Hiring a Divorce Lawyer

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Sometimes a divorce can be handled amicably without the need for an attorney’s help. In those situations, the spouses would represent themselves with little or no help from a lawyer. Depending on the circumstances, there are times when a divorce lawyer can help clarify the law with respect to important issues (such as custody, support, visitation, property division, etc.) and represent your interests when and/or if you feel you need such assistance. So what should you consider when looking for a divorce lawyer?

Finding the Right Person

Working with a divorce lawyer is different from working with lawyers who specialize in other areas. You will have to talk about very personal matters and may have to deal with issues you feel very emotional about, such as separation from your spouse, the care of your children, and possible hostility from your spouse. For this reason, the first factor in finding the best divorce attorney is selecting someone you feel comfortable with and feel you can confide in and trust.

This trust is based in part on the lawyer’s agreement with you on how the case should be handled. If you want to negotiate without litigation and work things out in the most amicable way possible, you want an attorney who is experienced in this kind of approach and who is supportive of you in the process. Alternately, if your spouse has been abusive or manipulative, you will want an attorney who can deal with that behavior and get you a fair settlement.

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Necessary Experience

Your divorce attorney should be experienced in divorce work and at least 50% of his or her practice should be divorce work, it that’s possible. In very small towns and rural areas that might not be practicable. Your divorce attorney needs more than just general divorce experience, however, she or he needs to have experience in the specific issues that need to be resolved in your case. Suppose, for example, you have a dispute over child custody that’s based on religious differences. That’s a very special case and you should have an attorney with that kind of custody dispute experience. Or suppose you have a business that isn’t very valuable at the moment, but is expected to grow dramatically in the next two years. You will want to find a divorce lawyer who has experience in valuing companies in this kind of situation.

Avoid Conflicts of Interest

There are several ways that a conflict of interest can arise for a divorce lawyer. Depending on the type and level of the conflict, the attorney will either have to resign from the case, or get a conflict of interest wavier from the client’s spouse. The most obvious conflict of interest in the divorce setting would be when one lawyer agreed to represent both parties. This is generally always prohibited and any ethical lawyer would refuse to represent both clients. However, conflicts of interest can also arise in more subtle ways during a divorce.

A lawyer has a very strong duty of loyalty and confidentiality to his clients. This means that if a lawyer consults with a potential client during the divorce proceedings, it would be a conflict of interest for the attorney to later decide to represent the other spouse even if the first spouse decided not to hire the attorney after the consultation. This is because sensitive information will often arise during the consultation that could be used against the spouse.

A conflict of interest can also arise if the attorney represented both of the spouses at one point during the marriage, and at separation one spouse wants to retain the attorney during the divorce proceedings. Depending on the nature of the previous representation, the attorney could have information about the opposing party that could be used in the divorce negotiations.  An attorney who is friends with either spouse, associated with the couple during the marriage, or is a family member should also be avoided because of the potential for conflicting interests.

When there is a conflict of interest found, any judgment of a divorce proceeding may be overturned. To ensure that there is no conflict of interest, the best thing to do is to get a referral from the conflicted attorney or find a divorce lawyer that has no relationship to either party.

Questions to Ask

Here are some questions you can ask a prospective divorce lawyer:

  • How long have you been doing divorce work?
  • What percentage of your practice is divorce work?
  • Do you consider yourself a specialist in this area of law, and, if so, have you been certified (provided the state certifies legal specialists)? If not, what bar groups or other professional organizations do you belong to where the focus is in this particular area of law?
  • Have you handled cases that involved the issues in my case? (Child custody disputes, business valuation, dividing a pension, spousal support for a disabled spouse…)
  • If so, how many?
  • Is there any issue in my case you have not handled before?
  • What percentage of your past divorce cases have gone to trial? (Avoid lawyers with more than 10%.)
  • What percentage of those trials did you win?
  • What kind of temporary arrangements can be made for support, housing, transportation, and custody?
  • How do you think the property in this case will be divided?
  • Can I win custody?
  • Who will have to pay child support, and how much will it be?
  • How long will a divorce take?
  • What are my options for a cooperative resolution using techniques like collaborative divorce or mediation?
  • How much do your services cost, how much would I have to pay in advance, and when would I have to pay the rest?
  • How much do you think this case might cost me in terms of legal fees and costs?

After considering all of these issues, you should select the divorce lawyer who most closely meets these criteria:

  • You feel comfortable with the lawyer;
  • The attorney agrees with the way you want to approach the case and is supportive;
  • The attorney has extensive experience in divorce law and divorce law makes up all or a large part of his or her practice;
  • The lawyer has experience with the particular issues in your case;
  • You like the way the lawyer discusses the case; and
  • The costs are affordable for you.

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Firing Your Attorney

You, as the client, have a nearly absolute right to discharge your current lawyer and hire another lawyer. You may do whether or not you have a reason anyone else would agree with, or even for no reason at all.

The major exception to your absolute right to bring in new counsel would be if you tried to do so just before, or during, a trial or hearing. In such circumstances courts tend to frown on substitutions because they recognize them as delaying tactics or gamesmanship. As it takes time for a new lawyer to get up to speed, and could seriously prejudice the other side and waste judicial resources, courts permit last minute substitutions only for extra-ordinary good reasons, such as a conflict of interest.

Where to Find a Divorce Attorney

Click here, to find an experienced divorce lawyer in your area. You can search by locale or by legal specialty.

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