Divorce is stressful when deciding on child custody or if the former spouses can't agree. If you're considering divorce, you should seek legal advice from a divorce lawyer. A good divorce attorney can educate you on the divorce laws in your state. They can also reduce the lengthy court process and emotional stress of divorce proceedings.
What to Look for in a Divorce Lawyer
Divorce is a complicated process. It impacts you emotionally and financially and may affect your children, family, and friends. You may need an experienced divorce lawyer to help you navigate this difficult time while protecting your assets and legal rights.
An experienced divorce attorney will review your case and help you throughout the divorce process. The goal is to ensure that the outcome of your divorce is as favorable as possible for you and your family.
Look for a divorce attorney with experience, objectivity, and specialized knowledge to represent you during the divorce proceedings. You can handle an uncontested divorce yourself. More complicated divorces need the legal advice of a qualified divorce attorney.
Your divorce attorney should be knowledgeable about financial matters. Some things you want to ask about include:
- Alimony and spousal support: State laws vary on awarding alimony. Some states only order payments for long-term marriages.
- Prenuptial agreements: If you and your partner had a prenup, show it to your attorney at your initial consultation. The attorney can explain how it will affect your property division and what your state laws say about prenuptial agreements in divorce.
- Retirement accounts, pension plans, and stock options: A court order called “qualified domestic relations order," or QDRO, covers retirement accounts. Most family lawyers do not handle QDROs. Your attorney needs to know if you have retirement accounts at your first meeting so they can contact a QDRO attorney.
Children and Custody
If your divorce involves minor children, you need legal services that can help with child custody matters, including:
- Parenting plans: These cover custody arrangements, visitation, school, medical decisions, and vacation/travel plans
Not all divorce lawyers take on child support and custody cases. Ask whether your lawyer can handle both at your initial meeting.
It's an unfortunate fact that domestic violence occurs in many marriages and is a cause for divorce. Filing for divorce does not end the abuse and may make it worse. A family law attorney should know about domestic violence to file a restraining order for the client if necessary.
How To Find a Divorce Lawyer
Not all divorce lawyers handle all divorce issues. Some only handle uncontested divorce or those without child custody or property division issues. When looking for a divorce lawyer, you should concentrate on the lawyer's expertise, skill level, commitment, and location or area served.
Divorce proceedings require divulging many aspects of your personal life and financial assets. You should feel comfortable talking to your attorney. If you cannot tell your attorney everything about your life and finances, your attorney cannot properly represent you in court.
You should ask your attorney about alternative dispute resolution (ADR). These out-of-court resolution techniques are becoming popular in all states. They are less expensive and time-consuming. Parties have more leeway to craft their own divorce, with the court entering only when the case is over. The most common ADR methods are:
- Mediation: Most courts now require divorcing couples to mediate before the divorce. Couples and their attorneys sit down with a neutral third party and attempt to resolve disagreements. Mediation is helpful in contested divorces where the disagreements are minor.
- Arbitration: Like mediation, the arbitrator gives the parties a binding decision after hearing both sides. Arbitration is rarely used in divorce and is helpful where the parties must divide property or shared businesses.
- Collaborative divorce: This takes the divorce process out of the court and moves it into the law office. The parties and their lawyers agree to follow all divorce processes without needing the judge to order them. Not all attorneys will use collaborative divorce. You should ask at your first meeting.
Finding a Good Lawyer
The state bar association's website is one place to check a family lawyer's credentials. All bar associations have an "attorney finder" where potential clients can run the attorney's name and bar number through the database to look for disciplinary action.
Another way is to check reviews on social media. Watch out for too many glowing reviews that all sound the same. A good family law firm will have a few unhappy clients and should show how the firm deals with them.
Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer
When hiring a divorce lawyer, you should feel comfortable enough to talk about all aspects of your family's situation. At your first meeting with a divorce attorney, you should have a list of questions to ask, including:
- What's involved in the divorce process? How long does a case usually last?
- Will you be in contact as the case progresses? Do you answer phone calls? How long does it take you to respond?
- Do you handle cases other than divorce? How many divorce cases have you tried?
- Do you take high-net-worth cases?
- How much of my divorce case will you handle? Will a paralegal be handling the divorce papers?
- What is your philosophy on divorce? Do you offer divorce mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods?
- Can you give me an estimate of how much my divorce will cost?
Divorce Attorney Fees
The cost of hiring a divorce lawyer depends on several factors.
- The divorce attorney or family law firm's retainer depends on their location. Divorce attorney fees in a big city are higher than in a rural county.
- Your divorce case will dictate how much time it takes. Uncontested divorces with minimal paperwork may end quickly. Complex cases with lots of property division, bank accounts, and tax returns take much longer.
- Child custody cases may draw the legal process out, especially if there are issues with financial support or visitation.
Divorce is one area where attorneys are not allowed to work on contingency. A good lawyer will not increase their liabilities in a case by working pro bono or delaying billing.
It is wise to consult a variety of divorce attorneys in your area. Find one you feel comfortable with in representing you and get a sense of the cost involved in representing your case.
Get Professional Help: Hire a Divorce Attorney
Divorce is never an easy decision to make. Sometimes it is in everyone's best interests. There's a lot to do to get a divorce and many rules to follow. It's a good idea to hire an experienced divorce attorney familiar with the divorce process to advocate on your behalf, in and out of the courtroom.