Divorce is by its very nature an emotionally draining process, and the emotional drain sometimes makes it hard to stay focused on things that are important. Choosing the right divorce attorney is one of those important decisions. There are a lot of divorce attorneys out there, and each one has a different background, a different set of skills, and a different practice philosophy. Divorce is what is considered a “major life change event.” You owe it to yourself to make sure that the attorney representing you is in tune with your goals and has the skills to meet your legal needs. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when looking for the right divorce attorney to hire:
(1) Where do I start?
This may be the most daunting part, where to begin. Personal referrals are the best place to get information on an attorney through first-hand experience. You can ask a friend who has been divorced, which people often do, but other professionals you know likely have even more experience with divorce attorneys in your area. Try asking your financial planner, your therapist, or even another attorney who may have done some work for you on a different matter. Your church can be a great resource as well; many have divorce care support groups.
(2) Learn about attorneys before meeting them.
The internet is vast and full of information. Once you have the names of divorce attorneys from others you know, look them up and read about them. We are no longer bound by contact information on a business card. Websites can provide a wealth of information about an individual attorney. Not only can you learn about education, training, and experience, but you can also get a good feel for the attorney’s practice philosophy. Do they only handle courtroom litigation? Are they trained in the process of Collaborative Divorce?
(3) Meet the attorney in person before signing a contract.
Don’t forget that divorce is a “major life change event.” You are effectively dismantling a financial estate that has taken years to create and if you have minor children, you are preparing to structure a whole new life for them that they were never expecting or wanting. These are big decisions that require great care. You want to be sure that you have a strong trust relationship with the divorce attorney who will advise and guide you through those decisions. A telephone consultation does not give you the benefit of making eye contact, reading body language, getting a feel for whether you will have that strong trust relationship with your attorney. And is a thirty-minute meeting enough? Some attorneys offer free 30-minute consultations, but ask yourself, is that enough time to tell the attorney about your family in divorce or ask the questions that you need to ask to decide whether to hire that attorney? Make sure the attorney gives you the time you deserve in order to make an informed decision.
Choosing the right divorce attorney is not a decision that should be taken lightly. In divorce, you are making decisions about your long-term financial future and the future of your children. So you want to be sure you are partnered with the right lawyer for you. One lawyer is not the right fit for every client. It’s important to find the one that you feel has your best interests in mind and the right skill set to protect those interests.
Rhonda Cleaves is a Plano divorce attorney who is Credentialed in Collaborative Divorce Law.