Guide on how to find the best divorce lawyer or attorney
Author: Elly Prior | First published: 02-10-2010 | Modified: 20-10-2017
Finding the best divorce lawyers or attorneys, then choosing one that is right for you, is really important for your sanity, your family's well-being and your wallet.
My advice here will help you to find and choose the right divorce lawyer or attorney and law firm (either local to you, or online). As a qualified and experienced couple counsellor, I have too often witnessed the unfortunate consequences of not working with the right legal professional. That's why I've included this article on my relationship advice site
Before you start your search for an attorney or lawyer
Just before you start looking for that top attorney and spending your money, I’d like you to ask yourself:
Are you absolutely sure you have made the right decision to end your marriage or relationship?
If not, my Relationship Test can help you think through all the important issues before you take your next step.
Still willing to do all you can to save your marriage but not keen on therapy? Have a look at Save Your Marriage Today for my review of Lee Baucom's (PhD) unique blueprint.
How to choose the right law firm, divorce lawyer or attorney for you
Before you instruct a lawyer or divorce law attorney, ask yourself:
- Would you feel more comfortable with a male or a female lawyer?
- Would you prefer someone from your own culture?
- Would you feel more comfortable with someone your own age, or younger / older than you (if you have a choice at all)?
- Would you be happy with a less experienced lawyer / solicitor / attorney to reduce costs?
- How much would you want to be involved in the process?
- Are you already well-informed and would you like to be in the driving seat?
- How important is it for you that your lawyer also has some emotional intelligence? Bear in mind, though, that time taken to console you is added to your bill, after which you'll need further consolation!
Feel free to speak to several attorneys before you make your choice. It's your divorce and you'll be paying the bill.
Ideally though, I hope you'll look into mediation or a collaborative divorce. See Karen Covy's website for some excellent articles on the subject (link below).
Don't make it harder on yourself than you need to. If possible, choose a collaborative divorce
Your attorney or lawyer should:
- ideally be experienced in family / matrimonial law
- be a specialist rather than a generalist
- be prepared to consider an amicable solution for the divorce (a negotiated settlement)
- have experience of taking a case to trial, if you or your spouse is hell-bent on 'winning' for whatever reason (no judging here, because there may be good reasons for a contested divorce)
- be tough on your behalf if necessary
- not have acted for both of you in the past (due to a potential conflict of interest)
- ideally be accredited as a family lawyer
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is a great online resource for finding highly skilled family law specialists, all of whom have met the organisation's rigorous standards and criteria in order to become members (see links below).
What about the law firm?
When you’re involved in legal action, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the whole package.
You’ll spend time in the firm’s waiting room, and you’ll have contact with them via ‘phone, emails and letters – and ultimately you’ll receive their bill. You’ll want to know that the firm’s team isn’t going to add to your potential sense of helplessness or upset in any way!
Therefore, also consider the following:
- Does the person answering your call sound on the ball?
- Are your calls / emails answered at least politely, but preferably with some kindness?
- Are your calls / emails returned as and when promised?
- Are you kept up to date with progress, or as much as you want / need to be?
- Are you absolutely clear about how much it's all going to cost you?
- Are you sure that the fees of whichever lawyer you choose in that firm match your stack of available cash? The more senior they are = the more expensive they are.
Oh... and the larger the firm, the higher your bill is likely to be too.
What should you expect from your divorce lawyer?
The best divorce lawyers...
- give balanced advice without wanting to join you in condemning your spouse
- give practical advice, explaining and preparing you for each step of the process
- tell you gently when you are wrong and why, if necessary
- listen sympathetically, without getting drawn into the detail (don’t forget, you are paying!)
- know when you should be referred to a (couple) counsellor
- ideally are kind, compassionate and reassuring (oh so important - particularly when the divorce is thrust onto you and you feel your life is falling apart!)
- show a degree of professional detachment, so they are able to give you the best divorce advice
- are not aggressive in their approach (if you have children, remember that your partner or spouse is their parent too. Your lawyer should be challenging without being aggressive).
What about confidentiality?
You might have crept into the divorce law attorney’s or lawyer’s office, hoping nobody has seen you. Once inside, you hope that you are “safe” and nothing pertaining to you leaks out. Mostly it doesn't, because lawyers are well-aware that a breach of confidentiality can have detrimental consequences not only for their client, but most definitely for themselves and the law firm.
Nevertheless, you might want to consider the following questions:
- Has your lawyer discussed confidentiality with you?
- If you're going through an online divorce firm, have you been informed about what happens to your files?
- Does your attorney or lawyer speak to clients on the phone whilst you are in the office?
- Does he or she talk about other clients in detail that can potentially be identified?
- Can you overhear office staff mentioning names when on the phone or talking to each other?
- Is confidential material (files, papers etc.) left out for all to view?
How to prevent paying over the odds
This is not necessarily the time for you to focus on cost. I believe all the above points are more important.
However, I do know that money matters too. Splitting your family is already going to be costly - you may have to...
- establish two homes
- pay out (extra) for childcare
- buy another car
- spend extra on travelling costs
- pay for maintenance and support for children and your ex
- cope with a reduction in income
Divorcing is costly not only in terms of money, but also with regards to your emotional energy and time. Consider therefore the relative cost of the divorce lawyer/attorney you choose.
It's essential that you find out:
- if he or she charges by the hour and if so, what the fee is - do remember that is a bit like writing an open cheque
- if he or she does flat fee billing - at least you know what you're going to be spending in advance
- if you're likely to incur any additional charges
- if so, what exactly you'll be charged extra for
Choose wisely - it'll prevent further suffering!
You can see that it's worth spending a little time on choosing the best professional.
Instead of blindly clicking on an advert and hoping for the best, do make a list based on my advice above. This will help you to feel a little more prepared.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be working with your lawyer or attorney for some time. It’s so important that they don’t add to the conflict because of their style of working.
I’d also like to suggest that you try mediation (collaborative divorce). Your health, wealth, personal and family relationships are at stake, and anything is worth a try. Regardless of the reasons for your divorce, remember that you can help your children, yourself – and even your ex - by choosing the best legal help that you can.
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Effective Natural Treatments for Depression
What Sort of Problems Can Lead to Divorce?
Before You Divorce...
Advice for Men Who Want a Divorce
How Divorce Can Affect Your Children
How to Manage Stress in the Workplace
What about Prenuptial Agreements?
Further helpful links
International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
Karen Covy - divorce lawyer, coach and mediator
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