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How to choose a divorce attorney

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

A divorce is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life, ranking right up there with the death of a loved one. A divorce is also one of the few times – and maybe the only time – a person has to deal with the court system.

Ending a disintegrating marriage is made more difficult by the complexity of the divorce process and the emotional stress of dealing with the issues of child custody and support and division of assets.

Understanding the legal process is as baffling as trying to understand complex medical procedures, and just as you need to trust your physician, you need to feel confident with your attorney during a divorce. Your divorce attorney must be a combination of therapist, confidant, clergy person and “legal eagle.”

So, how do you find this person to whom you can entrust your future?

Get referrals from friends

If you have friends who have gone through a divorce, ask what they liked and disliked about their attorneys. Was your friend’s case as complex or less complex than your own? Was the attorney equally competent in handling emotional issues such as custody and “business” issues such as division of assets? Also, ask about the attorney who represented your friend’s spouse.

Meet with several attorneys

Schedule appointments with several attorneys for consultations, and let the attorney know you are in the interviewing process. Most attorneys won’t see you free of charge since they have only their time and advice to sell, but some offer discounts for the initial consultation.

Ask the right questions

When you meet with an attorney, bring a list of questions regarding your concerns in choosing an attorney as well as your personal concerns in the divorce case. Ask how the law firm bills its clients and ascertain the billing rates for each person who will be working on your case.

Most attorneys charge for all time spent in working on your matter. This includes time for phone calls, drafting court documents, court preparation and travel to the courthouse. It will be difficult for any attorney to give you an accurate estimate of total costs for the divorce because there are so many variables. Does your spouse want to reach a speedy resolution of the issues or is your spouse going to litigate every issue? These factors will go a long way toward determining your ultimate costs. No attorney will know all the issues at the initial consultation.

Be sure your attorney or someone in the office will return phone calls within a "reasonable" time and that you will receive copies of all pleadings and correspondence received and generated. Also, beware of any attorney who guarantees certain results. An attorney can only promise to use his or her best efforts in representing you.

Develop lines of communication

Above all, you and your attorney should be able to communicate effectively. Your attorney can only give you your choice of options and advise you as to the probable outcome of each option. Remember, nothing is a “slam dunk.” As in the rest of life, the legal process does not issue any guarantees.

Note: This information is not to be considered legal advice. Taking legal information out of context generally has negative consequences. If you have questions relating to your particular matter, you should contact an attorney in your state for advice.

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Second Saturday offers non-biased financial, emotional and legal information from qualified local professionals, providing people with the knowledge, support, resources and trust that they need to survive the divorce process and move forward with confidence toward a new life.

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