Of all the issues surrounding a divorce, choosing the right attorney might not be the first one you think of, but it probably should be. A good attorney cannot just help you through what might be a complex legal process, but the right one can save you time and money, and help you avoid what can easily become a long, drawn-out financial and emotional nightmare. Knowing what to look for in a divorce attorney is the key to finding the best one for your situation. In this short article, we’ll take a closer look at the issues involved with choosing the right one.
Understand the Process
The first thing to realize about divorce attorneys is that their role is to represent you and your interests in the dissolution of assets and custody concerns–and nothing else. As much as you might want your attorney to sympathize with you, and listen to your frustration and anger, that simply is not their job. Attorneys charge top dollar for their time, and if you rant to them about the horrors of your soon-to-be ex, you’re liable to run up legal bills way out of proportion with the actual legal services provided. You’ll be much better off emotionally and financially if you save those sorts of conversations for your therapist.
The earlier in the process you can begin to look for a divorce attorney, the better. If you wait until you’re in a high-pressure situation and you just want everything to be taken care of quickly, or even worse, if you wait until you’re served with papers, you’re likely to choose an attorney based on who is available, and not who might best represent you. Also, if your spouse has already secured counsel, no lawyer from that firm can represent you due to potential conflict of interest.
Before hiring any divorce attorney, consider alternatives to traditional divorce–actual litigation should be the last resort. For couples with no children and simple finances, you may be able to hire a mediator to help you negotiate the terms of the divorce settlement and completely avoid hiring an attorney. Another alternative is a collaborative divorce, a negotiated settlement with the end goal of a collaborative co-parenting relationship. If neither side is willing to compromise and litigation is inevitable, remember that divorce attorneys have varied areas of expertise, and will try to guide you toward their specialty. Be sure to know what you want before you talk to an attorney so you can make an informed choice.
Remember Your Goal
The ultimate goal in any divorce process is simple: finalizing the divorce with as little financial damage as possible. Your attorney should help you reach your goal in a timely fashion, but you’ve got to stay on target. Try to limit your emotional reactions when it comes to negotiating over things that might not be as important to you in the big picture. By staying focused on getting the divorce over and done with quickly, your lawyer can help you avoid both the costs and emotional damage of lengthy litigation.
Do Your Research
Before hiring an attorney, you’ll want to know who you’re dealing with. The best way to start is with a simple phone call, asking about the kinds of clients they typically represent. Be sure to ask about rates up front. Most divorce lawyers will require a retainer in addition to their hourly rate, and some will base their fees on what sort of settlement is anticipated. If a lawyer is more expensive than you can afford, don’t waste your time on them, even if they offer a ‘free consultation.’ If they do fall in your price range, take them up on the free consultation, and keep looking. You should meet with at least three lawyers before making any final decision.
Ask about the attorney’s track record in court, even if you have no intentions of going to trial. Their record in trials is a good indicator of their success record in negotiated settlements. You should also inquire about his or her access to financial experts, forensic appraisers, and parenting coordinators. In the event that these sorts of experts are needed, an attorney who can secure them easily can save substantial amounts of time and money.
Beware of Promises
If an attorney promises you anything, you should probably look elsewhere. Remember that while your divorce is the most important thing to you at this point in your life, to an attorney, it’s just business, and some may be likely to tell you what you want to hear in order to get hired. Also beware of an attorney who divulges any details from other cases, like high-profile clients or big settlements. If they’re willing to do that to get your business, they’re likely to use you in the same way. Finally, make sure any attorney you choose is respectful and attentive during your meeting. If he or she is easily distracted by emails or their phone, they’re likely to be unable to focus on your needs.
Your Final Choice
After you’ve evaluated your own needs, and spoken with at least three potential attorneys, you’ll need to make a decision. You should choose someone you’re comfortable with, an attorney who is professional, well spoken, and has earned your trust. Make sure that whoever you choose to represent you is local to your area, and knows the local court system well. If there are children involved in the proceedings, make sure your attorney has their best interest at heart. Any attorney who advocates for unreasonable custody agreements or child support demands should be avoided at all costs. Children can be used as ‘bargaining chips’ in particularly nasty cases, so make sure you and your attorney are in agreement about how to handle the needs of the kids.
Divorce is never easy, even in the simplest of cases. It’s a deeply personal and emotional undertaking, and the end results can affect your life, and the life of your children, forever. Choosing the right divorce attorney is an important decision, but if you’re aware of the potential pitfalls and keep the important issues at the forefront, you’ll likely find one who represents your best interests.
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