Divorce sucks. A lot.
It’s no fun, it costs a crap load of money (potentially) and it’s almost always painful for everyone involved. Add children to the mix and it’s even more difficult, painful and expensive. I really wish someone sat me down all those years ago before my divorce and gave me some marriage-ending advice.
Well, I’m here to pass along a few things I learned during my divorce that will, I sincerely hope, save you some time, headache, heartache and money. If you have additional tips to share, please feel free to do so in the comments below!
Divorce Attorney Question #1 – How many FAMILY LAW cases have you tried in court?
A wise man (my dad) once said (yesterday on the phone) that referrals from friends are great for things like movies, restaurants and maybe even dentists. When it comes to referrals for attorneys… well, it can be very hit or miss. Why is that?! For one, your divorce may be different than theirs. Maybe yours is contested and theirs wasn’t. Maybe yours involves children and theirs didn’t. There are a million variables to consider when choosing an attorney, quite frankly, it gives me a headache just thinking about it.
One of the sure-fire ways to gauge an attorney’s experience in their area(s) of practice is to quiz him or her about their experiences. An excellent question to ask is, “How many FAMILY LAW cases have you actually taken to trial and what were their results?” The attorney will have to be honest with you and if they answer with anything less than what you’re willing to accept, consider finding another attorney – especially if you think there’s a chance your case will go to trial.
The BEST way to arm yourself going into a disputed family law case (such as a custody dispute) is to bring along an attorney with experience specifically with those types of cases. Experienced attorneys will know case law without having to research (research that will cost YOU), will know more of the nuances of the laws and will even have more knowledge of sitting family court judges (and maybe even somewhat of a rapport) than less-experienced attorneys. Choose wisely and always choose track record and experience over enthusiasm!
Divorce Attorney Question #2 – What is your hourly rate?
Reputable attorneys will provide you with the rate at which they bill per hour up front. It doesn’t hurt to ask questions about how they bill their time, though. Those panicked calls when something comes up can really hit your pocketbook when you consider you’re probably being charged somewhere north of $200 per hour. Don’t be afraid to ask how they bill, if you’ll be invoiced, if they charge per call, per minute, per 15 minutes, etc. Knowing more about how they bill will give you more information about how quickly you’ll burn through your retainer.
Divorce Attorney Question #3 – What is your retainer fee and will you consider taking less?
Consider for a moment what retaining an attorney actually is. You’re hiring them to work for you. You’re going to pay them to be on your side; to be your advocate. That’s going to cost money, but how much money may vary. Attorney retainers typically range in the thousands and attorneys will often require different retainers for different types of cases. If your case will be relatively simple and straight-forward, consider asking the attorney if they’ll take less retainer. I’ll tell you with 99% certainty it’s a lot harder to get a refund on a retainer than it is to provide them with additional funds if the initial retainer runs out!
Divorce Attorney Question #4 – How many cases have you handled like mine?
You may think your case is unique, but chances are an experienced family law attorney has “been there, done that” before. Experience definitely counts when choosing an attorney so be sure to ask the attorney what their experience has been with cases like yours. Reputable attorneys will give you an honest opinion about your odds at succeeding and the length (and therefore, cost) of the case to you. Being empowered with this information may help you make more intelligent decisions during the entire separation and divorce process.
Divorce Attorney Question #5 – What is your experience with opposing counsel?
Attorneys that know their stuff can be invaluable during a divorce. Part of ‘knowing their stuff’ include having experience with your soon-to-be ex spouses choice of attorney. They’ll know right out of the gate (potentially) if the opposing attorney is prone to settling, is more of a go-getter or is just there to bill hours. Knowing more about your opposition can dictate how your own case is handled and can greatly improve your chances of success and lighten the load on your wallet!
Choosing an attorney is a serious matter and shouldn't be taken lightly. I am neither an attorney nor an accountant. Any legal or financial advice I give is my opinion based on my experience.