Divorces are as unique as the people involved. Some are messy, emotional, and seem to drag on forever. Others are quick, painless, and amicable. What most divorces have in common, though, is the need for a qualified divorce attorney. Choosing the right lawyer for your unique situation is crucial. You should only hire someone with the proper experience who you can trust will guide you through complex negotiations involving finances, assets, child custody, and more.
When searching for legal representation in any practice area, it's a good idea to take time and interview your potential counsel prior to hiring them to work your case. The questions below can help you find the best divorce lawyer for your needs.
Are divorces your specialty or just part of your practice?
This may seem like an obvious question, but it's often overlooked and the answer is taken for granted. Many family law attorneys dabble in divorce, but not all specialize in the field. Often the cost of a general family law attorney and divorce attorney is the same, so it makes financial sense to hire a specialist. In tandem with this question, you may also want to ask how long the attorney has been practicing in both divorce and family law.
Do you have a specific strategy for my case, and how long do you think it will take to resolve?
Strategy and duration may change throughout the process, but it helps to know that your attorney has a working plan from the start. Asking can also help to ensure that you are both on the same page; your attorney’s strategy should align with your goals.
What is your hourly rate?
You shouldn’t base your decision solely on the attorney’s hourly rate, but it’s obviously a factor to consider. A highly skilled attorney may have an hourly rate of $250, but if she can resolve your case in 10 hours, her services are more affordable than a $150 attorney who bills you for 20 hours. That’s not to say that a more expensive lawyer is better. This is why it’s so important to do your homework before making a final decision and find an attorney that fits your budget.
Can you estimate the total cost of this divorce?
Most attorneys will be reticent to answer this question because divorces can range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. But the way your attorney answers the question says a lot. If the attorney gives you an unreasonably low estimate, beware. According to Robert L. Schwartz, an Arizona-based attorney for Dickinson Wright, an honest lawyer is more likely to explain that giving an estimate is difficult and ill-advised.
“The most important point for any lawyer to get across to their client is what kind of outcome they can reasonably expect. Far too often, attorneys tell clients what they want to hear. The more honest the attorney, the less likely they’ll have a disappointed client,” said Schwartz.
Can I negotiate directly with my spouse?
Not everyone wants to speak directly with their spouse during divorce proceedings, but this is a viable option if your relationship is amicable. Doing so may help you to keep your costs down. If this is something you wish to do, make sure that your chosen attorney allows direct negotiations, and that he/she agrees it is a good idea. A divorce may begin amicably but turn turbulent further on down the road. In especially contentious cases, direct communication could actually lead to more arguments, obstacles, and costs.
How do you think a judge will rule on my case?
This question may be just as difficult to answer as the one about total cost, but how your attorney answers is what matters. An unreasonably optimistic answer, such as, “This is going to be a slam dunk!” should be cause for concern. An experienced attorney will walk you through possible scenarios and carefully explain your advantages and disadvantages. That being said, optimism isn’t a bad thing in an attorney. Just be sure that the optimism is tempered with practicality, tenacity, and an appropriate legal strategy.