Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney in the Initial Interview
If you are contemplating a divorce, you may be shopping around to find a divorce lawyer to represent you. At the initial consultation, there are several important questions that you should ask.
1. How long have you been practicing, and what percentage of your practice is devoted to family law?
It is important to have an attorney who is experienced in family law. In this era of specialization, it is impossible to do everything well.
2. Do you prefer to negotiate and settle, and what is your attitude toward mediation?
You will be best served by an attorney who is looking for ways to solve problems, not to escalate disagreements. An attorney who is willing to try all avenues to resolve your case can help make your divorce less costly, both financially and emotionally.
3. Who will be working on my case, and how involved will you be personally?
A good family law attorney often has a team to help him or her, which is great, but it is important for you to know who will be working on your case, who will be communicating with you, who will be in charge, and how you will be billed for that work.
4. How much is your retainer, and how does it work?
Find out how much the retainer is, and what it will cover. If you reconcile or change attorneys, will the unused portion of your retainer be refunded to you? Will there be additional retainers be required when the initial retainer is depleted?
5. What are your hourly rates, and how will I be billed?
Attorneys and staff bill at different hourly rates, and most attorneys charge their hourly rates against the retainer. Some attorneys bill in quarter-hour increments, and some in 6-minute increments. Some bill for each phone call, email or letter, with a minimum charge. Sometimes attorneys charge a higher rate for going to court. Ask how often you can expect to receive an itemized billing.
6. How long should my divorce take, and what do you estimate it will cost?
Don’t be surprised if the attorney doesn’t have a straight-forward answer for this one, since how long it takes and the cost depends on how cooperative each side is as well the complexities of the case. If there’s a custody battle or complicated business and property issues, a divorce can take a year or longer.
7. If you are unavailable when I call or if I send you an email, how long should I have to wait for a response?
Communication between you and your attorney is critical, and it is frustrating to wait for an attorney to respond. A good attorney will answer emails and phone calls within 24 hours, and may have someone on staff who can respond earlier.
Questions to ask a divorce lawyer at your first consultation
What should you be asking a divorce attorney at an initial consult? Below are three questions that you should ask of any divorce attorney that you are considering.
1. How long have you been practicing divorce law?
There is no substitute for experience.
Knowing the judges, the local rules, and opposing lawyers is very beneficial. Having actual trial experience is also invaluable for a divorce lawyer, as is experience in drafting and negotiating Separation Agreements, Pleadings, and Court Orders.
Learning to actually practice law (as opposed to just knowing the law) is to some extent, trial and error and a process of learning how to be a good lawyer. This is not to say that you should not consider a new attorney. Recent law school graduates often bring energy, strong knowledge of the law and recent technology, and are generally less expensive than experienced attorneys. It’s just riskier.
Whatever the case, you should know how long your attorney has been practicing divorce law before you hire them.
2. How many cases of this type have you taken to trial?
It’s one thing to have “handled” divorce cases, and quite another to have actually taken cases to trial.
Most cases settle, and better attorneys in my opinion are good at settling cases so court is not necessary. Some attorneys, however, are hesitant to take any case to trial.
While you may be confident your case will settle, it is wise to consider a divorce lawyer who has a good balance of trial experience while remaining an advocate of negotiation. You do not want a divorce attorney who takes every case to court because it demonstrates that they may be unreasonable, may not know the law, or might be too interested in collecting legal fees. However, having taken cases to trial indicates your attorney is knowledgeable about the law in theory and practice as you cannot “fake” your way through family law in a court.
3. What is the best way to achieve my goals?
What you are asking for here is a road map.
Good divorce lawyers with experience will have a road map or process that they generally follow in divorce cases. Some cases require a simple separation agreement and property settlement, however, you need to discuss all possibilities.
In my divorce practice, depending on the case and the goals of our client, we explain the step by step process of information gathering, negotiation, litigation (if necessary), post-filing negotiation, and trial preparation and execution (if necessary).
Based upon our early discussions and the situation of our client, we either gear a case towards early settlement (which has certain options) or litigation (high conflict matters) where settlement negotiations will begin only after the initiation of litigation. In some cases, it is necessary to file lawsuits first to even the playing field or seek immediate court intervention (emergency orders or restraining orders) to address custody problems or deal with a spouse who is not playing fair with marital money or assets.
In any case, your attorney should have a fairly clear and articulate process they follow to get from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be). Do not expect a “how to” with great detail as that is not possible in an initial consultation, however it is wise to just listen and trust your instincts.
Are you readily available to take phone calls in case of an emergency? What do you consider to be an emergency?
Individuals Involved in Your Case:
Will any other lawyers be working on my case? What is their experience? Can I meet them ahead of time?
What is your fee structure? Will you be charging an hourly rate or a fixed fee? What is your hourly rate? What do you require for a retainer? What is the rate for the time I spend with other legal professionals in your office? Will I be charged for phone calls?
Questions to Ask Your Divorce Lawyer
Making the decision to file for divorce is never easy. We understand how daunting it can feel to have to approach a divorce lawyer to discuss formally ending your marriage. It’s important to note these questions and the information provided are just a general guide and do not constitute legal advice.
1. Will my divorce case have to go through the courts?
The thought of having to go to court on top of everything else you’re going through may seem like just too much. If issues can be resolved amicably between the parties, there’s usually no need for you to go to court although there may still be court proceedings.
2. As a mother, will I automatically get custody of my children? / As a father will my ex automatically get full custody of our children?
When there are children involved in a divorce, this is an important question to ask in order to put your mind at rest. There is not hard and fast rule, the best interests of the children will always be the paramount consideration for the court.
3. Do I have to get divorced in the same country we got married in?
Depending on your circumstances you may be eligible to file for divorce in a country other than the one you got married in. It’s important to note that divorce law differs between countries so your decision could affect your settlement.
4. What are your rates for working on divorce cases?
While cost shouldn’t be the overall deciding factor when choosing a divorce lawyer, it is important for you to get an idea of likely costs in advance so you can budget accordingly.
5. How will I be charged for your services?
It’s also important to know how you will be billed by your divorce lawyer. Will you only have to pay at the end of your case or be invoiced monthly for any work carried out? Or will you have to pay up front?
Questions To Ask An Divorce Attorney About Their Experience
1. How many divorce cases have you handled?
2. How many of those cases were you able to settle out of court?
3. Do you practice collaborative divorce?
4. Are you familiar with local family court judges and how they rule?
5. Do you believe it is better to mediate and negotiate than go to trial?
6. Do you have experience negotiating child support, spousal support, large financial settlements, or business valuation? (Be specific about issues you feel will come up during your divorce.)
7. Will you or another attorney from the firm be handling my case?