Why does finding a divorce and custody attorney feel like I’m dating?
Dating is a process. You have to find someone you might be interested in, meet with them to determine whether you remain interested, and then move forward in life toward a relationship or a break up. Finding an attorney is a very similar process, as most people do not just hire the first attorney they speak to when they are heading into a divorce or custody case, at least they shouldn’t most of the time. Because, just like deciding who you’re going to enter into a relationship with is very important and greatly impacts your future, the same with an attorney.
Because everything is more fun with a chart, here’s the similarities between dating and hiring an attorney:
Why is it important to be picky in relation to who you choose to enter into a relationship with?
- Because that person is going to become a big part of your life.
- Because your morals, goals, and communication skills need to be compatible.
- Because you need to make sure the other person isn’t all talk and no action.
- Because that person will be around your friends and family and you want less stress, not more.
- Because you need a person who will support you, encourage you, and be there for you.
- Because you need someone who will always prioritize respect, honor, trust, and communication within the relationship.
- Because you will invest your time, effort, and money into this person and you want to make sure it’s a good investment.
- Because no one wants to split up or get a divorce because you picked wrong.
Why is it important to be picky in relation to who you choose as an attorney?
- You are going to tell this person the intimate details of your life you might never have told anyone else.
- This person is going to devise a strategy for you within your divorce or custody case that you both need to follow.
- This person is going to be telling you both good and bad information and you need to be trust that they’re not just blowing smoke telling you what you want to hear.
- This person is going to be advising you and you need to be able to trust that there is no hidden agenda behind what they are saying.
- This person is going to be your voice and you need to trust that they are going to be able to know how and what to say to make your voice heard.
- This person is not always going to say exactly what you would say or what you want them to say because they’re going to say what they believe is going to get you the best outcome toward your goal – you need to be able to respect that.
- This person needs to be able to respect your goals and desires above of what they think you should do. At the end of the day, the important settlement decisions should always be yours to make.
- There needs to be the same trust, respect, communication, and honor that would be found within a regular relationship to make this work.
Fighting over divorce and custody is never an enjoyable experience. There is always a lot of sadness, hurt, anger, frustration, distrust, miscommunication, and turmoil that has taken place between a couple. There is always a lot of fear, hope, anxiety, and excitement of the unknown future. The emotional side of a divorce or custody case always makes the process more difficult. As much as most people would like the process to be smooth and amicable, for the majority of people, it’s not. And that can be very hard.
You need an attorney who not only understands the law, but that understands the ups and downs that comes with fighting over your future. You need someone who doesn’t look at your case as “just another” divorce or custody case (because no two cases are ever the same!) You need someone who doesn’t have a cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all solution to each divorce or custody case that walks through the door. You need an attorney who is going to be strong when you need it most, tell you what you need to hear when you need it most, call you out on your bull when you need it most, and work with you to get you the result that you need most.
So, how do you find the right attorney for you? Here are some questions that you should be asking and what you should be looking for when you interview attorneys.
- Do you focus solely on family-law related issues?
- You want someone who practices and is involved in the issues you are facing day-in and day-out. Just like you go to a foot doctor for a foot issue or a surgeon for a surgery, you should go to personal injury attorney for a car accident or a divorce or custody attorney for a divorce or custody issue. When someone focuses on one area and that’s all they do, it becomes like second nature to them.
- Have you had a personal experience with divorce or custody?
- Is this 100% necessary? No. But if you want someone who is going to understand the emotional rollercoaster that you’re on during your divorce/custody litigation, find someone who has been there. As attorneys, our job is to walk into the courtroom full of confidence, but you are going to likely feel anything but confident. Your future is at stake. You’ll feel hurt, sadness, anger, anxiety, and a whole other host of feelings while at court seeing your ex. It wouldn’t be unusual to envision running them over with your vehicle while leaving the courthouse (not saying you should – to be clear you should NEVER do that – just saying it’s not an uncommon feeling.) You want a lawyer who is going to understand this and let you know it’s normal to feel those ways.
- Do you work with me to devise a strategy for my case?
- If you get a deer-caught-in-head-lights blank stare, thank them for their time and move on. Part of obtaining a winning outcome is to be able to work with you at the very beginning of the case to clearly lay out what your goals and priorities are within your case. There are going to be a lot of issues that need to be addressed, but you might value one issue as much more important than another. It’s important for an attorney to understand this and want to determine it. If they don’t, they might come out with a good outcome for someone else but not for what is most important for you. Additionally, laying out priorities and a strategy helps both of you stay on track and keeps communication better. It’s easy to let emotions sometimes get the best of you when making a decision, if your goals and priorities are clearly laid out in your strategy plan, your lawyer should always be reassessing your current position against what you said were your priorities. Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all plan. A general strategy is not a good strategy. You want a strategy that is devised specifically for you and your situation.
