10 Questions to Ask to Find the Right Divorce Attorney for You
First, however, you need to find the right lawyer to handle your divorce. Choosing the attorney who inspires trust and confidence often requires (you guessed it) asking the right questions.
Here are 10 key questions to ask to help you decide whether a divorce attorney is the right fit for your situation.
Are divorce and family law your sole focus?
Some lawyers consider themselves generalists, able to handle a criminal defense case in the morning and a real estate closing in the afternoon. Other attorneys focus their practices on very narrow areas of the law, like taxes or intellectual property.
In Louisiana, getting divorced is one of those situations in which it benefits you to hire a lawyer who concentrates specifically on divorce and family law matters. The Civil Code contains complicated rules addressing marital property and child custody (among other topics) that you want your attorney to know backwards-and-forwards. Ask this question and favor the attorney who answers “yes”.
Who in your office will work on my divorce case?
Different lawyers have different working styles. Some handle every aspect of a case themselves. Some have experienced colleagues who work with them. Any divorce attorney should welcome answering this question and should give you reassurance that the law firm has the skills and bandwidth to handle all of your needs.
How can I reach you and when can I expect you to respond right away?
Asking this question helps to set expectations with a divorce attorney about how each of you prefers to communicate. There is no single correct answer. However, it is important for the answer you receive to give you assurance that you will be able to speak with your lawyer when you need to.
In particular, it can help to talk about what does, and does not, constitute an emergency. Disputes with your ex-spouse can flame-up quickly and burn hot, but not all of them warrant (or benefit from) an immediate call to your lawyer. In anticipation of those moments, discuss what situations call for quick action by your attorney, and what constitutes a more routine scenario you and your attorney should handle on a more flexible timeline.
How, and how much, do you charge?
Cost is an important consideration when getting divorced, because divorce itself can foster financial uncertainty. Divorce attorneys charge varying rates for their services and offer various billing arrangements. Some may propose a flat-fee to handle all or specific stages of your divorce case. Others may tell you they charge by-the-hour.
You should always have a clear understanding of how the lawyer you are talking to proposes to charge you for legal services, and how much the lawyer estimates your case may cost (understanding it’s just an estimate).
Likewise, you should feel free to discuss any worries you have about your financial situation. For example, if separating from your spouse may temporarily limit your income or restrict your access to financial accounts, let the lawyer know that’s a concern. Divorce lawyers understand these issues and know how to address them.
What other expenses should I expect?
You cannot make a truly informed decision about taking-on the cost of a lawyer without also understanding the other expenses getting divorced may add to your life. An experienced divorce lawyer can help you evaluate other potential financial impacts of the divorce on your budget. You may, for example, need to hire other professionals, such as investigators or accountants, to assist with your case. You may also need to anticipate expenses involved with separating your life from your spouse’s, such as those associated with changing your residence or a change in your tax status.
What do you think of my case and how do you expect it will go?
Some divorces are contentious, complicated, and drawn-out. Others are straightforward and reasonably quick. You cannot always tell at the beginning of a divorce how it will go, but an experienced divorce lawyer who has seen lots of them play-out can usually make an educated prediction.
Expect and ask for more than a short, high-level answer to this question. You want to hear how the lawyer understands your situation, what the lawyer would consider a favorable resolution to your case, and what specific steps the lawyer anticipates you may need to take to get there.
What issues or information might change your view of my case?
You also want to get a sense for the range of uncertainty in the legal process you are about to enter. A skilled divorce lawyer can easily list the “X” factors that would tend to change the dynamic and course of your divorce proceeding. Alert the lawyer to any factor that might apply in your case and try to get an understanding of its potential impact.
This is an open-ended question that can take the conversation in various directions. Be sure to keep coming back to it until you have a reasonably clear sense of what the lawyer needs to know from you in order to plan the best legal strategy for your situation.
What tax issues do I need to be aware-of and planning-for?
A divorce lawyer is not a tax accountant, but the attorney for you should have a strong understanding of the significant tax-related issues that arise in divorces. You should try to understand them, too, and asking the lawyer to give you an overview of what tax questions you need to consider and anticipate is a good place to start.
What can I do to help keep costs down?
You can accept that getting divorced will cost you some money without feeling obligated to spend an arm-and-a-leg. An experienced divorce attorney should be able to describe steps you can take on your own to minimize expense when possible. The lawyer may, for example, encourage you to work directly with your spouse to agree on the division of marital property or child custody issues, or may urge you to participate in mediation instead of immediately taking disputes to a court. The lawyer will also likely have practical suggestions for resolving common issues that arise in divorces like yours in a cost-effective manner.
What is the most important thing you want me to know about getting divorced?
Ask this question when the conversation with a divorce lawyer you may decide to hire is coming to a close. The answer you receive, no matter what it is, should convey useful information pertinent to the information you have given the lawyer about your case. It should also inspire trust and confidence in you that this is the right lawyer to handle your divorce.
Have more questions? Divorce Attorney Betsy A. Fisher can help.
Based in Metairie, Attorney Betsy A. Fisher has 27 years of experience representing individuals in New Orleans-area divorces. She (literally) wrote the book on getting divorced in Louisiana. Connect with her today to discuss your divorce by calling (504) 565-2759 or contact her online.