By Divorce.com staff
Updated Oct 04, 2022
If you and your partner aren’t seeing eye to eye, you may need to work with a divorce attorney to complete your divorce case. Good lawyers can be costly, and it’s important to spend your time and money wisely during a family law case. When you’re having an initial consultation with a family law firm, here are some questions you should ask to determine if a lawyer is the right fit for you.
Overview: 12 Things To Ask a Divorce Lawyer
Divorce law is one of the most costly and complex areas of family law, so even though it’s expensive, having a law office on your side during a legal separation may be a better option than having no attorney.
You’re going to be asking your lawyer a lot of questions if you choose to work with them after your divorce consultation. The questions you ask during your first visit are the most important. The answers to these questions will tell you if you’ve found the right family law specialist for your family court needs.
- How will you communicate during the case?
- How can you communicate effectively with your spouse through the case?
- How will they handle your file?
- Ask about testimonials and reviews
- Who will make court appearances in your case?
- Inquire about costs
- What are the typical results of cases similar to yours?
- Who should move out of the family house?
- Custody issues
- Child Support and spousal support
- What is community vs. separate property in your case?
- Billing concerns
How Will You Communicate During the Case?
Communication is a crucial aspect of the attorney-client relationship. You need to know how you’ll communicate with your lawyer and how often you’ll communicate with your lawyer. You need to choose a method of communication that works for you.
If you’re difficult to reach by phone during the day, you’ll probably want your lawyer to send you emails with important information. Will your lawyer be willing and able to do that?
The frequency of communication is also important. If you only hear from your lawyer once in a blue moon, that’s a sign that your lawyer is unreliable. How often will your lawyer be available to communicate with you about your divorce?
How Can You Communicate Effectively With Your Spouse Through the Case?
Information needs to be sent back and forth throughout your divorce process. How will information make it from you (or your lawyer) to your spouse? Do they rely on phone calls to answer key questions and provide legal advice?
Will your lawyer expect you to be responsible for serving papers or sharing documents, or will your lawyer arrange for someone to deliver important paperwork to your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer?
These logistics can quickly become complicated. You should choose a lawyer that has a viable solution.
How Will They Handle Your File?
Anything that happens in court is a matter of public record. Your communications with your lawyer shouldn’t be a matter of public record. You have an expectation of confidentiality when you speak to your lawyer or provide your lawyer with information. How is your lawyer going to handle your file?
How Do They Ensure File Security?
Security breaches happen all the time, and you need to know a security breach won’t affect the confidential information you share with your lawyer. If your lawyer saves information digitally, you need to know what your lawyer does to keep your files safe from hackers.
How Much of Your File Will Be Accessible to You?
You may not have access to the entire file your lawyer prepares for your case. Some of your files are considered your lawyer’s work product, making it a matter of their own privacy. You need to know what you won’t have access to and which portions you can’t copy for your own records.
Ask About Testimonials and Reviews
Many lawyers are quick to assert that they’re the best at what they do, but can they prove it? Reputable lawyers with an excellent track record should have testimonials or reviews that you can view. They’ll display these reviews on their website.
Go a little deeper. Lawyers will only display reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers. It’s impossible to please everybody, and even the best lawyers will have clients who weren’t perfectly satisfied. If you run a Google search for reviews of the lawyer you’re interested in, you’ll likely dig up the reviews and testimonials they didn’t post.
Your lawyer can’t explain the particular details of reviews, good or bad. The information about those cases is confidential. Even still, you can ask your lawyer to explain the type of client experience they provide in general terms.
Who Will Make Court Appearances in Your Case?
Many people choose to attend court with their lawyer. They don’t always have to. If you’d prefer not to be in the room for certain parts of your case, your lawyer can attend your case on your behalf.
Inquire About Costs
Cost is one of the most important questions you’ll have for your lawyer. There’s no way to sugarcoat the situation: many people spend as much as $10,000 on attorney fees throughout the duration of their divorce proceedings.
Suspiciously inexpensive lawyers may not have the experience or competence necessary to provide the representation you deserve. Exorbitantly expensive but experienced divorce attorneys may not provide better service than dedicated mid-priced legal representation. Choose a lawyer that’s transparent about their rates in or before the first meeting.
How Expensive Will Your Divorce Be?
The average cost of divorce will vary from state to state. Your divorce lawyer should be familiar with the amount that most people spend before their settlement agreement in your state.
Expenses will also vary based on the way you choose to get divorced. If you’re only using a divorce lawyer to complete basic paperwork in a simple divorce, it won’t be as expensive as using a lawyer for a lengthy heavily contested divorce. Ask your lawyer for a ballpark of what you can expect to spend.
How Can You Limit Divorce Costs?
