Getting a divorce is never easy, but a good divorce lawyer can make a vital difference in how quickly and smoothly things proceed. But while finding a lawyer is easy enough, how can you be sure you’ve found the right one? Ultimately, the only way of working out how good a match they are is by asking them questions – lots of them. The more they understand your requirements, and the more you understand their ability to meet them, the better. Here are 10 questions to ask a divorce lawyer before giving them your business.
1. How experienced are you in family law?
As Avvo.com says, experience is important. While it may be a nice idea to cut a fresh law graduate a break by giving them their first big job, think about how complicated your divorce is likely to be first. If you’ve got kids, substantial combined assets or debts, complex living arrangements, or a high conflict relationship, a divorce lawyer with extensive experience in family law is more likely to secure a swift and successful resolution. If, on the other hand, you’ve got no kids, no complex issues, and have only been married for a short time, a fresh, keen graduate could be a cheap, advantageous way forward.
2. How much will this cost me?
As divorcenet.com notes, most divorce lawyers will be reluctant to put a specific number on how much a divorce will cost. Average costs depend on numerous factors, including complexity and the level of conflict involved. While your lawyer should give you an indication of the cost, they should also make it clear that cost estimates are exactly that – estimates – and that the true cost of the divorce may run substantially higher. Be wary of lawyers who give you a definite, surprisingly low amount off the bat; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, and you may find that initial price becomes subject to all kinds of amendments once they’ve reeled you in.
3. Do you handle custody cases?
If you don’t have children, you obviously don’t need to worry about whether or not your divorce lawyer will also be able to handle any custody issues. If you do, be sure to ask up front if it’s something they have experience in. Don’t assume that all divorce lawyers know the ins and outs of other family law matters – many do, but it’s not a given. Ask how many cases they’ve dealt with that involve custody, visitation, and child support. If their experience in that area seems lacking, you may need to use another attorney for that aspect of the case.
4. Have you handled similar cases in the past?
Not all divorces are the same. Maybe the lawyer you’re speaking to has extensive experience in high conflict divorce but no experience in high net worth divorce. Maybe their strength lies in mediation rather than litigation. Once you’ve outlined the specifics of your situation, be prepared to quiz them on how familiar they are with cases such as yours and how they’ve handled similar cases in the past. Remember, the more sympathetic and familiar they are with your situation, the better able they’ll be to protect your interests.
5. How does the retainer work?
Divorce is rarely pretty and never cheap. Before putting your business in the hands of any lawyer, find out how much their retainer is and how it works. Will any unused portions be returned? Will you be reimbursed (and if so, by how much) if you decide not to proceed with the divorce? Will you be reimbursed if you aren’t happy with their services and move to another attorney? What happens if the original retainer isn’t enough to cover all legal fees? The more you find out now, the less nasty surprises you’ll receive down the line.
6. Who will be working on my case?
Don’t assume that the person you’re talking to about your case at the moment will be the one to handle every part of it. Some lawyers work as one-man bands, but many others work as part of a larger team. It could be that the lawyer you’re currently in discussion with will be handling the communication, but another lawyer will be handling the paperwork. Ask for confirmation so you know exactly who you’ll be dealing with about what, and, just as importantly, how the extra manpower works from a fee perspective.
7. How long will my divorce take?
Most people go into a diverse wanting the process to be over as soon as possible, but it’s important to set your expectations around a reasonable timeframe. Ask your lawyer what waiting period is applicable (most states have a set waiting period between the date of the petition being served and the final hearing date) and what they believe a realistic time frame will be based on the circumstances of your case. In high conflict or complex divorces, it’s not unusual for proceedings to drag on for over a year.
8. What is your approach to the divorce process?
No two lawyers are the same, and no two lawyers have exactly the same approach to handling a divorce. Some will take a matter to court without hesitation, others will prefer to use alternative dispute methods in the first instance. As divorces settled at the negotiation table tend to be more cost-effective in the long run, be sure to grill them on their preferred approach (and if it’s alternative dispute methods, ask them if they are board-certified in meditation). Likewise, if you are already aware that your former spouse is unlikely to negotiate at all, ask them about their litigation experience and how they’ve settled cases such as yours in the past.
9. How do you communicate?
Staying up to date with how your case is proceeding is vital for your peace of mind. Ask your lawyer how often you can expect to receive updates and how they tend to communicate. If you prefer emails over phone calls, or face-to-face meetings over either, be sure to make your preferences known. It’s also worth asking if they have a paralegal on the team through whom communication can be directed – not only are they usually easier to get hold of, but their fees tend to be lower too.
10. Where do you see any problems arising?
The more well-informed you are from the outset, the better. Once you’ve given the lawyer a summary of your case, ask them where they see any problems occurring. If they’ve dealt with similar cases in the past, they should be able to give you a good idea of any red flags and what they’ll do to manage them.