Divorce Lawyers

One of the most important decisions you will make during the divorce process will be your choice of an attorney. Your attorney will be with you from start to finish as you negotiate a settlement or take your case to court. He or she will represent your best interests, advise you on the divorce process and relevant laws, and help you make informed decisions. So, it’s important that you choose someone who is knowledgeable, experienced, and trustworthy. Here are some guidelines for choosing a divorce attorney.

Do you need a lawyer?
You may hope to obtain an inexpensive, do-it-yourself divorce, and lawyer’s fees can certainly be expensive. But you will need to consult a lawyer if any of the following conditions apply to you:

  • You have been married five or more years.
  • You have children.
  • One spouse earns significantly more than the other, or one spouse is likely to suffer a change in standard of living or be unable to support him/herself after the divorce.
  • You have significant, valuable assets or you have inherited items of value during the marriage.
  • You have substantial debts.

How do you find a lawyer?
You can try several avenues for finding a good attorney. You might ask other professionals involved in your divorce (such as therapists, social workers, etc) to refer you to one. You can ask friends or family members, or ask for referrals from divorce support groups such as Parents without Partners. Ask non-divorce lawyers for recommendations. You might stop in at the courthouse and observe some divorce cases to identify a lawyer whose style you like. You can look in the yellow pages under “Attorneys-Divorce and Family.” You can also contact your local bar association for a list of referrals. But keep in mind that the lawyers on this list are new graduates or lawyers who do not have yet have an established clientele, so be sure to check their credentials before retaining them.

When you have identified a potential lawyer, you should call the office to set up an initial consultation. Try to speak directly with the lawyer rather than with an assistant or associate-if the lawyer is too busy to talk with you at the outset, chances are he or she will be difficult to reach in the future as well. Ask if there is a fee for initial consultations and if so, how much it is. Find out whether the lawyer specializes in trial cases or settlement negotiations, and if he or she does collaborative law or meditation consultations (if you are interested in these approaches.) Make sure that the lawyer specializes in divorce; you are better off taking your case to a specialist than to a general practitioner.

What should you ask during the initial consultation?
The initial consultation is an opportunity for you to interview your lawyer. You should get all the information you will need to make an informed decision. Here is a list of questions you might ask during this interview:

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Do you specialize in divorce cases?
  • How much experience do you have with divorce trials?
  • How much experience do you have with settlement negotiations?
  • How often do you work with mediators?
  • How much experience have you had with custody matters?
  • How much experience have you had with the tax implications of divorce?
  • Have you handled cases similar to mine?
  • How would you describe your courtroom and negotiating styles?
  • How long do you expect my case to take?
  • What outcome should I expect from my case?
  • In general, how busy are you? Will you handle my case yourself or hand it off to an assistant?
  • Will I find it easy to reach you? Do you have an answering service or pager?
  • If an assistant will be handling my case, what are his/her credentials? May I interview your assistant?
  • What is your fee? Is it hourly or is there a flat fee?
  • Will I be charged for: secretarial work? travel time? copies/faxes? telephone calls?
  • How will I be billed, and how often?

How much will the lawyer cost you?
Many lawyers have an hourly rate for divorces, although some will charge a flat fee. Most lawyers request a retainer. A retainer is a fee that you pay at the outset in order to retain the lawyer’s services for the duration of your divorce. Sometimes the lawyer deducts your costs from the retainer then bills you monthly after you’ve used it up. Sometimes the retainer is a security deposit guaranteeing your payment and is refunded after you’ve paid all the monthly bills. In some cases the retainer is an additional, non-refundable fee paid in addition to the hourly rate and other costs. So, it pays to ask questions and make sure you understand what your attorney means by retainer. In addition to the retainer, you will probably pay an hourly rate, which can range from $200-$300/hour. Or, for a simple divorce, an attorney might charge you a flat rate of $1,000-$2,000. For more complicated cases, there may be a retainer of up to $5,000, and prolonged court battles can quickly increase your costs beyond this fee.

When you decide to retain your lawyer, he or she will draw up an agreement. It should explain the retainer, the billing process, and the fees associated with telephone calls, travel to court, copies, faxes, secretarial work, and paralegal work. This agreement will usually contain a clause stating that your lawyer will terminate services if you fail to pay.

During the divorce, you can minimize lawyers’ fees by taking a few simple steps. Provide all the necessary paperwork and information promptly so that your lawyer does not have to do the information-gathering for you. Limit your phone calls, keeping in mind that you will likely be billed for each call. Keep a list of your questions and save them until you have quite a few to ask before calling. Write down the answers so you don’t have to ask the same question twice. Keep records of your meetings and calls. Check your records against the lawyer’s bill to make sure there are no errors.

What should you expect from your lawyer?
Your lawyer should explain the divorce process and give you an estimate of how long your case will take. He or she can refer you to other professionals, if needed, such as counselors, financial advisors, accountants, etc.

Your lawyer should be professional and courteous. S/he should listen to your concerns and help you obtain the outcome that’s right for you rather than the outcome that he or she thinks you should want. Although your lawyer will do his/her best to represent your interests to the court, you should remember that attorneys are bound by the laws of the court-they cannot obtain more for you than the law allows.

Finally, you should keep in mind that your lawyer is not a counselor or minister. You should not waste the lawyer’s time (and your money) hashing out your feelings about the divorce. Focus on the legal issues at hand and treat the relationship as a professional one.

What should your lawyer expect from you?
Your lawyer will expect you to be truthful and to reveal all the pertinent facts about your marriage and your finances, even if these details cast you in an unflattering light. Your attorney’s job is to represent your interests, and he or she will not be able to do this without the necessary information.

Your attorney will expect you to take an active part in the process, coming to each meeting with all the relevant information and providing the necessary paperwork and documents promptly upon request. If you refuse to do your part, your lawyer will have to spend more time gathering documents and digging up information, and in the end, you will be billed for this extra time.

Your attorney will expect you to keep him or her informed of changes to your address, your employment, or your custody situation. Again, if the attorney has to waste time tracking you down, you will pay for this time.

What should you beware of?
You should be wary of a lawyer who “farms out” cases to associates, only dealing with the case on court days. This lawyer will be less likely to be in touch with your concerns and questions and may not be able to effectively relay those concerns in court.

You should also be cautious of lawyers who make unrealistic promises about the outcome of your case or who have reputations for being “warriors.” Judges may not appreciate your lawyer’s aggressive tactics, and the “war” approach to divorce will likely prolong your case and cost you more in legal fees in the long run.

Finally, be cautious of a lawyer who does not seem to listen to your concerns or respect your wishes regarding the divorce proceedings. To some extent, choosing a lawyer is a matter of listening to your gut, so choose someone who you feel comfortable with.

What happens if you have problems with your lawyer?
If you encounter problems with your lawyer, you have the right to fire him or her. However, you will still be required to pay the fees that you owe, and you should make the change as early as possible in the divorce process, as changes in your legal team might annoy the judge and delay the court proceedings.

A local divorce attorney can help you understand your local divorce, custody, and child support laws and how they will affect your case. Fill out the form below to arrange a divorce case evaluation by a local attorney.