How To Choose The Best Divorce Attorney

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Divorce attorney consultations aren’t as common today as they were twenty years ago. Mostly because the marriage rate is lower, the divorce rate has leveled off recently. But it’s still much higher than similar rates in other countries.

Divorce has almost completely lost its social taboo in the United States. Furthermore, other countries often don’t have FSO (family support obligation) laws, such as child support and spousal support requirements. These laws make divorce a practical possibility, not just a theoretical choice

Personal injury, estate planning, and most other areas of law are results based. Very few people are in more than one car crash, and everyone only dies once. Divorce is relationship based. Especially if the couple has children, these cases never end. They just lie dormant for a few years at a time.

This relationship begins with a divorce attorney consultation. At AskLegally, we help people like you choose the best divorce lawyer. So, when disputes arise, you can go back to the same lawyer, instead of reinventing the wheel with someone else. Family law matters are tough. Continuity makes them easier.

How do I file for divorce without an attorney?

A few people don’t need an attorney to file for divorce. Runaway spouse marriage dissolutions are a good example.

Assume Ed and Sally get married on a whim. They have a terrific honeymoon. When the honeymoon ends, Ed thinks to himself “What have I done?” He leaves for work, doesn’t come home, and Sally never hears from him again.

Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, Sally will want to move on with her life. Since she lived with Ed, albeit only for a few days, she probably cannot get an annulment. But she can get a divorce.

Ed and Sally have no property or debts to divide and they have no children. Therefore, Sally basically just needs to file paperwork. She doesn’t need a lawyer to do that, although she might need an attorney to get her started.

Additionally, Ed probably won’t contest the proceedings at all. He almost certainly won’t hire a lawyer. Therefore, Sally doesn’t need a lawyer to represent her.

What is a divorce attorney?

In a nutshell, a divorce attorney is either a Board Certified lawyer, an experienced lawyer, or a hack. Any one of these three might be the best divorce lawyer for you.

Hacks are lawyers who handle a few divorces on the side, mostly for friends, family members, and existing clients. Hacks can handle simple divorces, if both spouses fully and readily agree on most issues. A hack can iron out a few wrinkles, but that’s about it.

Before we go further, let’s pause and examine some of the common issues in a divorce case and how they relate to your need for an attorney.

  • Financial: We touched on some financial issues above. Most states use set formulas to determine child support obligations. Some states use similar alimony formulas, while in other states, this process is more subjective. Financial issues also include asset and debt division. In most jurisdictions, the marital estate (assets and debts) must be divided equitably, so the divorce isn’t an unfair financial burden on either spouse.
  • Emotional: Child custody and visitation laws have changed significantly in recent years. Co-parenting laws are replacing the old joint custody laws. Children no longer “live with” one parent and “visit” the other one. Since both parents take an active role in the child rearing process, timeshare arrangements are much more complex.
  • Practical: Addressing practical issues reduces the need for expensive enforcement and modification matters later. Disabilities and nuts-and-bolts matters are the biggest issues in this area. If Husband has a substance abuse or other voluntary disability, the court orders should address that disability. Likewise, if the spouses don’t get along well, the orders must be very specific (e.g. when you pick up Jimmy, pull up to the curb and don’t go into the driveway).

 

All these issues quickly overwhelm hacks. Usually, these attorneys don’t even know what issues to address, let alone how to address them.

Most people need experienced divorce lawyers. Experienced attorneys have practiced law in that county for at least two or three years. Additionally, experienced attorneys deal with other family law matters, such as modifications, enforcements, adoptions, and paternity, which is basically divorce for unmarried parents.

Experienced lawyers are a step above hacks and a step below top-of-the-line Board Certified attorneys. These lawyers, who have additional training and experience in this area, usually handle highly contentious and/or complex divorces, like celebrity divorces. Kim Khardashian isn’t the world’s only celebrity. The Channel 6 weekend weather girl is also a celebrity, at least in the Channel 6 viewing area.

Why should I strongly consider hiring a divorce attorney?

You should strongly consider hiring a divorce attorney unless you have one of the aforementioned runaway spouse divorces, which are few and far between. Instead, both spouses are usually involved in the process. Both spouses rarely see eye-to-eye on every detail.

Generally, spouses agree on broad, general principles, like parenting time should be in the child’s best interests. But they often sharply disagree on the details. If one spouse lawyers up and the other one doesn’t, the lawyered-up spouse makes all the final decisions on all these details.

When should I hire a divorce attorney?

Immediately. Typically, judges hold temporary hearings about two weeks into the process. These hearings determine matters like temporary child support and child custody provisions. Usually, possession is nine-tenths of the law. Once a judge makes such decisions, it’s almost impossible to undo them.

