Does it matter who represents you in a divorce? If the system were perfectly fair, perhaps it wouldn’t. However, no system is fair, no matter how hard the government tries to make it, and each person should be sure to get the best representation possible.
This isn’t just a matter of getting what you want from a monetary standpoint. A good divorce attorney can ensure your rights are respected throughout the process.
You should interview a divorce lawyer as if you are a prospective employer. After all, you will be paying the attorney to do a vital job for you, and you will be working with this person fairly closely.
Since this is a stressful time, you may want to bring a friend with you. Your friend can listen impartially. They can even ask the questions if you get too emotional or flustered to ask.
How is the Lawyer Paid?
Divorce is not a civil case where the attorney might settle for a percentage of the final settlement. Furthermore, many people want their spouse to pay legal fees, but often this is just a negotiating tool. It’s important to know those things up front before they hire a lawyer.
Generally, divorce is handled on a per hour basis. There is usually a down payment, and the lawyer will bill you for additional hours. If you don’t ask for a regular accounting, you may not get a bill until it’s all over.
There are some lawyers who offer to handle a divorce for a flat fee. However, this is often not possible. You don’t want to pay a flat fee and then have to switch lawyers. You won’t get your money back.
What are the Court Fees?
It’s also important to ask about court fees. You should be told what you will owe and when you will need to pay each fee. Some lawyers will simply bill you, and this can come as a nasty shock. It is better if you know in advance and can plan for it.
What is Your Experience with Cases Like Mine?
No two divorces are exactly alike, but there are some similarities. Let’s say you are a man who is suing for custody of his children. It would be reassuring to have a lawyer who had handled this kind of case before. Or, let’s say you are a woman who has been the target of domestic violence. It may be reassuring if you can find a lawyer who knows how to deal with these cases.
If you are aware of your partner hiding money or you know that your partner is greedy and vindictive, you may want reassurances that your lawyer is someone who can handle this type of adversary. Are they prepared to get you the best settlement despite the obstacles?
What is a Reasonable Financial Outcome for My Case?
At your first meeting with your lawyer, ask them to outline the laws that will affect your specific case. You want to get a good grasp on your legal standing. Often people approach divorce with expectations that are out of whack with what is actually possible.
For instance, if your spouse has an inheritance, you may not be entitled to half of it. You may want full custody of the children, but the law may tend to favor joint custody. Your spouse may make more money, but you may not be entitled to alimony. You probably shouldn’t expect the system to favor your every wish, even if your spouse has been cheating. Getting the facts up front will save you from headaches and disappointment down the road.
What is Reasonable to Expect in Terms of Child Custody and Child Support?
For parents, nothing is more important than who gets custody of the children. You should find out up front what the law says about custody, shared expenses, and child support. There may not be as much wiggle room as you want, and it is good to recognize the limitations your lawyer will labor under. Perhaps your lawyer can make helpful recommendations about your living arrangements, your job hours, and other fine points that can affect final custody.
Do You Work Alone?
Your attorney will not do all of the work, and that’s probably okay. However, you should ask up front if the lawyer will be the one in hearings with you. Will the lawyer be the one in mediation or arbitration? You are hiring a very specific person, and you deserve to know if that person will be in your corner during these tricky proceedings.
How Long Does a Divorce Take?
Your lawyer may not want to answer this question. Perhaps they will be more willing if you ask them to give examples of how long it took their last four clients. It’s only fair that you get a good idea of the length of the process.
Be sure to tell them if you want to rush it. The justice system works slowly, and, for various reasons, you may need to insist on pushing ahead. There are ways that a lawyer can speed up the process if you give them instructions and incentives. In general, it’s best if you are willing to take a reasonable amount of time to see the process through.
It can be hard to be calm and reasonable during a divorce. That’s why you need to hire an attorney who can handle the challenges for you. Getting the right lawyer starts with asking the right questions.