Don't Hire a Divorce Lawyer Before Asking These Questions First

When it comes to getting legal advice about your divorce, you want someone you click with and trust. For example, someone with a very aggressive approach might not be your style if you are amicable with your ex.

Below are some of the key questions you should ask a divorce lawyer before you hire them. Their answers can guide you on if they have the right level of experience and a personal approach that will work well with you.

Jump to Questions and Topics

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General Attorney Questions

What do you handle that I can't DIY?

Who will be working on my case?

What is your experience? What practice areas do you handle?

How much will a lawyer cost me?

What should I NOT tell my ex-spouse?

How much do my attorney and I need to talk?

How will I get my paperwork?

Divorce and Separation Questions

What do I need to take to a divorce consultation?

How does this change my child support or alimony (spousal support)?

How much does a divorce cost?

How can I keep divorce costs down?

How long does a divorce take?

Do I have to go to court for a divorce?

What is split custody vs. joint custody?

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What Do You Handle That I Can't DIY?

  • Attorneys are taken seriously by judges and know the ins and outs of local courts. They also know nuanced laws that can harm or hurt your case.
  • A good attorney should explain what your case needs and how they can benefit you.
  • Some attorneys may offer a combination option, such as you prepare some of the paperwork, but they will file it and present it in court for you.

Who Will Be Working on My Case?

  • Sometimes, non-attorneys will work on research, creating documents, or handling part of the legal process for the attorney. You need to know if you are okay with this.
  • Your attorney should handle the significant parts of the work and oversee everyone else helping on the case. It may be a red flag if the entire situation is handed to a non-attorney.
  • Your attorney, or an attorney designated for court appearances, should be the one who appears in court for you or with you. In some cases, they may send another partner or associate. Still, big court dates should be attended by your family law attorney.

What Is Your Experience? What Practice Areas Do You Handle?

  • An attorney should be able to easily explain the different legal areas they handle. Family law should be one of their main areas.
  • You can look up every attorney on your state's board website to see their years of experience or any disciplinary action in the past.
  • If reviews are not already on the firm website, you should ask for references from past clients. It may be a good idea to ask for references who had a similar type of divorce case.

What Are Your Fees?

  • You will be charged an hourly rate, flat fee, or retainer. The attorney should be completely upfront about how they charge, even if they cannot predict the hours it will take to conclude the case.
  • The initial consultation is often a free 30-minute phone call where you explain the situation, and they talk about how they can help you.
  • Sometimes, paralegals or other staff handle parts of the case. This is often a lower hourly rate.
  • An experienced divorce attorney usually has legal fees costing from $150 on up.

What Shouldn't I Tell My Ex-Spouse?

  • You should not discuss your case with third parties, including your ex or family. This is to make sure you have the best chance at the outcome you want.
  • You can tell your ex about generic updates (i.e. "you should hear from my attorney soon"), but let your attorney discuss specifics (i.e., don't tell your spouse, "we are going to take half your money and go for full custody").
  • An attorney should warn you that all your communications with your ex may be used in court.
  • You should be advised to not start a conflict and not to use your children as a bargaining chip.
  • A good attorney should help guide your interactions with your ex and tell you when to cut contact for the benefit of the case.
  • If you are filing for a restraining order in the process, then you should not warn your ex in advance. Your attorney can usually handle the order of protection and divorce at the same time.

How Much Do My Attorney and I Need to Talk?

  • It depends on how complex the case is. Most cases take time, so you can expect to talk one to five times a month, or a few times a week at the beginning.
  • Criminal charges or urgent matters, such as a divorce with domestic abuse claims, may mean daily contact with your attorney.
  • Some attorneys will answer quick questions for free, and some will charge you for their time.
  • You may use email, phone calls, videos, or in-person meetings. Most attorneys will email when things are not urgent or complex, but call when they are critical or complicated.
  • A good attorney should ask what method of communication you are comfortable with and for your relevant contact information.

How Will I Get My Paperwork?

  • An email should be used for communications or simple file transfers, but never for credit card information, bank account numbers, or secure paperwork.
  • Many attorneys have secure file-sharing programs, payment portals, and online signing programs. Anything to do with financials or your Social Security number should use a secure system or (https) website.
  • Generally, paper mail is no longer used.
  • An attorney should explain the security in place and programs you would use throughout the process.

What Do I Need to Take to a Divorce Consultation?

How Does This Change My Child Support or Alimony (Spousal Support)?

  • It is normal for an attorney to say "it depends" if you ask this without giving them actual numbers and details.
  • They may be able to provide a ballpark answer about financial changes or list out the factors that would be concerning.

How Much Does a Divorce Cost?

  • There is no official answer to this question because it depends on so many factors. The attorney you choose should be able to listen to details about your case and give you a ballpark estimate.
  • Average divorces in the U.S. need about $15,000.
  • Amicable exes without children or complex assets will probably be able to get a divorce faster and cheaper. Your attorney should be able to give you an estimate for the various steps of the case.
  • Keep in mind estimates can change, and having lots of back-and-forth with your attorney will raise the cost.

How Can I Keep Divorce Costs Down?

  • A good attorney should be able to listen to your case and point out some money-saving aspects, such as amicable communication with your ex or gathering records in advance.
  • If your ex has a history of bad communication or handling conflict poorly, you should tell your attorney. They can look for solutions or be prepared for misconduct along the way. This goes for anyone with mental health issues, addicts, alcoholics, or abusive exes.

How Long Do Divorce Cases Take?

  • You can expect the divorce process to take anywhere from 60 days on up. Amicable divorces can move quickly if both parties are in agreement on terms.
  • Some states force you to take 30-60 days between filing and the process beginning.
  • Average divorces in the U.S. take from four to 11 months. Complex divorces often take over a year.

Do I Have to Go to Court for a Divorce?

  • A "divorce proceeding" does require you to appear at least once in court
  • An experienced attorney should be able to tell you what to expect if you choose mediation, settling outside of court, or taking your ex to court to solve a disagreement. How much time you will spend in court varies based on your approach.

What Is Split Custody vs. Joint Custody?

Find the Right Attorney for You

Selecting the attorney to help you through a divorce is a big choice. You want to trust them, communicate well, and trust their legal advice. It may take a few free phone consultations before you find the right person.

You can read reviews, see ratings, and set up free consultations through our attorney directory. Use this guide to ask your attorney questions and ensure their answers are both experienced and trustworthy.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
  • Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
  • Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division

An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.

Start Planning