Hiring a divorce attorney is a process that most people aren’t prepared for until they are faced with the task. Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events, and making decisions while under duress can lead to less than wise choices. So how do you determine the best person to represent you and your interests?
First, take a deep breath. Selecting a family law specialist is an important decision and shouldn’t be made in haste. These five steps break down the process and can help you make an informed choice.
Step 1. Assess Your Needs: Just because your best friend went through months of litigation, doesn’t mean that you will. If you and your spouse prefer a less contentious approach you may want to investigate a different type of representation. Likewise, if children aren’t involved, your divorce needs may be simpler. Based on your personal criteria, you have a number of choices about how to proceed. Will this be a “kitchen table negotiation”? Or do you want/need mediation, collaboration or litigation?
Step 2. Ask for Referrals: If you have trusted friends or family members who have gone through divorce, ask them for a referral — especially if they are happy with the way their attorney handled their case. Keep in mind that your needs (see Step 1) may be different than theirs. “You will want to ask your friends what their main issues were (custody; support; asset allocation, special circumstances such as relocation issues, addiction, and mental health problems) and how the attorney handled those issues,” says Psychology Today blogger and licensed social worker, Susan Pease Gadoua,
Step 3. Shop Around. Your divorce attorney will be trusted with intimate details about your life, so it’s important that you feel safe with him or her. If possible, meet with several attorneys and get a feel for their personal and professional demeanor. “If you need a hand-holder but get someone who is gruff, your emotional needs won’t likely be met, and you may wind up feeling beaten up by your lawyer in the process,” says Gadoua. “If you need an aggressive lawyer but go with someone kinder and gentler, you will likely feel that your legal needs weren’t met.”
Step 4. Go Toe to Toe. Although it can be hard to determine at first, when possible, the demeanor of your spouse’s attorney may influence who you hire for representation. “If your spouse gets an aggressive attorney, you may need an equally aggressive one,” says Gadoua. If litigation is pending, you may want to hire an attorney who has experience in the courtroom.
Step 5. It’s OK to Switch. Yes, you can “divorce” your legal representation if you don’t feel they are the right fit for you. You will have to honor the terms of your contract; however, so be sure you understand the financial obligations should you need to change attorneys mid-stream.
Not sure what type of divorce you want or need? Read more about your choices and options.