How To Choose The Best Family Lawyer

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Family law attorneys hardly ever offer free consultations in many parts of the world. Divorce is highly stigmatized in most places. For example, divorce was illegal in Ireland until 1995. Even today, it’s only available on a limited basis.

The United States is different. Divorce’s moral acceptability rate recently hit an all-time high. Now, only 13 percent of Americans believe divorce is morally wrong. Since the demand for services is higher, many family law attorneys offer free consultations.

Many people need free consultations to discuss a current divorce. Most people need free consultations to discuss a divorce modification. If the couple had minor children at the time of divorce, the matter might be inactive for several years. But the case doesn’t “close” until the youngest child turns 18.

Generally, divorcing spouses agree on general marriage divorce principles. But the devil is in the details, and that’s where the agreement ends. For example, Mother and Father might at least grudgingly agree that custody order should be in the child’s best interests. But they usually disagree on the specifics.

Family law matters are expensive, financially and emotionally. A good divorce lawyer reduces these costs. A free consultation is just the beginning. QUite simply, lawyers plan their work and work their plans. This simple approach usually produces long lasting and cost effective solutions.

What does a family lawyer do?

In a nutshell, family lawyers settle cases, at least in most situations. Only about 5 percent of divorce cases go to trial. The settlement process must address several issues in a divorce case, such as:

  • Child Custody: Most states have co-parenting laws. These laws strongly encourage both parents to, well, parent. The old days of children “visiting” one parent and “living with” the other one are largely gone. Co-parenting divorce orders are better for children, but they’re harder for divorce lawyers to hammer out.
  • Property Division: A few states have community property laws. These laws divide marital property (assets and debts) 50-50, regardless of the facts. Most states have equitable division laws. The court must equitably divide marital property. Sometimes, 50-50 is an equitable division. Sometimes, it’s not.
  • FSOs: Child support and spousal support are the two most common family support obligations. Others include expense reimbursement, mostly birth-related medical bill reimbursement, and insurance coverage requirements. Some states use set formulas to set these obligations. Others use subjective factors.

A family lawyer is more than a divorce lawyer. Other family law matters include modifications, paternity actions, and adoptions.

As mentioned, divorces are inactive, but not closed, until the children turn 18. FSOs and child custody orders are based on the financial and emotional circumstances at that time. These circumstances change, often annually. A paternity action is like a divorce for unmarried parents. Usually, these orders only include parenting time division and child support provisions. Adoptions include stepparent adoptions, agency adoptions, and private adoptions.

When should I hire a family lawyer?

Right off the bat. Don’t wait until things go south. By that time, it’s probably too late for a family lawyer to have much of an impact.

Most judges enter temporary orders about two weeks after a spouse files a divorce petition. These orders set ground rules for the rest of the case. It’s almost impossible to win a contest if the rules aren’t fair. If Team A could put five players on the floor and Team B could only use four, Team B wouldn’t stand much chance.

Immediately hiring a family lawyer also guarantees a fast start. If Team C plays its bench players first, it’ll fall behind Team D. Frequently, Team C falls so far behind that it’s impossible to catch up.

Why should you strongly consider hiring a family lawyer?

Only top family law attorneys know how to prepare, present, and resolve cases. This process is different in family law cases, since both sides basically want the same thing.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor wants to lock up the defendant and throw away the key. The defendant wants to walk free. However, in a divorce case, both spouses usually want to move on with their lives. They just want to do so on their own terms.

An attorney helps ensure that a client does that. Case preparation often includes client preparation. Parents with drug addictions don’t get favorable child custody arrangements. They must first overcome their addictions, or at least be on the road to recovery. Presentation involves putting evidence together in a compelling way. Finally, the resolution must produce a clear order that’s easy to understand and enforce.

How do I find the best family lawyer?

We’ve discussed the reasons divorcing spouses should hire divorce lawyers. To find a good family lawyer, look for an attorney with the following qualities:

  • Dedication: If your foot hurts, you should see a podiatrist instead of a general practice doctor. Likewise, if you were hurt in an accident, you should see an injury lawyer and not a general practice lawyer.
  • Accessibility: Professional accessibility means your lawyer, and not a less-experienced associate or non-lawyer paralegal, assumes primary responsibility for your case. Physical accessibility means the attorney has multiple nearby office locations.
  • Experience: Years of experience are important. Trial experience is important as well. Insurance companies know which lawyers are willing to go the distance for their clients and which ones look for a quick and easy way out.

This research narrows your search. The divorce consultation, which is discussed below, usually seals the deal. You connect with an attorney or you don’t.

Incidentally, some people hire overly-aggressive “bulldog” lawyers who fight over everything. This approach is emotionally satisfying to many people. But it’s not a good idea. Most judges assume, quite rightly in most cases, that if a spouse is difficult during a case, the spouse will be even more difficult when court supervision ends. These spouses are usually poor co-parents.

How much does a family lawyer cost?

It varies, mostly depending on the fee model. Most family law attorneys charge flat or hourly fees.

TYpically, flat fee lawyers quote fees after the initial consultation. Once they formulate a plan, they determine how much that plan will cost. If Ben has a runaway spouse and the couple has no large debts or assets, a divorce lawyer may quote a low fee. If Ben has a combative spouse and a Jeff Bezos-sized estate, he’ll pay a lot more.

Other factors come into play as well, such as the geographic location. Small counties usually have streamlined procedures.

We should pause at this point and say a few words about premarital agreements. These agreements are like fire insurance policies. If the house burns down, the owner just pays the deductible instead of the full value. If the spouses get divorced, a premarital agreement transforms the most complex divorces into simple flat fee divorces.

People don’t want or expect their houses to burn down, but they buy fire insurance anyway. Likewise, people don’t want or expect a divorce, but they should be prepared for the unexpected.

Other lawyers charge hourly rates. Most good family lawyers charge about $300 an hour. These lawyers usually ask for retainers as well.

What questions should I ask a family lawyer?

Ask the lawyer for professional and client references. Usually, the family law bar is small and tight-knit, even in large counties. Your lawyer should have a good professional reputation among colleagues. Don’t rely on website reviews for client reviews. Almost anyone can say almost anything online.

Ask a trick question as well, such as “how long will my divorce take?” Anyone who promises or predicts a specific time frame is either telling you what you want to hear or inexperienced in the field.

Also ask about the aforementioned areas, primarily experience. Good divorce lawyers know how to deal with a wide range of emotional and financial issues. They don’t teach these skills in law school. These institutions teach students how things work. Only experience teaches lawyers why they work.

How do I prepare for initial consultation with a family lawyer?

Start with a thumbnail version of your current situation, focusing on any child custody and financial disputes. A divorce lawyer doesn’t need, or want, to hear the whole story. Don’t wast your time and the lawyer’s time.

Furthermore, assemble financial and child-related documents, like tax returns, pay stubs, school report cards, and the child’s honors, especially things like perfect attendance in April and other seemingly inconsequential awards. If you cared enough to keep something like that, you’ll probably be a good co-parent.

On a related note, your lawyer should know if he won’t give you his tax return or she never shows up for choir concerts. Once again, omit the gory details.

Finally, make a brief list of witnesses, both favorable and adverse ones. Lawyers, just like everyone else, like to have some idea of what they’re getting into before they commit.

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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