Deciding to divorce your spouse can be one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make. But the next step—choosing a divorce attorney—can seem equally difficult. What factors should you consider when hiring an attorney? How can you choose between multiple options?
Below, family law attorney Val Hemminger shares a few things to keep in mind when selecting a divorce lawyer.
Understand the Scope of Representation
When meeting with your divorce lawyer and being in the process of explaining how you got to where you are and what legal assistance you need is often fraught with emotion.
But it’s important to remember that your divorce lawyer isn’t your therapist or friend—their job is simply to represent your best interests and fight for a fair divorce settlement. This means your lawyer can’t tell you whether divorce is the right decision; they can only explain the potential outcomes of each path you choose. If you need someone to talk through the emotions or the decision-making process while your divorce is proceeding, a therapist, divorce coach, or other support can fill this role well.
Ask How Fees are Calculated
Divorce lawyers generally charge by the hour. In most cases, an attorney will request a “retainer” when representation begins—the attorney will then withdraw their hourly fee from this retainer until the representation ends (and you’re refunded any unearned balance) or an additional deposit is required. In other cases, they will simply take your credit card information and “bill as you go.” A lot of clients prefer this method.
A lot of lawyers, including divorce attorneys, are starting to offer certain services on a flat-fee basis. These arrangements can require the attorney to take a few specific actions (like filing a divorce petition, filling out income disclosure forms, or appearing in court) but often don’t provide the full scope of family law representation.
Generally, the more contested your divorce, or the more assets and debts at issue, the more your case will cost. Discussing fees with your attorney at the outset will ensure that you’re both on the same page.
Assess What Kind of Divorce You’d Like
There’s no one-size-fits-all process when it comes to divorce—and while some divorcing couples end up battling it out in a courtroom, it doesn’t need to be that way. In fact, in most cases, court can be avoided. Particularly if you hire the right kind of attorney.
There are several alternatives to the traditional divorce process that can help reduce costs (and conflict). These include:
- Mediated divorces
- Uncontested divorces
- Collaborative divorces
Each of these divorce types is a form of alternative dispute resolution, allowing you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse to come to an agreement on key issues without ever stepping foot before a judge. If you’re interested in one of these paths to divorce, it’s important to discuss this with your attorney to ensure that they’re comfortable handling it.
Get Your Questions Prepared
The more information you have, the more comfortable you’ll feel throughout the divorce process. And while your first meeting with a divorce attorney can seem overwhelming, arming yourself with some basic questions before this meeting can help guide the discussion and ensure that you have enough information on your priorities regarding representation. Just a few of the questions you may want to ask include:
- What’s your communication style? How often do clients get updates about their cases?
- How long do you think my divorce will take?
- What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
- How often would you like updates from me on any changes in the situation?
- Do you have an assistant or paralegal I’ll be working with?
- What’s your hourly rate?
- What payment arrangements do you offer?
- How much dispute resolution training do you have?
- How often do your cases end up in court?
- What does it cost for the average case you take on to resolve?
Once you get into the nuts and bolts of the divorce process, you can also ask questions about how specific pieces of property will be treated, whether child support will be awarded, and what steps you’ll need to take after the divorce is finalized (for example, refinancing a home mortgage to remove your ex-spouse’s name from the loan).
Go With Your Gut
Although it’s always a good idea to research your prospective divorce attorneys, looking for client reviews, positive case outcomes, and their overall reputation, this research won’t tell you one of the most important things you need to know: whether you and your attorney will “click.”
Divorce can be one of the most difficult experiences of your life. It’s crucial to have respect for and trust in the person leading you through this process. And if you don’t have that kind of relationship with your attorney, you may not feel comfortable disclosing many of the things about your marriage and family that you’ll need to disclose in order for your attorney to advocate for your best interests.
If your gut tells you your divorce attorney isn’t the best fit, keep looking!
About Val Hemminger:
Val Hemminger created multiple six-figure law practices, and is now a very successful law small firm, with over 25+ years of practicing law. As a divorce attorney, she is committed to the ethical, equitable, and compassionate representation of her clients during such stressful and taxing events. When she’s not due in court, Val can be found wearing running shoes, and she never takes herself too seriously. She created the “Be the BEST Divorce Lawyer Academy” an online program that includes group coaching for other divorce attorneys.