Doing Your Due Diligence: Five Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Divorce Attorney

The writing is on the wall. You and your spouse are calling it quits. Perhaps you already know a family law attorney who you can retain to handle your divorce proceedings. Or, you may have friends or family members who recommend an attorney they used when they divorced. Perhaps you’re at a loss of where to begin. But even if a trusted family member makes a referral, their attorney may not be the best fit for you.

No matter the relationship – or lack thereof – hiring the right attorney to handle the very sensitive matter of your divorce is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Before securing representation, shop around and ask these important questions.

  1. What are your specialties? All family law attorneys are not made equal. Ask potential attorneys how many divorces they’ve handled in the past year. Also inquire how many of those matters have been settled out of court (i.e. without litigation) and – if you have children – how many involved custody agreements. Don’t assume. Consider the situations that may be unique to your circumstances, and look for an attorney who has experience in the areas that will best represent your needs.
  2. How do you bill your clients? And what are the terms of payment? Find out upfront as much as possible about how and how much the attorney bills for services. Most lawyers will require a retainer fee upfront. If you have limited assets and no children in common, your case could be much less involved (and costly) than a divorce that involves divesting high net worth assets and child custody. Be honest about your situation. Being coy or withholding important information about your marital circumstances will not help your attorney represent your interests down the road.
  3. How many cases have you settled out of court? If you believe your spouse is going to withhold financial information or dispute child custody arrangements, hiring an attorney known for his or her litigation skills may be your best choice. On the other hand, if you and your ex are striving for a conscious uncoupling or a “kitchen table” negotiation with minimal need for an attorney, you might seek out a lawyer who is a certified collaborative attorney or has mediation training.
  4. Are there any relationships that may cause conflicts of interest? If a prospective attorney is the second-cousin twice removed from your soon-to-be-ex, you might rethink seeking his or her representation. Although it may not be a conflict of interest for your attorney to know your spouse or your spouse’s attorney, it is a good idea to explore any connections they might hold that could cause you to feel less than comfortable being entirely open and honest with them.
  5. Will anyone else from your firm be working on my divorce? Gain clarity on who will be handling your case. Some busy, seasoned attorneys may delegate tasks to junior associates. Likewise, a paralegal or assistant may handle certain aspects of the proceedings. This is not necessarily a negative, but it’s wise to gain a clear understanding of who else in the practice may handle aspects of your divorce should your primary attorney not be available. Another upside: If there are multiple partners in a firm, you may have access to their expertise as well.

Once you have decided to take steps toward divorce, it’s understandable to want to hire representation as soon as possible. However, taking your time to select an attorney who best meets your needs – and falls in line with your personal principles – may provide you with greater peace of mind in the long run.