Selecting a lawyer to help you with your divorce is perhaps the most important decision you’ll make in the process of getting divorced. What are the questions to ask before choosing a family lawyer. A divorce isn’t just ending a marriage — it’s a legal process creating a document impacting your finances and your children for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it’s worth it to ask questions of those lawyers you’re considering entrusting with the job of settling your divorce.
Questions to ask before choosing a family lawyer
What do you expect the overall cost of the divorce to be?
You should know that there might not be an easy answer to this, as your spouse and his or her lawyer might complicate a case with an action (like filing a discovery motion) or inaction (like refusing to disclose financial information). Knowing the range of what it might cost, however, will help you prepare for the cost as well as help you consider whether the more expensive options are necessary.
Are you trained in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods?
Not all family lawyers are qualified to lead clients through collaborative law or mediation, even if they make that claim. A family lawyer with collaborative and/or mediation training and experience gives you more options for your divorce than one who is only qualified to litigate.
Do you feel you’re stronger as a negotiator or in the courtroom?
Some lawyers prefer courtroom battles, and if you feel your divorce could be headed there, you want someone comfortable in the courtroom. A growing number of lawyers are so averse to litigation that they’ve made their practices exclusively ADR. It’s good to know where your lawyer stands on this issue, so you can know how your lawyer might best represent you.
What is your relationship with the client — direct, or indirect through your paralegal?
While there are some benefits to working primarily with a paralegal rather than a lawyer — the first of which is cost — you may be a person who prefers a lawyer to actively guide you through the divorce process.
How accessible are you when problems come up?
This question helps establish the rules of engagement throughout the divorce. As a client, you might be fine with email to handle conversations about any unpredictable elements of a divorce, or you might need the reassurance of a call or even a face-to-face meeting. This question is important in gauging how good a personality fit the lawyer and client will have.
How do you deal with counsel on the other side?
If your spouse already has a lawyer in place, this question can help you know the quality of the working relationship between your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer. If not, this question can still help you gauge how efficient and productive a lawyer is in getting you toward settlement.
When do you work on the settlement aspects of the case?
This is important to know, especially if you’re looking to settle your case as quickly as possible, or, conversely, if you’re reluctant to divorce and maybe even looking at reconciliation as an option. (This also may be a question in which a lawyer notes that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to divorce.)
What role does a client play in your strategy and approach?
Again, this may not be a one-size-fits-all answer. Some clients want to be more involved in the divorce process, while others prefer to follow the lawyer’s lead. But some lawyers do have a system in mind that works for how they get clients to a fair settlement, and that’s important knowledge to have when determining if the relationship will work.
What is your approach to children and divorce?
For a parent, perhaps no question is more important than this one, and it’s often a motivating factor for lawyers as well as clients. For instance, many people who choose to practice collaborative law do so because it’s a much better approach for children caught in the midst of divorce. Even if you’re not divorcing collaboratively, you’ll want to ask about the child psychologists that a lawyer partners with — lawyers with collaborative training will have professionals readily available to work with your children as they work through their emotions around the divorce.
What do you want to help your clients achieve?
This is an open-ended question that will help you get at the philosophy that guides the law firm. Some lawyers like to win cases and put their focus there. Others, like ours, look for the clients to get through their divorces and to the happiest possible post-divorce lives. For us, winning isn’t about the victories we claim in the courtroom; it’s about seeing parents and children being happy and resilient after their divorces, and knowing that we helped them achieve a settlement without rancor, in which everyone is at peace with the resolution. If you’d like to ask these questions (or other ones that might be top of mind for you), we’d love to meet with you for an initial consultation. Divorce can be a challenging process; you should be sure that the lawyer you choose will be not just up to the challenge, but also a good fit for you.