- What will my case cost?
- The answer out of any honest attorney’s mouth should be that they have no clue. If an attorney tries to tell you a specific amount (especially a low figure) that it will cost, it is highly likely that they are just telling you what they think you want to hear so that you give them your business. Going back to my first sentence of having no clue – the reason for this is that there are so many factors that play into how much a divorce costs – and it always comes down to how contentious the issues become. We have had a number of cases which, upon our first review, we think could potentially be extremely high-conflict cases that end up settling quickly. We’ve had others that look like they should be super simple (because there’s nothing to fight about!) and they’ve turned out to be much more complex than what we expected. So, what influences how much your case will cost? The ability of you and your ex to work together toward settlement, whether either of you think the other might be lying about finances, whether there are any allegations of any type of abuse, whether you email/call/text your attorney five times per day or only when it’s important, whether one person has a “take all” mind-set, or whether either attorney makes the process of settling difficult. You may have the mindset of keeping costs down and being amicable, but like with most things in life, it takes two working together to make it work.
- What is better – negotiation or litigation?
- If the attorney you’re talking to answers either negotiation or litigation, you should probably move on because there is never ever going to be a one-size-fits all that is best for every case. In all cases, there will be opportunities (and requirements) to negotiate an agreement, but there will be times where litigation is necessary and the only true option. The attorney you’re talking to should be able to tell you the pro’s and con’s related to the potential options of your case and give you guidance as to what they think you should do. For example, if your ex is someone who is very confrontational and needs to be in control, negotiating may not be the best place to start – you might want to get into court in case they are not reasonable during negotiations. However, there may be times when you and your ex will be able to work things out without the Judge looming in the background because settling will usually save time and money in the long run. Each situation is different and you should look for an attorney who is able to present all your options to you so that you can make an informed decision of what strategy to take.
- How often do you bill me and how do I know what you’re billing me for?
- This varies greatly from lawyer to lawyer. The invoicing process can be time consuming. Many lawyers only bill once per month; some less than that, some more than that. Less infrequent billing means that a lot of time will pass from when the work being billed for is performed to when you see it invoiced on your bill. More frequent billing means that it’s easier to remember and compare what you’re being billed for with your own records. As for knowing what you’re being billed for, a lawyer’s bill should be very detailed. If you see three individual charges for “phone calls,” you’re not going to easily be able to figure out what those were in relation to. However, if you see three individual charges for phone calls, but they are described with the first being “Phone call to Mr. Jones relating to his concerns surrounding what his child came home telling him about Ms. Jones’ boyfriend,” the second being “Phone call to Opposing Counsel to discuss concerns relating to children’s statements with an attempt to negotiate an agreed upon outcome before filing anything in court,” and the third being, “Phone call to Police Station to determine status of police report and when report would be ready for us to obtain to utilize in court if necessary.” If your invoice reflects the second set of explanations, you’re going to be able to clearly understand what you were being billed for.
- How many cases have you brought to trial?
- The majority of cases settle; however, there are a number of cases that do not and end up only being able to be resolved through a trial. Although the odds predict that you have a higher likelihood of settling your case rather than having a trial in your case, you need to be prepared in case you happen to fall into the smaller percentage. We have had a number of cases come to us because they do not feel as though their current attorney is able to get them through a trial. Unfortunately, being prepared for trial often stems from the discovery process and the strategy that is taken during the course of the litigation. If your attorney has worked your case under the belief it will settle and doesn’t get you set up properly if it doesn’t, it can be very difficult to fix the past and get what is needed to prepare properly. Your divorce attorney should be someone who, has Plan A and wants to help you settle your case as effectively as possible, but has a Plan B in case its not possible so you don’t get left in the dark if the case goes to trial. Also, the long-term effect of the short-term “temporary order” is extremely important in your case. You need an attorney who is not going to not be able to handle going in front of the judge at a hearing on a motion for temporary orders if you and your ex are unable to agree on the issues needing to be decided. Although labeled “temporary,” these types of orders set the stage for a permanent decision. You want someone who is a strong litigator to bring those important issues to the Court.
Just as you would ask a lot of questions to a date that you are trying to get to know and get a feel for, you should not be afraid of asking questions to someone you’re going to hire to fight for your interests in court. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not just hiring an attorney, you’re adding a member to your team to support and guide you through life.