When you’re in the early stages of a divorce, an experienced and results-driven divorce attorney can be the difference between a settlement that allows you to move on with your life in relative freedom and one that holds you back.
Many family law firms offer a free initial consultation as a first step. Our attorneys at Sean Smallwood P.A. give you a breakdown of what should you talk about during your first consultation.
Whether your first consultation is complimentary or not, it’s important to ask the right questions of any divorce attorney so that you can be sure that you’re heading along the right path with professional legal assistance.
To help you prepare for your first consultation, we’ve narrowed it down to five main questions you should ask.
- How long have you been practicing divorce law in this state – and what results have you achieved?
Let’s start by establishing two important credentials: experience and results.
It’s important to establish these early on as most people don’t want to entrust their future to a novice lawyer just out of law school – especially if their spouse has just hired experienced representation.
You firstly need to ensure that your attorney specializes not only in family law but specifically in divorce law in your state. Divorce laws vary from state to state and can impact key elements of the settlement, such as child custody, etc.
Next, check that the attorney has the required experience and a good track record for their clients.
Disputes are common in divorce settlements. Ensure that your attorney has a strong background in conflict resolution and acting in the best interests of clients. This usually comes with experience.
A seasoned divorce attorney may offer more creative solutions than a newcomer and may have handled similar cases in the past. This often provides extra insight into how your case will go.
Your attorney should be able to point you towards testimonials and reviews from previous clients that confirm the types of results that they claim.
- How will you and your team approach my case?
How does the attorney prefer to work?
During the initial consultation, you should get a feel for how your attorney will approach and prepare your case: get to grips with both the internal processes of the law firm and the local court processes that must be navigated.
Ask questions to understand exactly how they will approach the divorce and the standard steps they take to teach a resolution.
The last thing you want is an attorney who will string out the process and make it longer than necessary.
Look for an attorney who is prepared to collaborate with your spouse’s attorney, mediate if there are disputes, and work towards an amicable settlement – rather than heading for litigation in the divorce courts.
Litigation is sometimes necessary to secure a client’s best interests – by all means, hire an attorney who is prepared to go into battle for you.
However, a contested divorce can add many months and many thousands of dollars to a settlement. For this reason, it is usually the best option only as a last resort, when all other avenues for a collaborative agreement have been exhausted.
- How long is my divorce likely to take?
During the first consultation with your divorce attorney, you should be asked plenty of questions too.
Your answers to these will help the attorney gauge how long the process will take.
Much, of course, will depend on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Even if it is uncontested, the potential for disputes over typical issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and division of property still exists.
In almost all cases, divorces take at least 6-8 weeks. Your attorney is likely to point out that if there are no disputes, it should be a relatively simple process and the judge should sign the divorce order without any delays.
Disputes and complications always create delays and your attorney may be able to assess the estimated time it will take after meeting you – but their assessment will be more accurate after they have also met with your spouse’s lawyer.
- What exactly will I be charged for?
It’s important to understand the fee structure that your attorney will apply for work on your case. Different firms apply different structures.
Be sure to get to grips with all potential costs so that there are no billing surprises at the end of the case.
For instance, is a retainer required? Also, does the attorney charge for:
- The initial consultation?
- Every hour worked on your case – or is there a fixed flat fee?
- Questions asked and answered by email or by phone?
When divorce proceedings drag on into months, all of these fees will mount up.
You will probably not be able to get an exact quote from your attorney but an estimate from the start will help avoid too many nasty surprises.
- What should and shouldn’t I be doing during my divorce?
You will need to work closely with your attorney to achieve the outcomes you want from your divorce.
However, during divorces emotions often run high and you may not be thinking clearly.
Your attorney should be able to provide more clarity, ease confusion and stress, and show you the way forward.
It helps to leave the first meeting with a clear idea of how to proceed and what not to do (e.g. social media posts that can compromise your position).
What should and shouldn’t you be doing?
For instance, your attorney can help you focus your mind on preparing all the necessary financial information required, such as pensions, joint accounts, credit cards, and investment information.
Most divorces are far from simple – even uncontested divorces – and they are usually a stressful experience for all concerned.
If you arm yourself with the five questions outlined above, you will leave your first meeting with your attorney with more confidence in the divorce process during the months ahead.