Having said that, we’re left with an obvious question: How can you determine whether a divorce attorney is “right” for you? It’s not an exact science, of course, and there’s no way to guarantee that your experience with a particular attorney will be a fulfilling one. Nonetheless, it’s possible to maximize your chances of finding a competent divorce attorney by asking them a few pertinent questions before you embark on a professional relationship with them.
How Much Do You Charge?
This would seem to be a rather obvious question that no one would need to be prompted to ask, but there’s much more to the topic than you might believe. Will you be billed by the hour, or just a fixed fee? You also must consider expenses that might be charged for various services along the way—for example, it may be necessary to hire a psychologist or a private investigator, and professionals in these fields tend not to work for free.
Also, will you be expected to shoulder the costs for photocopies and mail postage? What about phone calls? Many attorneys charge for phone consultations. Some even charge for the time you spend meeting with or talking to paralegals and administrative assistants at the firm. Moreover, if you plan to alter your will to reflect your post-divorce priorities, then your lawyer may have a hand in this as well, which may involve additional expenses.
When Do I Pay You?
In addition to the foregoing considerations, you also should keep in mind that the billing structure set up by your attorney could cause you problems. Some attorneys require you to pay a retainer in advance, while others offer pay-as-you-go services. People undergoing divorce proceedings tend not to have a lot of cash on hand, so you need to see if you can work out the best possible deal with your lawyer.
What Is Your Area of Specialty?
Some attorneys specialize in family law and devote all their time to these kinds of cases, and some have a more broad-based practice in which divorce cases make up a relatively small part. All other considerations being equal, it’s probably best to turn to a specialist who is more likely to have substantial experience in divorce cases and the numerous legal snags that can arise.
In addition, if your case involves child custody arrangements, you may wish to seek out a lawyer with specific experience with this area of law. To be fair, it’s possible for a non-specialist to provide the quality legal guidance you need for your particular situation. That’s why it’s best to ask questions about the attorney’s background and experience to see how comfortable they would be with your case.
Who Will Be Working on the Case?
As we have mentioned, your legal team will probably include not just one attorney but several other individuals, such as assistants and other personnel at the firm. You should know who will be dealing with your case, and in what capacity. Whenever possible, you should meet with all of these people before you commit yourself to this particular firm.
How Long Will Divorce Proceedings Take?
The length of a divorce case depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which is whether the spouses can reach an amicable agreement or have to turn to the courts. The length of your case has a lot to do with the impact that it will have on your finances; a good attorney should be able to estimate how long matters could drag on. If you’re opposed to a long, drawn-out battle, you should ask what you can do to wrap up the case as soon as possible.
Who Answers the Phone?
Admittedly, this isn’t as important a consideration as the others we have mentioned, but bear in mind that simply talking on the phone with your attorney may incur a fee. Even if this is not so, you need to be aware of whether your calls will be answered by a party who isn’t involved with your case, and who may be forced to forward your message to someone who is. By the same token, you should be aware of which people will be answering any emails you might send to the firm.
What Will Happen to My Finances After the Divorce?
Going through a divorce, whether contested or amicable, tends to play havoc with one’s assets and bank account. Automobiles, retirement plans, real estate, credit card debt, student loans—these are all “in play” during divorce proceedings.
If you’re heading to court due to an inability to agree on a mutually satisfactory way to divide your assets with your spouse, then matters can get significantly messier. You need to ask your prospective attorney about what you can reasonably expect in the aftermath of your divorce—what you will be able to keep, what you must share with your spouse, what financial responsibilities (e.g., child support) you might be required to bear.
Will You Insist on Handling All Communication with the Other Side?
Sometimes during divorce negotiations, one party decides that the best course of action is to commence one-on-one discussions with their spouse. Many people appreciate the opportunity to dispense with the impersonality of the legal process in this manner. It’s also a way to save money in situations where attorneys insist on billing by the hour for their services.
Frequently, attorneys will advise their client free of charge on how to proceed with these negotiations. Not all family-law attorneys approve of this sort of practice, however. If you feel that this may become an issue later on, then you should iron out the details before you hire an attorney.
Do You Have Insurance?
Malpractice insurance provides clients with appropriate compensation in the event that their legal representatives fail to perform services as required by industry standards and regulations. Not all attorneys carry malpractice insurance, and it’s probably a good idea to find out in advance whether your attorney does. If they do, you should also ask whether any of their past clients have pursued a claim against them and for what reasons.
What Is Your Legal Strategy?
In other words, how does your attorney plan to steer you toward the best possible outcome? Your attorney should be able to give you some idea about how they will proceed. This would also be a good opportunity to ask about previous divorces cases of theirs that may resemble yours, and how your attorney handled similar situations in the past. Due to confidentiality rules, the attorney can’t reveal too much about their past cases, but they should be able to give you an idea about how they have dealt with certain legal matters.
Your attorney should be open at the outset to answering any questions you may have. Their reluctance to do so, or their inability to find the time to deal with your concerns, should be viewed as a red flag. As with so many endeavors, communication is fundamental when developing a sound working relationship with your legal representatives.