Divorce is a highly personal and emotionally charged process, the outcome of which will have a significant impact on your future and your life. One of the most important initial decisions involved in a divorce is choosing the right attorney to represent you in the process. Choosing a divorce attorney can be overwhelming though, particularly if the extent of your research is to do an internet search using the phrase “divorce attorneys”. Where should you begin and what should you be looking for in a divorce lawyer?
First and foremost, remember that not all lawyers are the same! It should go without saying but if you are headed for divorce, you need to hire an attorney experienced in matrimonial and family law. When you select a divorce attorney, you want one with the legal skill set and knowledge needed to get the job done for you.
Find at least two to three reputable family law attorneys in your area by getting referrals from trusted friends or family and from professionals you regularly use such as your accountant, your therapist, your trust and estates lawyer, your business lawyer, etc. Your local or state bar association can be another valuable referral source. Once you have the names, interview each of these attorneys before you make your decision.
Come to the interview prepared with a list of questions for the attorney. What is the length of time the attorney has been in practice and what is the amount of experience he or she has in the area of family law? Ask the attorney whether he or she has experience practicing before the local matrimonial and family law judges. Although you and your spouse may have no intention of going to court, an attorney's trial record and history of success in court can have some bearing on his or her ability to negotiate a settlement with your spouse's attorney. Does the attorney have a personal style that works for you and share your basic philosophy about how the divorce should be handled? In other words, if your goal is to maintain as calm, cooperative and non-adversarial a process as possible, don’t hire an attorney who is known as the local “pit bull”.
Ask the attorney about his or her rates. Most family law attorneys bill on an hourly basis and require a retainer. Generally, better known divorce lawyers with more experience charge more. Don’t be put off or reject an attorney simply because he or she charges a fee for the initial consultation. Many experienced matrimonial lawyers may give useful information and advice in that first consultation.
Aside from the lawyer’s reputation and ability, you must trust and feel comfortable with the lawyer you hire if you are to going to be able to work effectively together. If you are not comfortable with a lawyer you interview, you should probably trust your instinct and not hire that attorney. In a family law matter, the relationship between client and lawyer is exceptionally important. As a client, you will need to share intimate details about your personal life, marriage and finances. The lawyer you hire may have to give you advice and information that you don’t like or don’t agree with. Your relationship with your divorce attorney will be a close and sensitive one which will continue for months and, in some instances, for years. Be sure the lawyer is someone to whom you can talk and listen.
In summary, it is critically important for you to hire the divorce attorney who is right for you. Your divorce attorney is the expert that you will rely upon to assist you in making the best decisions possible about your divorce and your future. Choose wisely.