How to Choose a Divorce Lawyer
The right divorce lawyer can change your outcome, and your outlook on life beyond the divorce process.
Please consider taking the time to interview more than one lawyer to make sure that you are hiring the right person. You will have to work with that person for a long time, maybe a year or longer. Trust your gut in making your decision. If the lawyer you meet seems to be a poor listener, keep looking.
Consider using a referral from a friend or trusted relative. You can contact the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (see the Resources Tab) for a recommendation. Or you can do a Google search of your state bar association and follow the links to check a lawyer’s record for disciplinary action. If you have limited assets and income, contact your local Legal Aid Society (see the Resources tab) to see if you qualify for free or reduced-fee legal assistance.
When you first meet with the lawyer, find out what the fees are, how often you will receive bills, court costs to expect, and what he/she charges for a deposit against the total cost of the divorce. You will also pay for other expenses related to your divorce, such as appraisals, filing fees, faxes, postage, copies, delivery services, experts, and travel. The lawyer should give you a cost estimate in writing and an idea as to whether you will be able to get your spouse to pay for some or all these expenses. Sometimes they will work with you on a payment plan, so be sure to discuss this in the first meeting if you need one.
Read the fee agreement carefully before you sign it to make sure that you completely understand it. Take it home with you so that you can review it while you are under less stress and can focus your attention on it. The time to ask questions about this binding contract is before you sign it.
The lawyer should tell you how long the divorce will take and what your chances are of getting what you want.
Find out how long it will take for him or her to return phone calls and what his/her procedure is during emergencies.
If your husband controls of all your money, you must tell the attorney up front to make sure that he or she is willing to work with you and get a judge to order your husband to pay your legal fees. If you need to borrow money from family members to pay your legal fees, it is important to let your attorney know that the money received for that is to be treated as a loan, rather than a gift. Have a signed loan agreement with your family, even if you know that the loan will be forgiven after the divorce is final.
Find out at the meeting whether or not the lawyer feels comfortable in serving as your trusted adviser, or if he insists on being the decision maker, as you will be living with the consequences. You must be the person to decide which assets you are willing to receive as your share of the marital estate. Some lawyers will make unilateral decisions that affect their clients for the rest of their lives. Consult a financial advisor and a cpa to get different points of view. For example, you may not be able to afford to keep the house after the divorce. You need to do a budget and financial plan to see what is right for your circumstances.
Read books on divorce or research answers to your basic questions about divorce in your state on the internet, so that you don’t need to call your attorney on them. You will be billed for his or her time, so remember to use it only when necessary.
Make a list of questions to bring every time that you meet with your lawyer so that you get the answers and advice that you need without having to contact him or her multiple times. Don’t involve the lawyer in every argument with your spouse. Do not use your lawyer as your therapist or for small talk. Only call him or her when there is a crisis or when you need specific advice. Speak to the attorney’s secretary or paralegal first on matters that do not require legal advice. You will be billed for the paralegal’s time, too.
Tell your lawyer about any problems or important issues so that you can deal with them up front. It is not necessary or helpful to go into a lot of the details, but be sure to give the important ones. It will be very helpful for you to give some thought to these issues and to write these things down to refer to before the meeting. Be completely truthful about important information, even if it doesn’t always put you in the best light. Avoid having your lawyer blindsided later, which may cost you dearly. Remember that the lawyer’s job is to give you counsel, not to judge you.
Follow your lawyer’s instructions and give him or her the information that is requested promptly. Write or stamp “Attorney-Client Privilege” on any emails you send or documents you give to your lawyer or paralegal. Make sure that the it is organized! If you do not have all the information that you need for the appointment, reschedule it and make getting the necessary documents a priority.
For more resources, information and critical insight, check out the full survival guide, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce An Abuser and Heal, now available in Kindle, Paperback and eBook.
We are with you.
Rosemary Lombardy is a financial advisor with over 35 years of experience, and the founder of Breaking Bonds, a comprehensive resource platform for abused women. Although her professional expertise is in financial matters, her perspective on marital abuse, divorce, and recovery is deeply heartfelt and holistic. She draws on decades of personal experience, as well as the experiences of others, to help inform abused spouses so that they will become empowered to leave their abusers and begin to heal.
Rosemary Lombardy's new book, Breaking Bonds: How to Divorce an Abuser and Heal - A Survival Guide is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere that sells books.