Divorce affects every area of your life, from how your family interacts to your finances, so finding the right divorce attorney is important to help navigate the process. The ideal divorce representative will be experienced, informative, and ensure you’re as comfortable as possible throughout the process.
“Look for a lawyer the same way you would look for a surgeon — as if your life depended on it,” New York attorney Michael P. Mossberg told CNBC. “The divorce is not only going to cost you money: Your future depends on how it is resolved.”
In some cases, couples get along well enough to draft their own proposed terms for their divorce agreements. In these cases, an attorney is still needed to go over legal details to finalize and file with the Court. Often though, couples are not well-versed in the legal matters surrounding a divorce and need an experienced attorney to help walk them through the process.
Divorce can be costly and emotional, but having an experienced family law attorney on your side will help make it less painful, both financially and personally. Here are a few key things to look for:
Take Stock of Your Comfort Level
When choosing divorce attorney, you should take time to interview attorneys and see how comfortable you feel around them. The best option will be someone who listens to what you want, helps you understand complex legal issues, and has a calm temperament. Remember that you’ll be sharing extremely personal information about your marriage and your finances with this person. Similarly, divorce can be emotionally charged and draining, so having someone there who is calm and supportive throughout the process will be helpful.
Do not mistakenly assume a courtroom advantage will result from a tough-talking attorney in consultation, as ultimately it is your attorney’s ability to logically present to the judge that your case has more merit — not just an attorney with the loudest arguments.
Find Someone With Experience Specifically In Family Law
There are plenty of attorneys out there who can work on divorce cases, but not all of them actually specialize in family law. Especially if you have children, working with an experienced family law attorney is crucial. To become board-certified in family law, attorneys in many states have to have trial experience and take additional tests. There are also continuing education requirements to maintain certification. Board-certified family lawyers are often more expensive than other attorneys, but the experience is worth it and will mean more efficient and effective processes. These attorneys are more familiar with child custody, property division, and other issues specific to divorce and family law. To this end, it’s also a good idea to hire someone who works in your jurisdiction, as there’s a higher chance they’ll have worked with the judge previously.
Look for An Attorney Who Keeps You In the Loop
There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s going on in your own case. Look for a lawyer who communicates with you clearly — not in legal jargon. Similarly, find an attorney who will keep you in the loop with regular updates and answer your questions and calls in a timely manner. Because it can be hard to tell these things from an initial interview–many attorneys could easily say what you want to hear at first–ask around for recommendations, check their websites and online legal directories for details on their years of experience, or look for reviews of specific attorneys online.
Randall Kessler, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section, says to “ask friends and friends of friends who have gone through a divorce.” He also says to stay away from promises that seem too good to be true. "If you want alimony or custody, and five lawyers tell you that you won’t get it, and one says you will, I’d go with the majority opinion,” he says.
Make Sure They Take the Time to Understand Your Needs
While some of your needs might not be possible to fulfill in a divorce, there are others that your attorney should make a priority: namely, anything involving your children. If you make it clear that your children’s needs come first, your attorney should respect that. An attorney who is also a guardian ad litem has been determined by a judge to be especially trustworthy in representing the interests of kids in legal proceedings. Looking for lawyers with this certification can help you find a better divorce attorney: one who can use their experience navigating complex custody agreements to arguing custody cases on behalf of their clients in divorce cases.
Consider a solo attorney instead of a larger firm
Lawyers are busy, and many rely on their support staff to help them with cases. Bigger firms often mean less involvement from experienced litigators in the day-to-day work on clients' cases. A solo attorney or a small law firm often means more hands-on representation and increases the likelihood that the most experienced lawyers will be working directly on your case. Look for small firms with established attorneys at the top of the masthead, and pay close attention to your earliest experiences with the firm. Are your first consultations with a junior attorney or support staff, or do you have a chance to speak with the top attorneys early on? It's rare for new or prospective clients to have a conversation directly with the principal attorney of a law firm: if you talk directly to a firm's top lawyer early on, that's a great sign that they'll be closely involved in your case.