Divorce is a major life change that can be overwhelming, both emotionally and financially. Choosing the right divorce attorney is the first and most critical step to confidently navigate the legal complexities of the divorce process. Finding a divorce lawyer with experience who can develop the best strategy for your case will not only give you peace of mind but will save you legal fees and costs as well. All lawyers are not created equal, and family law attorneys are no exception. Below are tips to help you select a great family law lawyer who will best fit your needs.
- Ask for recommendations – with a grain of salt.
Odds are that you know someone close to you who has been divorced. Most people who have been through a dissolution of marriage would be happy to recommend an attorney, whether it’s their former attorney or another one they’ve crossed paths with. However, you must keep in mind that your case is unique – your facts, circumstances, motives and goals are distinguishable from your friend or family member’s case. Other reliable referral sources include other attorneys and experts who work with family law attorneys, such as financial planners, accountants and mental health providers.
- Decide what kind of divorce process you prefer.
Determine whether your dissolution of marriage will be contested or uncontested. In other words, will your spouse be cooperative and agreeable, or will every single issue be disputed? In high conflict matters, you will need an attorney with litigation experience and one adept at negotiation. On the other hand, if you and your spouse have mutually agreed to amicably split ways, you may be candidates for Collaborative Divorce. While there are only a handful of attorneys formally certified in collaborative law in Nebraska, you should always strive to find an attorney who will not only achieve the outcome your desire, but who is willing and able to guide you through the process in the manner you are most comfortable with too.
- Do your research.
In addition to referrals, you should research prospective divorce attorneys. Be sure to use the internet wisely and don’t just chose the first family law firm you see, i.e., the one paying to have their ad on the first page of Google. Review the attorney’s website for information on their background and experience. Look at other websites like Avvo and SuperLawyers that provide ratings and reviews. The Nebraska State Bar Association maintains a directory of all licensed attorneys and provides a free referral service called NSBA FIND-A-LAWYER.
- Find an attorney with experience in family law in your jurisdiction.
It is important that you find an attorney with experience in family law to handle your divorce, meaning a substantial portion of their practice should be invested in family law cases. An attorney who doesn’t specialize in divorce and custody matters may not be able to provide competent representation if they are unfamiliar with developing legal nuances. Not only should your attorney have family law experience, they should also have experience in your jurisdiction. An attorney who knows the local rules and procedures in your county and is familiar with the rulings and approach of your judge will be able to advise you on the best strategy to protect your interests.
- Prepare for your initial consultation.
Jerry Maguire’s repeated mantra, “help me help you, help me help you…” rings true for legal representation. If your lawyer works harder than you on your case, not only will your bill reflect as much, but so will your final outcome. Your attorney should have an intake process that not only screens for potential conflicts of interest but also streamlines identification of factual disputes and legal issues. When you attend your initial consultation, it is important that you come prepared with information about your family – know and be able to convey the assets and debts comprising your marital estate, all sources of income and expenses and the division of child rearing responsibilities. Your attorney should look for ways to provide cost-effective and efficient services, rather than ways to add billable hours. One of the best ways to avoid unnecessary costs and attorney’s fees is for you to help your attorney gather information and think outside the box. After all, you know the ins and outs of your life better than any attorney, mediator or judge ever will.
- Choose a divorce lawyer you trust.
Throughout the divorce process, you will need to share private and sensitive information with your divorce attorney – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your attorney must know everything that the other party may use against you. Bad facts are easier to manage if your attorney is made aware of them early on. Your attorney will also have a different perspective than you on whether certain facts are legally relevant or not. You must be able to trust your attorney and be comfortable opening up to them. With that in mind, remember that your attorney is not your best friend or your therapist; your attorney is there to “counsel” you by providing legal advice. If your attorney inserts him/herself too much into your life, their ability to provide objective, sound advice about your case can be compromised. The best attorneys are those who are able to maintain a caring distance, to be empathetic yet objective.
- Choose an attorney who sets realistic expectations.
Domestic relations matters are by nature emotional because they involve conflict between people who were once in love but have developed irreconcilable differences. Betrayal, distrust, and hurt feelings are natural, as is anger. When anger dictates a client’s approach to their case, the client may want to inflict pain on the other party. However, tearing a “pound of flesh” doesn’t advance your case or your best interests. If you hire an attorney who will do exactly what you want without advising you along the way, then you are setting yourself up for failure. An attorney who fails to set realistic expectations will not only disappoint but will drag you through unnecessary turmoil in the process.
- Go with your “gut” – finding the right “fit” is a must in the attorney-client relationship.
Not every family law attorney will be the right fit for you, even the ones who coming highly recommended. If you value an attorney who can hold your hand throughout the process and educate you about each and every development throughout your case, be cautious of attorneys with too high of a caseload who may not have the time or support to be in communication with you. If you need an attorney to assist with the division of interests in a closely-held family business, you will need an attorney with a business background, or at the very least an attorney with a strong network of reliable financial consultants. Not all family law attorneys have the knowledge or skillset to handle high asset divorce cases. Likewise, not all family law attorneys are proficient at handling contentious custody matters or allegations of domestic violence or abuse and neglect. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney if they’ve handled a case like yours. At the end of the day, you are your best advocate and you must follow your instincts when choosing an attorney to advocate on your behalf.
Throughout my years of experience litigating family law matters, I have learned several lessons about building strong attorney-client relationships that best serve the client’s needs. There is a time and a place for aggressive litigation strategies, just as there is a time and a place for meaningful and amicable compromise. For assistance with your family law matter or to learn more about Schmit Law Firm’s services, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (402) 979-6077.