Family law litigation is one of the most serious and important activities you can participate in. A few people try to handle such matters without an attorney, but that is generally ill advised. The issues are rarely simple and common sense often isn't enough to navigate through the court system.
If you are facing divorce or other family law litigation, you have to decide either to hire an attorney to assist you or to take a chance on handling the matter yourself. People who haven't worked with lawyers before often struggle in finding the right attorney for their situation. If you are in that situation, here are some tips for choosing the right attorney.
1. Have your objectives in mind. You need to look at the big picture first. In broad terms, what are your needs or concerns? For example, do you want...
- A fair outcome: property division, custody, visitation or child support terms that are reasonably equal or proportionate.
- To punish your spouse. You may want retribution if your spouse cheated on you, which could happen in various ways.
- An easy divorce. You may not want to fight over things.
- A cheap divorce. You might need to keep the cost as low as possible.
- A money-is-no-object divorce. For the record, from my point of view, that is virtually always a mistake. People almost always come to their senses and put the brakes on the spending.
- To slow down. You may not be emotionally ready for divorce and you may want to slow down the process and draw out the procedures.
- Get it over quickly. You may be ready to finish the divorce even before it's filed. (FYI -- you can't do that.)
- Need help starting over. You may have accepted the idea of getting a divorce, but you may not be fully prepared for your new life. Maybe you need time, training, income, new job, a place to live, etc. Starting a new life is not easy.
- A Collaborative divorce. You may want to work with a Collaborative Law team to have a civilized, private divorce where you find creative solutions to your issues. You would need a trained Collaborative lawyer for this.
3. Meet with one or more attorneys. Have a clear idea of what outcome you are looking for. Write down questions in advance and take them with you. Observe whether the attorney listens to you or just talks about himself or herself. Make sure there's good chemistry. Do you feel comfortable with the attorney? Make sure the attorney fees are compatible with your budget as well.
- There are many good attorneys available with different pricing and different approaches. You won't hurt the attorney's feelings if you choose someone else. You have the right to choose whomever you want. You don't have to choose the first one you see or hear about. Shop around. It's OK to interview several and then decide.
- Make sure the attorney's approach is consistent with what you want. You probably shouldn't hire an attorney who listens a little and then starts telling you what you want.
- Make sure the chemistry feels right. The intangible factors can make a big difference. If something doesn't feel right, go with that feeling. Likewise, if you feel very comfortable with an attorney, that's a good reason to hire that one.