Divorcing? Follow These Steps to Find the Right Divorce Lawyer for You
Don't assume you can handle it on your own. The right lawyer can make all the difference.
The misconception about divorce lawyers
Many people entering a divorce are under the false assumption that their divorce lawyer is the leader in dissolving their marriage. In reality, you must be the head manager of your divorce, while your lawyer is a key member of your support team. It is very important that you use thorough research and a good dose of common sense in choosing and managing your legal representation. Here are some key points to keep in mind during the process. (These are the signs you may be headed for a divorce.)
Accept that you do need a lawyer
Friends and family may urge you to go right to court, but sometimes a divorce doesn't ever require a trip to the courtroom. Mediation and arbitration are sometimes easier and less expensive ways to end your marriage. With no-fault divorce laws, there are also do-it-yourself divorce kits and online resources that can be alternatives if you and your partner agree on issues like custody and division of property. Even if you and your partner agree to settle your divorce outside of a courtroom, it is still important that you at least have a consultation with an attorney—one who is not affiliated with your partner—to discuss your intended method of divorce and the terms that you and your spouse have agreed upon. Too often, individuals assume that they are doing the "right thing" and that their best interests are being represented, and then find out differently. Spending a little time and money to consult with an attorney can help make sure you are being smart in ending your marriage. (Here's how you should actually support a friend going through a divorce.)
Know what you need before searching
There are many factors to consider when choosing a lawyer to represent you in your divorce. Do you simply need someone to guide you through the process and support you during an uncontested divorce or mediation? Do you need someone to help you with complicated financial matters in the division of assets? Is custody a primary concern? You want to find an attorney who is seasoned in the areas most important to you. It will be easier to find the best lawyer for your case if you have a clear understanding of how they will be supporting you. Use online resources or books to understand the divorce process in your state and what your specific needs might be.
Look in the right places
Referrals from friends, family, or colleagues can be a good way to start generating a list of potential attorneys. You can also contact your local Bar Association of the American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers (aaml.org) to research possibilities. Do not use an attorney with any connections to your spouse. Even if your divorce is amicable, it is best to have your own, unbiased representation. If options in your immediate area are limited, feel free to expand your search—just make sure that the attorney in question has experience with divorce in your state, as laws can differ from state to state. Once you have a list of potential lawyers in place, it is time to start interviewing.
Ask the right questions
It is critical to be prepared when you start interviewing lawyers. You want to be able to accurately and clearly state your needs and the details of your situation. Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation, but make sure you clarify this up front, as some attorneys do bill for this first meeting. Here are some of the questions you'll want to ask potential lawyers:
- Ask about their experience, how long they have been practicing and if they specialize in divorce.
- Ask who will be doing the bulk of the work. Will it be a specific attorney or will it be delegated to a team or group?
- After sharing your situation with the attorney, ask his or her initial reaction as to how he/she would recommend proceeding: negotiating a settlement, mediation, going to trial, etc.
- If you think your divorce might end up in a courtroom, be sure to ask how much actual trial experience the attorney has accumulated.
- Ask about the payment structure and retainer. If necessary, ask about possible payment plans.
If you're meeting in person, be observant of their word choices and body language. These signs can say a lot about just how invested the lawyer is in your best interests. Utilize this initial meeting to clarify any questions you have about the divorce process or your particular situation. To be a good manager of your divorce, it will be important that you understand what is going on every step of the way.
Choose based on qualifications
Remember, you want to choose a lawyer who is qualified, who will give you the attention you need, who fits into your budget, and with whom you feel a good level of understanding and trust.
Even after you have selected your lawyer, don't forget that he is a member of your support team and that you have the right to manage him by expecting deadlines to be met, updates to be given, and your feedback to be incorporated into all decisions. If you don't feel like your representation is meeting his obligation, deal with this immediately. Don't ever assume that it will all work out in the end. (These are the secrets to survive – and thrive – after a divorce.)