Divorces are sensitive and complex. No two divorces are the same. This means that you should never choose your divorce law firm simply by picking a name off a list. Additionally, while the two of you may have shared an attorney up until this point, you will each need separate attorneys in the divorce process, so don’t assume you can just use who your spouse is using.
Establish what your goals are in the divorce process.
Often the best goal is to complete the divorce as quickly as possible and with as little financial and emotional damage as possible. This usually means you should hire an attorney.
A very few couples might be able to self-file for an uncontested divorce in very restricted circumstances. Similarly, mediation may be an option if there are few or no disputes about parental responsibility/custody or finances. You do not necessarily need an attorney for a mediated divorce, but it is very much to your advantage to have one anyway. A collaborative divorce is also often relatively amicable and entails negotiating the divorce process short of going to court. This process also requires an attorney.
Of course, when we think of a divorce case, the stereotypical image is of a litigated trial. In this case you go to court in an adversarial process. The attorneys still negotiate for both spouses, but where they cannot agree a judge can make the final determinations.
Decide what your criteria are.
There is a lot of variation between costs among different attorneys. You will need to decide right off the bat what you can afford. Look into different attorneys’ fee structures and relative experience. The longer an attorney has been in practice and the deeper their specialization, the more they are likely to charge for their services.
If your assets are substantial and your financial situation is very complicated, it would probably be best to hire a big firm to have all their resources available to you. For most of us, however, even a solo practitioner can do excellent and personalized work.
You likely want someone local. Not only is it convenient, but it can be helpful for the attorney to have a good understanding of the judges that might be on your case and the attorney(s) who might be on the other side. Additionally, the time the attorney spends commuting between their office and the courthouse can affect your costs.
You want a general practitioner who frequently takes divorces or a family law attorney. You do not want a specialist in another field just because he’s your friend. You can look into the attorney’s years of practice in family law specifically, their trial record and/or any writing or publishing they do on divorces and divorce law.
In Texas, an attorney can be certified as a specialist in family law. Such certification indicates a very high level of expertise, but there are fantastic attorneys available who are not certified as that can give you comparable service if you choose the right one. However, if you choose mediation or a collaborative divorce your attorney should be specially trained and experienced in those processes.
Once you have worked out what your criteria are, start looking for names of specific attorneys you would like to consider. You can get referrals from friends, but state bars and directories also maintain useful attorney lists: the websites for the Texas State Bar and The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers can be useful starting places.
Meet your candidates — interview at least three
Most attorneys offer initial consultations free of charge, and you should take advantage of them. If you don’t feel comfortable with an attorney, you probably shouldn’t hire them—even if you can’t figure out exactly why you don’t feel comfortable—because you need to be able to both talk and listen.
In these consultations, you should talk about the specifics of your case. Bring a list of your joint and separate assets, income sources, and debts; tax returns from recent and a timeline of important events in the marriage if they might affect the case.
If you and your spouse have minor children, you will need to determine what your goals are related to them and their care. You may have concerns about custody and visitation; who has which responsibilities in medical, educational and financial matters as well as agreement about and responsibilities related to extracurricular activities. You may also have ideas about what you want to pay or receive in parental support.
Some good questions to plan on asking:
- Ask about connections to other experts and consultants who might be needed in the process. These connections will affect both the outcome of your case and your costs.
- Who will handle my case?
- What do you think my case is going to cost?
- What do your fees include?
- What are your policies for communicating with me about costs and progress?
- What problems can you see coming up in my case? How do you think we should deal with them?
- What is your availability outside scheduled meetings and appearances?
How long do you think this will all take?
- What is your overall strategy for my case?
Listen not only to what the answers are but also how the attorney gives them to you. Take notes on their answers so that you do not have to rely on your memory. Divorces are stressful, and it can be easy to forget things.
Watch out for red flags.
Beware of overpromising! At some point in this process there will almost certainly be something that won’t go your way, and a good attorney should be realistic about that. In fact, do not choose an attorney solely based on how they evaluate the likely outcome of your case. You are listening for someone who sounds like they are knowledgeable and competent.
Similarly, watch for professionalism. Being very distracted during an initial consultation is problematic. Oversharing another client’s stories and confidential information is also a big red flag. If the attorney is talking about another client, they might well talk about you too.
Check online for any indications of trouble in the attorney’s professional reputation. Read client reviews with caution since a client’s general unhappiness at getting divorced might color their view of the attorney’s service. If there are several/many specific and credible negative reviews, you should pay attention. Similarly, the mere existence of a malpractice case against an attorney or a complaint filed against them does not necessarily indicate a problem. However, successful malpractice actions and complaints to the state bar can indicate an attorney you should think twice about hiring.
To learn more about this issue or to consult with one of our attorneys, call the Flores Harbour Law Office today for a private consultation (940) 387-3909.