Perhaps the most integral component of the divorce process is choosing a lawyer. While who you select depends largely upon your individual situation, the complexities involved, and your financial wherewithal, there are certain criteria that remain prime considerations across the board.
Where to begin? Recommendations are a great place to start, as is searching the database of lawyers in your area, making sure to take note of client reviews, feedback found on community divorce forums, and individual case studies of personal experiences. While the pool of prospects may seem overwhelming to start, it’s vital to narrow down the options to a short list, ideally, about three potential candidates, to schedule initial consultations with.
This is your first and best opportunity to ask questions, so it’s crucial to come prepared with a list of those most important to your particular case.
Expense & Experience
Obviously, expense is a huge factor, one that should be inquired about up front, to avoid wasting both parties’ time should the cost be beyond your budget. This will likely include a retainer, to be paid in advance, and hourly rates, as needed. Potential additional costs can range from fees for private investigators and forensic accountants to physicians and other medical personnel. While it’s rare for a divorce attorney to commit to a total cost, there should exist a degree of transparency regarding the variables which may come into play during the course of the process.
Equally paramount are the attorney’s legal qualifications and breadth of experience in dealing with family law. This subspecialty can typically involve complex legal principles, including custody law, international custody law, and guardianship, and may also take into account financial aspects such as financial disclosure agreements between spouses, restraining orders prohibiting the changing of beneficiaries, alimony, child support, division of property and assets, and splitting of retirement benefits.
As legal protocols and requirements tend to differ based on state—and even county in some instances—it’s imperative that your attorney be familiar with the area, as well as the judicial system in place. Be sure a contract is presented in writing, with explicit notations of services rendered—retainer, hourly rate, reimbursements for firm, etc. Clarify whether any other parties will be handling components of the case, such as a paralegal, and ask to meet with them as well.
Expense and experience aside, the deciding factor may very well come down to intangibles, namely, compatibility of ultimate goals and a supporting philosophy by which to achieve them. Oftentimes, this boils down to a simple dissolution of assets and resolution of custody issues in as timely and cost-effective a manner as possible.
Though no outcomes can be guaranteed, after an initial consultation with your attorney, you should come away with a clear understanding of strategy and an attainable plan of action for proceeding. Communication, both at this stage and throughout the course of the divorce process, is key, taking in everything from responsiveness to inquiries to dispersal of candid, professional advice when called upon.
Of course, you may find your individual situation does not call for a litigated trial; if the focus is on preserving a co-parenting relationship, a collaborative divorce may be considered. For those with no children, mediation can also be an option.
Divorce is a difficult process, one which can be made far easier by enlisting the assistance of professionals trained to guide you through each stage.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.