If you feel your marriage is beyond repair, it’s best to consult with an attorney sooner than later. But before you make one of the biggest life-changing decisions you and your family will ever face, get as much information as possible.
In many ways, identifying the right lawyer is like buying shoes. You wouldn’t spend lavishly on the wrong sized pair. And no matter how many you try on, there’s no obligation to make a purchase. With a divorce attorney, "try on" or consult with more than one to find that perfect fit. Don’t sacrifice style or comfort. You’ll need trust and a good working relationship with your attorney, because you two will be together for the next several months.
Here are other tips to consider before you shop for an attorney:
1. Don’t tell your spouse. Until you know your rights and obligations, keep the attorney hunt a secret. If your spouse is alerted he may stop paying bills, divert money into a personal bank account, or siphon the joint funds in anticipation.
2. Family matters. If you’re a mom, be sure you only consider family law professionals. This sole focus means the needs of you and your children will be met most effectively. The attorney you choose should be able to refer you to experts in family counseling and other specialties to address your overall wellbeing. Determine how long they have been working in family law, and if they’ve written books, articles, or taught lawyers. Firm websites usually have a biography of their attorneys; if they don’t, ask the attorney to provide one.
3. Ask around. Who among your friends or family have been through a divorce? Find out why a person is recommending an attorney and make sure that your needs fit the lawyer’s strengths. Just because an attorney obtained a favorable settlement doesn’t mean s/he was supportive during the process. Even with a glowing referral, a consultation will help ensure the attorney suits your needs.
4. Consider the costs. Typically, divorce attorneys charge $300-$500 an hour in major metro areas, depending on their experience and reputation. If your spouse is likely to hire a heavy hitter, you need to have an even match-up. That usually means more money. Find out the attorney’s retainer fee, and know what you can realistically afford. A consultation will usually be charged as a one-hour session. Some attorneys will offer a reduced or no-cost consult if they need to attract clients. However, if you want to see a leading expert, expect to have to pay as you would if you wanted a consultation from a leading doctor.
5. Make the most of your consultation. The attorney needs to learn details about your marriage — your children, income, and assets. Based on that information and your objectives, the attorney should be able to discuss what you can realistically expect in your divorce and how best to achieve your goals. Communication is key. Take special note of how well the attorney listens. S/he is not a therapist, but you need to feel comfortable discussing intimate details of your marriage, as well as your hopes, fears and concerns.