By nature, lawyers have to be convincing, and far too many people going through a divorce have been convinced to hire the first lawyer they talk to. If you know the right questions to ask a divorce lawyer, then you sidestep their sales pitch. Find the best divorce lawyer for you by asking these thorough, educated questions in your consultation.
Key Questions to Think About Before Consulting a Divorce Lawyer
Divorce can be one of the most stressful and life-changing experiences a person can go through, and having a great divorce lawyer can make all the difference. Just like how you have to shop around for the right therapist or surgeon, you shouldn't necessarily hire the first divorce lawyer that gives you the time of day.
Instead, come prepared to ask the right questions to see if the two of you are going to be a match. After all, you could spend months to years together, going over intimate details and emotional processes.
If you're heading to consult with a potential divorce attorney, think about having these important questions on hand:
What Type of Law Do You Specialize In?
Presumably, you've made a consultation with a divorce lawyer, but not every divorce lawyer is licensed to handle every case. Some divorce attorneys only handle divorce, and these are perfect if you don't have any children involved. However, if you're going to be establishing a custody agreement and child support, then you'll need a family attorney as well. Or, you can find an attorney that's licensed to do both.
How Long Have You Been Practicing Divorce Law?
For many people, experience can ease the anxiety you have over an unknown situation, and for others, they enjoy getting someone fresh from the books who might have a new perspective on the industry. Ask the lawyer how long they've been practicing divorce law and let their answer guide your decision.
Are You Overseeing Cases or Passing Them to Your Associates?
When you're consulting with a firm's attorney, it's important to know who you're going to be building a relationship with. You don't want to have a consultation with a partner only to have your case handed to an associate with a completely different personality or approach. You deserve to know exactly who you're going to be working with (and paying).
What Is Your Rate?
Money is a huge factor when it comes to divorce lawyers. Divorce itself is an expensive process, and if you're unlucky enough to be leaving a situation where you think it's going to take a long time, then you need to know exactly how much it's going to cost you.
Everything a lawyer does costs money, so you should ask them for a comprehensive breakdown of how much they charge.
Know the financials up front because you can't fire your attorney and rehire a new one without paying your previous one in full…out of your own pocket.
Will You Make Me Reach Out to File the Divorce Decree?
Not every lawyer takes each step of the process upon themselves. When you initially hire one, you'll probably arrange to get your separation agreement filed. However, when the time comes to file the divorce decree, many lawyers have to be instructed by their clients to file. And, the cost to do so might change depending on your state/firm.
Do You Seek Arbitration and Mediation When Possible?
There are so many different styles to practicing divorce law, and you should know what style your attorney has. Arbitration and mediation are two different ways to settle a divorce case outside of a court setting, and they're much less expensive than the traditional avenue.
If you're in an amicable relationship and looking to do arbitration and mediation, you might want to consider finding a lawyer that advocates (and practices) both of those processes. You don't want to feel pressured into going through a more traditional (and expensive) route because of a convincing lawyer. After all, convincing people is their job.
Have You Settled LGBTQIA+ Cases Before?
The queer community also has to get divorced now and again, and if you're settling a queer divorce, then you should have a lawyer that's comfortable navigating the nuanced situation. Similarly, if they haven't taken any LGBTQIA+ cases on before, that might be telling about their personal opinions, and you can assess how comfortable you are with them based on that alone.
What's the Largest Financial Separation You've Settled?
Chances are, if you have a lot of money and no pre-nuptial agreement, then you probably already have a lawyer on retainer. But that leaves another spouse in the lurch looking for one themselves. So, if you're going to have to separate a large number of assets, then you should have a lawyer who's settled big financial divorces before.
How Easy Is It to Contact You?
A lawyer's day can be really busy, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get a response for days on end. You're paying them to do a service and they should be able to get back to you. Make sure you ask any potential lawyers how frequently they're available/check their messages. And also ask what's the best way to contact them. If you hate emailing and they only want to use email, they might not be right for you.
Have You Ever Been Divorced?
Personal questions are appropriate to ask a potential lawyer (within reason). If you're going to need more emotional support and figurative handholding through the process, then you might find comfort in having a lawyer who's gone through it themselves. It's a valid question to pose.
Do You Have Any Relationship With My Spouse?
People generally don't want a lawyer that has any familiarity with their spouse at all. Things can already get messy between you and your ex-spouse, and you probably don't want to complicate it with a lawyer that knows of or has some relationship with your ex. So, it's better to explain who your spouse is to begin with before hiring them and finding out that they're old-time league buddies from before you two got married.
How Much Do Other Paperwork and Processes Cost?
When filing for divorce, it's not always as simple as putting in the separation paperwork and meeting back in a year to sign the divorce paperwork. Depending on your situation, other special circumstances can come up.
For example, we spoke to one recent 32-year-old divorcee, and she told us that she "had no clue" she'd need to get a free-trader agreement written up and signed to sell the home she and her ex-husband owned before the divorce was settled.
Obviously, you can't know all of the special situations that might come up for you, but you can walk through your expected next few months with the lawyer and see if there are any legal proceedings that'll need to happen.
Can You Describe Your Approach to Divorce Law in One Sentence?
Knowing how a lawyer's going to approach your case is super important. If you're not someone looking for a hit-'em-hard, aggressive approach, then you won't want someone that answers with something like "I'll look through every loophole to make you come out on top."
Essentially, you want to gauge their personality and style, but it's hard to do so in a short meeting. So, use a question like this to force them to broach their approach instead of revealing it to you later. As the 32-year-old divorcee explained to us, "you're going to be spending months together and you want someone whose personality you mesh well with."
Settle for a Divorce, Not a Divorce Lawyer
A divorce is one of those "you don't know what you don't know until you find it out" kind of situations. But with the right divorce lawyer, you won't have to educate yourself through Wikipedia wormholes and persistent unanswered voicemails. Make sure when you're consulting a divorce attorney that you ask the right questions. Once you've heard their responses, trust your gut and go with the choice that feels best for your situation.