By Tracy Achen
Despite all the jokes you hear, divorce lawyers can provide you with sound legal advice and help you avoid costly mistakes when your marriage ends. Since the divorce process involves many legal technicalities (which can affect your well-being for many years to come), it’s a good idea to have someone on your side who knows what they are doing.
First of all, don’t take any actions that can affect your rights before seeking legal counsel. If you are considering a divorce, or if your spouse has initiated divorce proceedings, the first thing that you need to do is consult with a divorce attorney who specializes in family law. It’s also not a good idea to use the same divorce lawyer that your husband has retained (not only is this conflict of interest, but you won’t be properly represented).
You can begin your search for an attorney by seeking referrals through friends and family, your state bar association, or searching for divorce lawyers in the directories found on the internet. Here is a service which allows you to present your case, and respond only to attorneys who want to help you. Ultimately, you want to choose a lawyer who is willing to work with you and fight for your rights.
Once you have identified some potential divorce lawyers, you need to set up an initial interview. This will give you the opportunity to find out how your case will be handled and see if you feel comfortable with the lawyer. During this initial meeting, you can discuss the following issues to help you choose the best lawyer for you.
Questions to Ask during your Initial Meeting
- What is your experience? How many divorce cases have you handled? Are you a member of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers? (To belong to this association, divorce lawyers must have practiced family law for at least ten years, and have 75% of his or her practice in this area. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for references.)
- How long will my divorce take? What steps are involved in the divorce process? (Getting a realistic time-frame can help you avoid the frustration that your divorce is taking too long.)
- How can I get in touch with you? Are phone calls encouraged, what are the best times to call, and how promptly are calls returned? Do you prefer scheduled appointments to discuss my case? (You need to feel comfortable that you can get in touch with your attorney if an emergency comes up.)
- How much will my divorce cost? How much are the filing fees? Is there a retainer? What things are charged for at an hourly rate? Is a monthly bill sent out? (You need to get a good idea of how much money you can expect to spend on your divorce.)
- Who will be handling my divorce? Do you have the time to give my case the attention it deserves? Will you or your legal assistant be handling my case? (If the issues in your divorce are fairly uncomplicated and won’t be contested, it’s okay to have a legal assistant handle the majority of the paperwork. If a legal assistant is involved, find out what the hourly rate for their service is?)
- What is your view on settlement versus litigation? (You don’t want to battle your divorce out in court if it’s not necessary.)
- Do you have a written retainer agreement? (It’s a good idea to have a retainer agreement that states what the divorce lawyer agrees to do during your divorce, and how much you will be billed and how often.)
You will probably need to interview a few lawyers before you find one that you are comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Divorce lawyers are there to help you make many important decisions and should be willing to discuss any of your concerns. If they have specific suggestions for your case, ask them how it can affect you in the future.
While this is new territory to you, a skilled attorney is used to navigating all the issues. Remember that you are paying for their knowledge.
If you and your spouse can agree on how to divide your property and settle issues related to your children, you might consider filling out your own forms. With 3StepDivorce.com, you receive step-by-step guidance to help you complete your divorce documents online. By answering a series of specific questions, your divorce papers will be drawn up based on your individual state, the incomes of both you and your husband, and the specific custody, visitation, and support arrangements. Click here for more information about filing your own divorce forms.
In addition to choosing a lawyer, you’ll need to consider the following subjects: