feeling like you’re in the dark, or they may not respond to you promptly.
On the other hand, maybe you’re thinking you want a large firm.
While they can provide you with excellent support and respond to your inquiries quickly, you may find having numerous points of contact impersonal and costly. With all that staff, the firm may incur higher overhead, which may translate into higher fees.
That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the size of the firm to make sure it’s a good fit, as it can have a significant impact on both your client experience and bottom line.
10. How will I be updated regarding any developments in my case?
It’s your decision as to how involved you want to be when it comes to your divorce proceedings.
Some people want to be informed of every detail, no matter how small. While others would rather be notified on only the more significant developments.
Make sure your lawyer knows how informed you want to be and is willing to work with you in that manner.
11. What does your retainer fee cover?
A retainer is a fee the attorney requires you to pay before they begin working on your case.
The retainer is placed in the attorney’s trust account and as their office bills you, the billed amount will get subtracted from the retainer fee you paid.
Your attorney may either require you to deposit more money as the retainer balance depletes or will invoice you on some frequency (monthly, quarterly) to cover the ongoing expenses related to your case.
Because retainers are treated differently by different lawyers, you’ll want to ask if the retainer is a standard amount for all of that attorney’s clients. Or, if the retainer is what that attorney feels your case should cost if things go well.
This will help you manage expectations with respect to attorney fees.
12. If I exceed my retainer and there are additional billings, will I be notified in advance?
If you exceed your retainer, some attorneys may alert you, and provide you with an estimate of what they feel you can expect to pay to resolve the remaining issues in your case.
Whereas others will continue with your case, and send you monthly invoices detailing their fees for additional services rendered as incurred.
By knowing upfront the approach your attorney will take, it may help you plan divorce costs better, and avoid potential financial hardships as your divorce case unwinds.
13. Will you keep me in the loop so I can take cost into account when working with you to determine if I want to proceed with a particular strategy?
The fact is, divorce is an emotional issue.
And sometimes, our emotions get the best of us, and we want to "burn it all to the ground."
Some attorneys feel that since you’re the client, they'll do whatever it is you instruct them to do, no matter what the cost a particular strategy might have. While others may speak you prior to pursuing a particular strategy and share with you the financial cost, so you can decide if it’s worth it to you.
If keeping divorce costs in check is important to you, you'll want to know this upfront before you utter the words “I don’t care what it takes - just get it done!”
What are some tips for how to hire a good lawyer for divorce?
Hire an attorney that specializes in Family Law:
Have you ever heard the saying “a Jack of all trades is a Master of None?”
In terms of your divorce attorney, you do not want a Jack of all trades - you want to hire an attorney that specializes in family law and that is all that they do. Many attorneys have a general practice and that is not who you want to hire.
The law is constantly changing, and you want to make sure your attorney is aware of any recent changes to the law.
If your state has a Certification in Matrimonial Law, that is an excellent way to make sure you are hiring an expert. In order to be Certified as a Matrimonial attorney, the attorney has to have a significant amount of experience, been favorably reviewed by both attorneys and judges, and have passed a rigorous examination.
This is an attorney you want on your side!
It is extremely important that you hire an attorney that practices family law in your county on a regular basis.
Judges have significant discretion, and attorneys that appear regularly in front of those Judges know how they are likely to rule on particular issues.
Insight such as this can be invaluable, especially dealing with issues such as custody and parenting time.
So hire local!
It is also important that you feel comfortable with your divorce attorney and that you have an open, honest professional relationship.
Attorneys often hear *very sensitive* information, and it is important that you feel comfortable with your attorney-not only sharing that sensitive information, but also asking any questions that you may have along the way.
However, your attorney should not always tell you what you want to hear; in fact, it is better if they do NOT tell you what you want to hear at times, but rather, they tell you what you NEED to hear, if appropriate.
Go with your gut!