If price is an important factor, ask your lawyer what you can do to limit the costs of your divorce. Your divorce lawyer may recommend utilizing certain divorce procedures to reduce the amount you’ll spend in legal fees from state to finish. For example, attempting divorce mediation can be less expensive than going straight to litigation.
What Are the Typical Results of Cases Similar to Yours?
Your lawyer can’t tell you exactly how cases like yours work out, but they can give you reasonable expectations. No lawyer can guarantee results, but an experienced lawyer should be able to tell you what the most likely scenario will be.
If you don’t like what the lawyer has to say, ask if there’s anything they can do to help you change the trajectory of your situation.
Who Should Move Out of the Family House?
The family house will eventually become an important property issue. If no one has filed a preliminary injunction or another court order that requires someone to leave, ask your lawyer what should happen next.
Can either of you make the other one leave? Should you both stay? Do you need to move out? Should your spouse move out? Your lawyer should have the answer.
Your children are the most important aspect of your divorce. They may feel caught in the middle. It’s important to choose a child custody agreement that prioritizes the well-being of your children, and you need to begin that process as soon as possible.
What Is Legal Custody?
Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make important decisions for the child. This usually translates to decisions about a child’s healthcare or education. Many couples choose to share legal custody after a divorce.
What Is Physical Custody?
Physical custody refers to which parent the children will live with. In situations of sole physical custody, the children stay with one parent. They may have limited visitation with the other parent. With joint physical custody, the children can split their time between two homes. When possible, this is usually the ideal outcome.
What Custody Arrangement Makes the Most Sense for Your Situation?
Ask your lawyer which type of custody arrangement will work best for your family. There are many considerations that factor into the proper custody agreement, including your spouse’s attorney, your financial situation, and your safety (if there is domestic violence or physical/verbal abuse).
In addition to asking a lawyer, consider asking a family counselor. An impartial family counselor can ask your children about what would make them feel more comfortable. Take their feelings into consideration.
Child Support and Spousal Support
Not all partners are eligible to receive child support or spousal support. Ask your lawyer if you’d qualify for either. If you do, ask your lawyer about what to expect.
How Much Will You Recieve?
Child support averages vary wildly from state to state. Your lawyer will know what the average child support payment is in your area, and how your household income will affect your payment.
States use a formula to calculate spousal support when one spouse is eligible. If you know your partner’s income, your lawyer may be able to help you estimate how much spousal support you can expect to receive.
It’s important to remember that alimony is separate from child support. Family law attorneys will be able to help with both.
Will the Amount of Child Support and/or Spousal Support Vary Over Time?
Child support eventually stops coming in when children turn 18. There are some circumstances where child support may continue for longer. If you share a child with special needs, your spouse may be required to pay child support for longer. Your lawyer will know.
Spousal support can vary over time if either party experiences a significant change in income. It can stop entirely if the spouse receiving support gets remarried.
What Is Community vs. Separate Property in Your Case?
States have different laws regarding marital property. Some states use common law property, where assets placed in someone’s name are generally recognized as their property. Other states use community property, where almost any asset obtained during a marriage technically belongs to both spouses.
Ask your lawyer how your state’s property laws will affect the division of property during your divorce.
Lawyers are a hefty expense, and you’ll need to budget for the costs. You need to know that your lawyer is transparent with their fees, as well as when the bill will come due.
How Much Will Services Cost?
Some lawyers charge a flat rate for basic services, like completing or reviewing paperwork on your behalf. You should ask outright what you can expect to pay for services.
What Are the Hourly Rates?
The average hourly rate for a lawyer will vary depending on the city you live in. Hourly rates are usually somewhere between $200 and $575. This is a wide disparity. You need to be sure that your lawyer is charging a rate you feel is reasonable and that you’re prepared to pay that amount.
What Is the Billing Schedule?
Lawyers each bill according to their own schedules. You need to know whether you can expect to receive a bill weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
What You Should Do With Billing Questions?
If you have questions about your bill or if you feel you’ve been billed incorrectly, you need to know who to talk to about your bill. Is there a dispute resolution process? How long do you have to pay each bill? The best time to have this information is before you receive your first bill.
Using Divorce.com’s Network of Trusted Lawyers
Divorce.com can connect you with a local lawyer experienced in family law. Many people are cost conscious when they choose to work with a lawyer, and we know that.
That’s why our independent lawyers agree to offer no-cost consultations to Divorce.com customers, as well as discounts on their hourly rates. If you need a reliable lawyer, let us help you start your search.
You have a lot of important questions to ask a lawyer before you decide to work with them. Choose a lawyer you feel comfortable with. It’s better to take your time finding the right lawyer than it is to be unhappy with the outcome of your divorce or to switch lawyers during your divorce. Divorce.com can help you find a lawyer that will work for you.