So, without aggressive representation from the start, the temporary orders, whether they’re fair or not, become final orders.

What does a divorce attorney do?

For starters, divorce attorneys address the financial, emotional, and practical issues listed above.

Financial matters are often very complex. Classification of marital property is a good example. For example, married people almost always use money from their paychecks (marital asset) to pay student loans (nonmarital liability). When the spouses divorce, there must be an accounting.

That’s just the beginning. Assume Mary owned a run-down rent house when she married Phil. He used a wedding gift from his parents to fix up the house. Depending on the additional facts, the house, along with all past and future rental income, could be Mary’s nonmarital property, Phil’s nonmarital property, or marital property subject to equitable division.

Emotional issues are equally complex. Assume Phil and Mary have preschool children. Two day cares are nearby, a cut-rate KinderCare franchise and an expensive Montessori school. Either could fulfill the child’s best interest requirement, depending on the additional facts.

We won’t even get started on the practical issues. Let’s just say the aforementioned curb/driveway debate is one of the easiest ones to resolve.

How much does a divorce attorney cost?

You asked a mouthful. All divorces have direct financial, indirect financial, and emotional costs. A good divorce lawyer minimizes all these costs.

In terms of direct costs, we outlined the three tiers of divorce lawyers above. Hacks are less expensive than experienced lawyers who are less expensive than Board Certified attorneys. Keep in mind, however, that you get what you pay for.

Indirect costs include disproportionate asset/debt divisions and upper-end, or lower-end, FSOs. Spending a little more on legal fees often reduces these costs.

The intentional-overwithholding scam is a good example. Many obligors (people paying support) intentionally overwithhold to lower net income. An annual tax refund basically becomes deferred compensation that isn’t subject to alimony or child support. Hackers often don’t look closely at the numbers. Thorough experienced and Board Certified lawyers don’t let an obligor pull a fast one.

All family law matters have emotional costs. The case looms like a shadow over daily activities. The sooner the case ends, the sooner the shadow vanishes.

How do I find a good divorce attorney?

Good divorce attorneys are hard to find. Many lawyers are good marketers and poor attorneys. Others are poor marketers and good attorneys.

We usually suggest that people start with nearby divorce lawyers, like the office you pass everyday on the way to and from work. Ask the questions listed below. If you don’t like the answers, find another nearby divorce lawyer, and keep working that way.

What should I look for in a divorce attorney?

At your initial consultation, ask about the truck divorce atorney’s dedication, experience, and accessibility.

The best divorce lawyers devote most or all their time to family law matters. Undedicated lawyers often abandon the cause when the going gets tough. It’s gut-wrenching to watch a basketball team quit when it falls behind. It’s much worse to watch your lawyer quit.

A lawyer’s experience should include trial experience. Family law attorneys are a tight-knit group, even in large counties. They know by the name on the letterhead whether the attorney will fight or fold faster than Superman on laundry day. Fighters get good settlement offers and folders get bad settlement offers.

Accessibility is a fine line. An attorney should be available for a meeting on relatively short notice. But if a lawyer is twiddling her thumbs and can meet you immediately, that’s a bad sign.

What questions should I ask a divorce attorney?

We can’t resist telling a lawyer joke here. A man told his friend he needed a lawyer. His friend advised him to be careful because lawyers were just sharks who wanted your money. So, the man immediately asked the lawyer “Mr. X, what’s your consultation fee?” Mr. X said it was $5,000 for three questions.

Flabbergasted, the man said “Are you serious? Don’t you think that’s a lot of money for three questions?” The lawyer flatly responded “Yes and yes. What’s your third question?”

Your consultation should cost less than $5,000. But as outlined above, you may not need to ask more than three questions, or at least three questions and a few follow-ups.

How do I prepare for an initial divorce attorney consultation?

Gather tax returns and other financial documents. Also gather school report cards and related documents. Even if you don’t need them during a divorce attorney consultation, you’ll probably need them later. A stitch in time saves nine. Assembling such documents now avoids a mad scramble for documents later.

Picture of Bret Thurman

Bret Thurman

Bret is a former lawyer and full-time writer who knows how to simplify complex topics. He received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. For over twenty years, he handled a wide variety of cases, including criminal defense, personal injury, family law, and consumer bankruptcy.

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We’re a team of current and former lawyers, researchers, and entrepreneurs. We use our experience to share important information in an easy-to-understand way. Then, we connect you with the best lawyers to help with your unique situation. Armed with vital info, you can feel confident in your case.

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