Anyone who has gone through a divorce can tell you that it’s going to be a difficult journey. Well-meaning friends and family will bombard you with advice, and the internet is full of “legal experts.” Stop yourself from the going down the black-hole of Google, and get yourself in to see an attorney!
Attorneys are not one size fits all. You should shop around until you find one that feels right. I often say that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but the only way to find that out is to sit down and have a conversation with me. After doing this for six years, here are ten questions that I think you should ask when you are searching for a divorce attorney.
- How long have you been practicing, and what percentage of your cases is devoted to family law?
Experience is important. An attorney who is fresh out of law school probably shouldn’t be handling a divorce full of complicated financial issues, but if you have only been married a year or two, don’t own any assets and don’t have any children together, that new attorney might be perfect for you!
Depending on where you are located, you may or may not have the luxury of finding an attorney who specializes exclusively in family law. If you live in a smaller community, the attorneys you talk to likely do a little bit of everything. Find out how much of their time is spent practicing family law.
- How do you approach your cases?
Some people are looking for what I refer to as a “pit bull” attorney (nothing against pit bulls, I swear). They start out teeth snarling and ready for a battle. This approach is exactly what some people are looking for. Other people may be looking to divorce as quietly and peacefully as possible. This means you should look for an attorney who is open to negotiating and settling issues.
- Who will be working on my case?
It takes a team to run a successful practice. This means your attorney will often have other people work on your file. In our office, the attorneys take a team approach, and we frequently bounce ideas off one another. Ask the attorney you are interviewing who will be working on your file, who you will be communicating with, and how you will be billed for that work.
- How much is your retainer, and how does the retainer work?
Divorce is not cheap. Find out how much the retainer is and what exactly it covers. If the attorney does not use up the entire retainer, will the unused portion be refunded to you? What happens if you reconcile with your spouse? What if you want to change attorneys? Will the attorney require additional funds if the initial retainer is depleted? The more questions you ask, the more you will understand where your money is going!
- What is your hourly rate, and how will I be billed?
This question goes with number four. Most family law attorneys bill in 6 minute increments against the initial retainer. Some attorneys may bill in quarter-hour increments. Some attorneys bill for each telephone call, email or letter. Ask if you will be billed for every interaction with the attorney. Ask how often you will receive an itemized bill. Make sure you understand where your money is going and how it is being used!
- How long should my divorce take?
I tell potential clients to expect your divorce to take anywhere between 6 months and a year. Wisconsin requires a 120 day waiting period from the service of the summons and petition for divorce on the other party to the final hearing in the divorce. Most divorces are not finished by day 120. Depending on the complexity of the case and the issues, some divorces may take longer than a year. It depends on each individual case.
- How much will it cost?
The total cost of the divorce really depends on the case. If there’s a custody battle, complicated financial issues or if two parties cannot agree on anything, the divorce can get very expensive very quickly. If the parties are amicable and can make decisions regarding custody, property and other issues, there is a good chance the divorce can be handled relatively inexpensively.
- What is the best way to get a hold of you? How quickly do you respond to phone calls or emails?
Everyone is busy. Attorneys spend their days in and out of appointments and court hearings, but that does not mean you should be waiting days or weeks for a response. Communication is critical, and a good attorney should respond to calls and emails within 24 hours, or have someone on their staff who can respond within that time frame if they themselves are not available.
- Will I receive a copy of everything you do regarding my case?
You should receive copies of everything that is sent out or received about your case. If you don’t understand what you receive, you should not be afraid to contact your attorney. Again, communication is critical!
- How familiar are you with the judges and court personnel and local court procedures?
Every judge handles court hearings differently. If you don’t settle your case, you will want an attorney who is familiar with the judge and his or her particular intricacies.
Going through a divorce is difficult. You should be working with an attorney you trust and feel comfortable with. These questions should help you find someone who fits your style and your budget!