01 Sep Finding the Right Divorce Attorney: 6 Questions to Ask
Choosing the right attorney in your divorce can make all the difference. From getting the outcomes you want, to reducing unwanted friction with your ex-spouse, there are important questions to ask as you interview and select an attorney to represent your wants and needs during this important time. When choosing a divorce, it’s not uncommon to interview a half-dozen attorneys through a phone call or consultation. In that initial communication, note how you feel coming out of the conversation and whether you truly feel you could work well with this person to achieve the outcomes you desire.
In this post, we outline the six most essential categories of questions you can use to find the right divorce attorney.
1. How long have you worked in family law?
Working with an attorney who has experience with your specific challenges is essential. You might have friends recommend an attorney they know or have worked with, and while referrals are great, make sure any attorney recommended is well-versed and experienced with family law and divorce proceedings. In addition to specific experience, ask about the depth and breadth of that experience, including the number of years serving clients going through a divorce, and how much of that time is spent with people similar to you. Because laws can vary significantly by state, it’s also important to understand how much of their experience is in the state where you currently reside.
Some additional questions you can ask related to your potential attorney’s experience include:
- Do you exclusively do family law work?
- How many years have you worked in family law and law overall?
- How much experience do you have in this state?
2. Who, specifically, is your typical client?
As mentioned above, finding an attorney who is accustomed to working with people similar to you is important. Related experience means this attorney can typically anticipate issues before they even arise and advise you based on past experiences. Beyond just expertise in family law, look for an attorney who has worked with people just like you – whether you are a stay-at-home parent or working professional. Understanding more about their typical client gives you insights into how aligned this person’s experience is with your unique dynamics and needs. Not to mention, you’ll better understand how much this attorney will relate to your situation and desired resolution.
3. What’s your resolution style?
Beyond finding an attorney who you can relate to and who understands your unique situation, inquire about their resolution style. This might be the most important question to ask in order to get the outcomes you want in your divorce.
Some attorneys will excel at settlement, while others are exceptional at offering mediation support. Some attorneys might work more effectively with opposing parties who aren’t represented by an attorney if that is your current situation, possibly on an unbundled basis which is “help as needed” and not full representation. On the other hand, if you know you’ll have a contentious divorce, you may have to seek an attorney who is highly experienced in litigation, court proceedings, and high conflict situations. And, if you seek unusual or specific outcomes, such as winning full custody of your children or having a highly flexible parenting plan, you may have to interview attorneys for experience with that type of resolution. Clearly defining the outcomes you desire in your divorce will help you navigate this interview question more effectively.
For example, you may want to ask the following questions to better understand whether your attorney excels at settlement:
4. Do you serve or support unique dynamics?
As mentioned above, every divorce is unique. Some situations have more complex dynamics, including everything from abuse, to special needs children, to home school families. Other issues like mental health needs, joint business ownership, or even complex financial situations warrant attorneys that understand the specifics and can advise on these dynamics.
In order to agree on a parenting plan, sometimes the parties request or judge orders the involvement of a Child Family Investigator (CFI) or Parental Responsibility Evaluator (PRE) to provide observations and recommendations concerning the allocation of parental responsibilities. An attorney with experience navigating these experts and coaching you through their involvement can also help you achieve the outcomes you desire. A simple question to ask an attorney in the interview process is inquiring about their experience and comfort level with any unique situation you have in your divorce.
5. What is your communication style?
You’ll be spending a lot of time with your attorney during the divorce process. Therefore, it’s essential that you are aligned on the best ways to communicate during this time. For example, if you prefer phone calls so that you can ask questions in real-time, but your attorney typically communicates over text or email, you’ll likely end up feeling frustrated. Some questions you can ask attorneys that you interview to get a sense of their communication style include:
- Do you prefer phone calls to touch base or emails or even texts?
- How often do you keep me updated?
- Do you answer calls in the evenings since I work during the day (or vice versa)?
- Do you schedule meetings on weekends?
- Will we have ongoing, scheduled meetings or ad hoc calls?
6. How do you structure payments? What are your fees and costs?
Lastly, an attorney can be an expensive component of your divorce and cost will likely be a factor in your attorney selection. If cost is a concern, you can hire an attorney in limited scope or partial representation where they only deal with a few agreed-upon issues. You can work with an attorney for consultation only, where they are available to review/prepare documents and provide advice when needed but they wouldn’t represent you in court. While there are ways to keep costs affordable by hiring an attorney for partial representation or as an advisor, most people will want to be fully represented by counsel to ensure they have the outcomes they desire in their divorce. Some questions you can ask to get a sense of payment structure and feeds include:
- What is your hourly fee?
- Do you work on a retainer model where I pay lump sums that you work against until they are depleted?
- Do you work on a sliding scale or pro bono basis based on income?
- Do you offer junior services alongside yours at a lower rate (for paperwork filing and scheduling, for instance)?
- Do you offer unbundled services for the specific support I need (representation in mediation/court, paperwork consultation, and more)?
It is incredibly important to do your homework and select the right attorney to represent your wants and needs during your divorce. Without spending the time interviewing and asking the right questions, you run the risk of having to find a new attorney that is better aligned with your needs or, worse, end up with outcomes you don’t want. In fact, choosing the right team of professionals in your divorce is essential. That’s where we can help. A.M. Financial specializes in the financial planning you need to successfully navigate the finances of your divorce and beyond. Contact us for a free consultation today.