Divorces aren’t easy by any means - it is, after all, and end to a marriage. However, with the right attorney by your side, they don’t have to be *quite* as difficult.
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Do your research.
There are a lot of attorneys out there and while reviews are helpful, they don't always tell the whole story. Look at their websites and bios, see what else they are doing in their community, and find someone whose values align with what you want for your family.
If you have children, choose an attorney who puts their needs first.
This is what judges prioritize in cases (in our state at least) and is what you should prioritize as well, even if your case never sees a courtroom.
Amicability is always preferable to hostility.
A "tough" lawyer is great, but in family mediation, you want someone who will stand up for you but is willing to make things work.
Choosing the right attorney for your divorce is an important decision.
Your attorney should be a trusted professional with whom you feel comfortable sharing information openly and should be a zealous advocate for your interests.
Your attorney should also have extensive experience in family law, as California’s dissolution process is complex.
One critical piece of advice is to find an attorney who practices primarily, if not exclusively, family law.
Family law matters are often emotionally charged and complicated.
It’s essential to find a lawyer that specializes in everything divorce-related, including custody, visitation, property division, prenuptial agreements, and post-divorce disputes.
Although many attorneys handle family law matters, an attorney who focuses on family law in California will likely provide more effective representation at a lower cost.
Next, determine the level of experience you want and can afford.
For example, if you have a short marriage with no children and few assets, an attorney with less experience might be a good value for your legal needs.
However, if you are anticipating a custody dispute or have complex or substantial assets, a more experienced attorney will better serve your needs.
Lastly, consider the qualities in an attorney that matter to you.
The State of California certifies attorneys within their specialties.
Look for an attorney whom the State Board of Legal Specialization has certified as a family law specialist. Also, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) is a select professional organization, which admits only the top 1,500 attorneys in the country, so it may be beneficial to hire an AAML member if your finances allow.
These designations can help you find seasoned family law counsel to represent you in your case.
Choosing a divorce attorney is one of the most important decisions a person can make.
In most cases, the relationship lasts close to a year, and requires open and regular communication during a time of vulnerability and uncertainty.
Above all, the attorney client relationship is one of trust.
Hire an attorney with at least 10 years of experience in family law, including litigation experience.
The goal is almost always to avoid court, but to protect your interests, your attorney should not hesitate to request court intervention if needed.
The best attorneys are good listeners, and responsive by phone and email after hours if necessary.
Hiring a solo practitioner versus a full-service law firm with several attorneys will not necessarily cost less.
Larger firms usually have support staff and professional staff that bill at lower hourly rates, and can provide services that move the case forward without the delays that come with hiring a solo attorney. (The number one complaint we hear from clients is that their prior attorney did not return their call or email.)
Interview at least three attorneys (different genders, different size firms). Ask around for referrals if possible.
Divorce Lawyers in Nassau County - Long Island, NY
Search online or get a referral from a trusted source and then schedule the initial consultation.
The initial consultation is the most valuable time you will spend with your potential lawyer.
Go through your goals and desires and make sure the lawyer’s strategy is aligned with your goals.
Make sure you feel comfortable communicating with your lawyer and you feel confident having them on your team.
Ask them what is their return call policy and how you can get in touch with them when you need to.
Ask them who will be the attorney primarily responsible for your file and if the file will be staffed with other lawyers or support staff that can help on the file at a lower rate so to try and keep the costs down. Lawyers bill based on time spent on the file. So the more time they are spending on the file, the more expensive the divorce will be.
The lawyer should be encouraging settlement at every step of the process and offer creative potential solutions to any unresolved issues.
Selecting the right attorney is critical to ensuring your divorce follows the path that you are comfortable with and one that will lead to an efficient and amicable resolution.
We are a husband and wife, divorce mediator and divorce coach, and we specialize in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. We're passionate about helping families avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation. And our comprehensive, flat-fee mediation services provide an ideal divorce solution! Divorce isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be a disaster. Let us help!