Questions to Ask Your Divorce Lawyer
Basics of Choosing a Divorce Attorney
Planning your questions to ask your divorce attorney before your first meeting can save you time, money, and help ensure that you choose the best lawyer to fit your situation. Before you start looking for divorce attorneys, start by talking to those closest to you. If you have a friend, family member, or colleague who has divorced, ask for their recommendations for attorneys and talk about their experiences with their lawyer. For example, find out if the attorney was easy to work with, responded to phone calls quickly, stuck to the fee agreement, and got a good outcome in court.
If you do not know anyone who has personally used a divorce attorney, your state bar association may be able to recommend an attorney in your area. Although bar associations generally do not rate attorneys and cannot give you personal information, they can give you leads on lawyers who have good ethical reputations.
Credentials and Experience
Because each state has individual licensing procedures for attorneys, ask your lawyer if she is eligible to practice in the state where you are filing for divorce. This is particularly important if you and your spouse are separated and live in different states. Additionally, ask your divorce attorney how long she has been practicing and how many divorces she handles per year. Since some law firms work collaboratively on cases, also ask the lawyer whether any other staff members will be handling your case and learn about their credentials. Often, a skilled paralegal can help your divorce attorney prepare your paperwork at rates much lower than your attorney's regular fees. Ultimately, it may be a good idea to get an overview of who your primary contact persona the firm will be (for example, your attorney or a legal assistant) and who will be handling each aspect of the divorce process.
Further, not all divorce lawyers are created equally. If you have specific issues of concern in your divorce case, find an attorney that specializes in that area of practice. For example, if you anticipate contested child custody issues, look for a divorce lawyer who specializes in custody matters. Likewise, if you own a business or have significant shared assets, look for a divorce attorney with experience working on these types of cases.
Special issues you may want to consider when choosing a divorce lawyer include their experience in the following, as they apply to your case:
- 401(k)s and retirement plans
- Child custody
- Joint shares in a business
- Spouse's disability/your disability
- Social Security income
- An unemployed spouse who depends on you for day-to-day support or if you rely on your spouse as your sole source of income
- Significant shared financial assets such as a house or large amount of savings
- Pending civil lawsuits or bankruptcies
When you interview your lawyer, make sure that he or she feels comfortable handling all of the issues you may encounter in your divorce. For instance, if you own a business but your attorney cannot answer all of your questions about how you will approach dividing shares with your spouse, consider looking for a different attorney. Although lawyers can research your specific issues, there are few substitutes for courtroom experience.
Before you sign any agreement or agree to work with a divorce attorney, learn about his or her fee and billing schedule. Many attorneys charge an hourly rate, but some lawyers offer flat-fee pay structures for simple divorce cases. In addition to the standard legal fees, most law firms also charge for out-of-pocket expenses, such as filing fees, copying costs and the attorney's travel expenses. Ask your lawyer about his policy regarding these incidental fees. Also ask the lawyer how often the firm will bill you and whether you will be required to pay an upfront retainer fee. Regardless of the type of fee agreement that you work out, be sure to get the arrangement in writing and clarify what issues your attorney's fees cover.
You may also want to find out more details about how the payments will work. For example:
- What will happen if my spouse changes his mind about child custody arrangements or decides to contest the divorce ? How much more will this cost?
- What will happen if something unexpected comes up and I cannot afford to pay all of your fees at once?
- Can you work out monthly payment programs?
- Do I need to pay money upfront before you can start to work on my case?
Because the divorce process can vary significantly based on your state of residence and individual circumstances, as your lawyer to outline the steps you will need to take to obtain a divorce. Some factors that can affect the time frame and divorce process include:
- Whether you have minor children
- Whether you and your spouse have a home/mortgage together
- If you have a personal or joint retirement account
- If you own a business
- If either you or your spouse is disabled or unable to work
- If you have monetary investments, either individually or as a couple
- Whether you have an existing prenuptial agreement
Ask approximately how long the process will take, what paperwork you will need to file and what documentation you will need to provide your attorney. He or she may be able to give you a checklist of all the documents you will need to supply the court.
If you have minor children, talk to your divorce attorney about your ideal custody outcomes and ask him or her to explain your rights and responsibilities. If you plan to apply for child support or alimony, ask your divorce attorney what you should expect in terms of hearings, timeframes and legal procedures.
For example, you may want to ask your attorney:
- Does your state require you to maintain separate residences before granting a divorce?
- How should you divide your joint bills prior to the divorce?
- Should you give your spouse access to shared property?
- What should you do if your spouse does not let you see your children?
- What should you do if your spouse tries to intimidate you?
- What should you do if your spouse violates any custody or vistation orders
- How can you fairly decide who should live in the family home?
- How long will it take to file divorce papers with the court?
- How long should you expect to wait before receiving spousal support or child support?
- Are you required to attend all hearing on your case?
You may also be curious about how often and in what manner you will communicate with your attorney. For instance,
- Can you expect weekly or monthly updates from your divorce lawyer, or do you need to call or email for updates?
- Should you check-in with your attorney at regular intervals or will your lawyer contact you if he or she needs information?
- Will you have meetings prior to trials or hearings? How will you coordinate information?
- Does your attorney use email or prefer phone calls?
Find a Divorce Attorney in Your State
- Divorce Attorney - Find Local Divorce and Separation Lawyers - Attorneys.com
Find a divorce attorney while learning about grounds for divorce, the filing process and other aspects of divorce law.
Legal help for persons who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
- findlegalhelp.org - Consumers' Guide to Legal Help - ABA
Find a divorce lawyer in your state through the American Bar Association.