It’s very important to pick the right divorce attorney. This is a very difficult and confusing time in your life, and you probably already have a lot on your plate— packing your things, helping your kids cope, and sorting through all the emotions and questions.
Your attorney can, at least, help you navigate the legal minefield. He or she can tell you about your rights and obligations, prepare documents and checklists, and help you understand your options and weigh the pros and cons. Here are some tips for choosing the right divorce attorney, and the best way to work together.
1. Ask yourself what kind of attorney you need.
Each situation is unique. If you and your ex are separating amicably, then you don’t need a ‘shark.’ But if you know that you’re up against a vicious battle and you’re afraid that you won’t get a fair settlement, it’s important to get a lawyer who’s got experience in difficult cases.
Talk to different lawyers and ask them about what kind of cases they’ve handled, and how they reached a settlement. Ask to talk to previous clients, or ideally, get their numbers from someone who can personally vouch for their skill.
Listen to your gut instinct, too. It’s crucial that your divorce attorney sees you as a person with a family, and understands your needs and concerns. If you feel that he or she is just treating you as ‘a case’ move on and find somebody else.
2. Stay involved.
This is your life, and it’s important that you’re comfortable with your divorce attorney’s strategy and recommendations. Even if he is the expert in the legal field, he still needs to show you your options, explain the pros and cons, and keep you in the loop. To use an analogy, even if you got an architect to build your house, you’d still want to approve the blueprint and be aware of the cost of the materials. A good divorce attorney will respect your opinions and help you feel that you’re still in charge.
3. Take a bigger perspective.
You may be furious at your ex-partner right now, but if you have children together, you still need to find some way of cooperating with each other. You don’t have to be best friends, but it helps to be at least on amicable or—at the very least—polite terms. Your lawyer should be able to understand these objectives, especially since the courtroom proceedings play such a big role in what happens after the divorce papers are signed. There are some lawyers who attack a case with a pitbull mentality, an approach that will cost you so much more in the long run.
4. Look at court history.
Do your research. What is his or her track record in the court? What were the outcomes of the cases? Is he or she a specialist in family law? You may want to get recommendations from people you know, or contact a reputable firm. There’s nothing wrong with ‘shopping around’ especially since so much of your life—and your kids’—depends on how your lawyer handles the case.
5. Consider rapport and ‘client servicing.’
A good lawyer isn’t just experienced or skilled at navigating the legal system. He or she must also be able to explain what’s going on in terms you understand, listen to your needs, answer your questions, and generally care about the outcome of your case. So listen to your instinct. Does he or she take your calls? Rush through your appointments, or patiently listen to your concerns? Is it easy to get an appointment? Does he or she speak to you in a respectful or a condescending tone?
6. Explore other options.
You can also contact other specialists to handle your case. For example, you and your ex-partner may be able to resolve conflicts through divorce mediation or collaborative law. Here, a trained mediator will work with you and your ex-partner to arrive at a mutual agreement. The lawyers then come in at the end of the discussion to look at the legal details and form a legally binding document.
You may also contact financial planners, parenting advocates or even divorce coaches (these are life coaches that have specialized in this arena). They will allow you to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement outside of court. If negotiations don’t work out, though, they can’t be called in court proceedings.
7. Seek a ‘collaborative’ lawyer.
If you are intrigued by the idea of a ‘collaborative’ approach but, for one reason or another, need to take the case to court, consider hiring a divorce lawyer that have a background in mediation. They may have had collaborative training, or have a reputation for handling divorce cases with sensitivity and respect for both parties. This is particularly important if you have children, or if you and your ex-partner have parted on amicable terms and would like to avoid a ‘nasty’ court battle.