The time between late January and early April is sometimes referred to as "divorce season" by those who work in Family Law. This is the period right after the holidays and just after the New Year when many people are thinking of making big changes to improve their lives. If you are one of those people looking to leave their marriage, you're going to need representation and you may be wondering how to hire a divorce lawyer.
The attorney you choose will set the tone for your case and have a major impact on how your divorce case proceeds and settles. For example, a more litigation-oriented attorney may encourage you to proceed in an aggressive fashion, consistently threatening to file motions and go to court. An attorney who tends to work collaboratively may guide you toward a more team-oriented process where you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse attempt to work things out without going to court. Personality fit is also key. A client who is frightened and needs some nurturing will not fit well with a hard-nosed litigator, nor will a hard-charging client be happy with a lawyer who takes a more laid-back approach.
Your case may take months or even years to settle, and you'll be sharing intimate details of your life with your attorney.
They will be your advocate and advisor. As such, making a good choice at the outset can help keep an already difficult process from becoming even more so.
Because there are several ways to get divorced in Texas, it's important to have an idea of the process that will best suit your case before you hire a divorce attorney. Why? Because a litigator will not want to pursue a Collaborative Divorce, and an attorney who works mostly through mediation is unlikely to want to litigate. Also consider if you want to work with a generalist - an attorney who practices in several areas of law - or a specialist who practices only family law. Each area of law has its own norms and processes. It's wise to work with someone who specializes in the area of law where you need advocacy. You can also decide if you want to work with a divorce lawyer who is Board Certified in Family Law.
Now that you know whom you are looking for, you must seek them out. Most people ask for referrals from those they trust. This might be a friend who has divorced, your therapist, your financial professional (especially if they specialize in divorce), or another trusted advisor. Not everyone knows someone from whom they can get a referral; fortunately, the internet has made finding and researching any type of professional relatively simple. Just pull up your favorite search engine and type in the keywords that best describe the attorney you want to hire.
For example, if you are looking for a hard-nosed litigator in your area, you might search "divorce litigator near me." Or if you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse have agreed to try settling your case with minimal involvement of lawyers, you might search "uncontested divorce lawyer near me." These days most firms and solo practitioners maintain an online presence, so you can get a feel for how they work before you ever pick up the phone. Attorney review platforms like Avvo.com can help you figure out if your top-choice attorneys have been effective for other clients in the past.
Make a goal of having no fewer than three divorce attorneys on your interview list.
Now you're ready to have that first consultation. Each practice and practitioner is different: some will charge a fee for your consultation, and others will give you the first hour for free. Since your time will be short, you should come prepared with a list of questions to ask.
While the contents of your list will depend on what is most important to you, I recommend always including the following questions:
- How long have you been practicing Family Law?
- Are you a Family Law specialist?
- Do you work alone, or will others in your office be working on my case? Will you be handling my case personally?
- Do you use outside experts? If so, when? Do I get to decide if they will work on my case?
- What is your current caseload like? Heavy, moderate, light?
- Based on what you know about my case, have you handled many cases like mine before?
- Based on what you know about my case, what divorce process would you recommend? Uncontested, collaborative, mediated, litigated?
- How involved will I be in determining the strategy and tactics used in my case?
- What is your policy on returning calls and emails? What if I have an emergency?
- How often should I expect you to update me on the status of my case?
- What are your billing practices, and how much is your hourly fee? How much is your retainer for the type of case I have?
- What can I do as a client to keep the cost of my case as low as possible?
- Can you walk me through the divorce process? What happens first?
There are also a few questions you should avoid asking; frankly, the attorneys you interview won't know the answers. Those include:
- How long will my divorce take?
- How much will my divorce cost?
- Will I get spousal support?
- What amount of money will I get in the settlement?
Lastly, take notes. Your head will be spinning in no time, and keeping a few notes written down will help you keep everything straight in your head.
The Final Choice
By now you've done some homework on your desired divorce method, researched a handful of divorce attorneys, and interviewed at least three of them. Now is the time to sit down, look at your notes, and make a decision.
As you deliberate, consider not just the cost of each attorney but also how they made you feel.
When you were with them, did you feel comforted, taken seriously, heard, and understood? Can you see yourself sharing intimate details about your life and finances with this person? Can you trust them to advocate for you? Does their practice style fit your needs?
If you are diligent, you'll find that your divorce may run more smoothly than if you fail to do the front-end work needed to make an informed decision. Remember, you don't have to rush to select an attorney. Even if your soon-to-be-ex has filed and served you with a petition for divorce, you have 20 days from the date of service before you must act. Breathe, take your time, be diligent, and hire the attorney who will be the best fit for you.
Fact checking kindly provided by R. Melissa Masoom of Hunt Law Firm, PLLC.
R. Melissa Masoom and Hunt Law Firm, PLLC are not affiliated with Robert W. Baird Co., Inc.