You’re savvy enough to know that you need an attorney to counsel you about your divorce. The first step is selecting a divorce professional. If your divorced friends were satisfied with their legal representation, you could ask them for their lawyer’s contact details. Keep in mind that each case is unique. Just because your friend got a good settlement, it doesn’t guarantee your outcome will be similar.
Any worthwhile divorce attorney will offer a no-cost consultation. If they want to charge you for your first visit, run.
Seek consultations with several attorneys. Ask each potential attorney the questions below plus any others you might have. Compare costs. You’ll spend a lot of time with them exposing your deeply private personal, financial, social, and other details. In most cases, you should go with the lawyer you are most comfortable with, even if their price tag isn’t the lowest.
Remember that a lawyer won’t be able to give you conclusive answers based only on the information you provide at a first meeting. Your chosen divorce attorney will need to review financial and other papers and information to counsel you properly.
At initial consultations, consider asking your potential attorneys the questions below as they pertain to your situation. However, don’t wait until your meetings to start preparing for divorce.
- How long have you been practicing law? Do you practice only family law?
- What states are you licensed to practice in? Which state or states have laws that will affect my divorce?
- Are you experienced with child custody cases?
- What percentage of your cases settle? What percentage goes to trial in court?
- How do you charge? On a fixed fee or hourly basis?
- What is your hourly rate? Do you bill in 15-minute increments?
- Do I pay an initial lump sum retainer and your time is billed against that retainer?
- What happens if the retainer will be exhausted and my divorce is not yet final?
- What are the costs I have to pay in addition to your fees (e.g., court filing fees, photocopying, process service, delivery, etc.)?
- Are my spouse and I each liable to pay our own fees for the divorce?
- Can my spouse and I use the same lawyer or law firm?
- What if my spouse does not have a lawyer?
- Will you handle my entire divorce process or will other professionals in your firm be involved? What are their billing rates? Is their work supervised by you?
- If my case can’t be settled, will you be my trial attorney?
- Do you recommend hiring a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst or another expert?
Process and Timing
- Do you think it is better to settle my case or litigate (go to court)?
- What are the next steps and timing if:
- My spouse has already filed for divorce?
- I’m ready to file for divorce?
- I’m the victim of domestic violence?
- My partner and I can agree on a settlement of our assets and debts?
- We have to go to court?
- We signed a prenuptial agreement?
- Do you recommend divorce mediation? What are the process, timing, and costs?
- I’ve heard of collaborative divorce. What are the process, timing, and costs?
- Which financial documents do I need to give you?
- Which papers do you need to subpoena from my spouse? What happens if my spouse won’t provide them?
- Which other papers do I need to provide?
Assets and Debts
- How do the state laws determine how we divide our joint assets? Is it always 50/50?
- Who will get to keep our home?
- What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)?
- Can I deposit money in a secret account? What if my spouse hides cash?
- Can I spend any money that is in our joint accounts? What if my spouse goes on a spending spree?
- Can I run up the joint credit card bills for my personal expenses? What if my spouse does?
- What if I received an inheritance from my parents — do I have to share that with my ex-spouse?
- Can I qualify for Social Security spousal benefits?
- What happens if one of us runs a small business?
- How should I adjust my estate plan?
Alimony (spousal support)
- Am I eligible to receive alimony payments? Do I have to pay alimony to my ex-spouse?
- How is the amount determined under this state’s laws? Can it change later? Under what circumstances?
- Is alimony taxable or a tax deduction?
- How will a judge determine who gets custody of our minor children?
- Will one of us get sole custody or is joint custody possible? What are the various types of arrangements?
- What are the possibilities for visitation rights if my spouse or I get sole custody?
- Will my spouse or I have to pay child support to the other?
- How is the amount of child support determined? Can it change later? Under what circumstances?
- While the divorce is pending, will my spouse or I be allowed to travel with the children out of town? Out of state? Internationally?
The Bottom Line
You might not have the opportunity to ask all these questions at your initial divorce consultations. Pick the ones that are most relevant to your situation.
Takes notes if that helps you remember what the lawyer says. It’s probably a lot of information for you to digest. They might have a brochure with basic information that could be helpful.
Once you’ve chosen an attorney, keep asking questions. Your attorney might bill you for every phone call and meeting, but it’s critical that you understand your choices and the process and potential outcomes of this life-changing event.