Divorce, like politics and religion, is usually not a hot conversation topic. It can be hard to get the courage up to ask a friend for advice, not to mention a lawyer. As such, many people have incorrect assumptions about divorce and the legal process to get one. If you find yourself here, we want you to know that you are not alone. Many people come to me simply to ask questions, like: how long does it take to get a divorce, will I get a fair shake given my criminal history or troubled background, how much does the past even matter, how much can I get from a divorce, can I keep the house, can I keep my retirement, how much does a divorce attorney cost? There are no stupid questions when it comes to the divorce process. Whether you end up hiring me or not, it’s important that you at least consult with an attorney. What are the essential questions to ask your potential divorce lawyer when you first meet?
1. Communication. What can I expect from you?
As in every relationship, communication is key. A relationship with your lawyer is not different in that aspect. Everyone’s definition of “available” and “fast to respond” varies. Be forward with your potential lawyer with what your expectations are from them in regards to communication. For example, if you expect your lawyer to call only at certain hours so as not to raise the suspicion of your boss, tell your attorney this. If you are terrible at answering the phone, ask if primarily email communication is OK. Ask if an assistant will mostly be answering the phone and how easy it is to talk to the attorney on short notice. Proper communication is very important for a working relationship with your lawyer. Be open and straightforward with your expectations, so no one falls short.
2. Cost. How much will it cost and how can we keep the cost down?
Most lawyers won’t be able to quote the exact cost. This is not because they want to frustrate you. Every divorce is different and the cost of every divorce is likewise different. The main factor in determining cost is whether the parties can compromise on disputed issues like child support, visitation and property division. When there is no settlement, trial is the end result and this can lead to a lot of expenses and billable hours.
Because of uncertainties with cost, attorneys typically charge an advance fee, sometimes called a retainer. The fee goes into a special account with the firm and this money can only be touched when the attorney bills the hourly rate and expenses. So the cost of a divorce typically comes down to time and expenses; how much time the attorney and staff expend, and the amount of other expenses like subpoena fees, filing fees, mediation fees, etc.
So, how can the cost of an attorney be kept down? The best way is for clients to help the attorney acquire documents and evidence, to the extend they are able. For example, when asked to provide responses to discovery, I’ll provide a handout to my clients explaining how they can best organize relevant documents and answer discovery questions. If they can do more work on the front end, me and my staff can do less on the back end. Ask your potential divorce lawyer how much they will charge you and what to do to keep the cost down.
3. The Process. How long will it take, and how does it typically go?
The timeline of a divorce can depend on many factors. An experienced lawyer should be able to explain the process and give you a general timeline after learning all of the details of your case. You may have different expectations on how fast it will be resolved or what you will end up getting from it, so asking your lawyer this question is important. Clearly state your expectations but be open to alternatives. Your lawyer will guide you through the process from beginning to end and help you learn what to expect and when.
4. Mediation. What is it and why is it important?
Mediation is explained in another blog post, but it is basically a special settlement conference where a third-party, impartial attorney tries to get the parties to settle the case on mutually agreeable terms. Mediation is often misunderstood and overlooked. The fact is it works, it often saves people money, and it resolves the case on terms you can live with, without the inherent uncertainty of trial.
Not all attorneys are created equal when it comes time for mediation. An attorney that is both creative in devising settlement proposals, and experienced with the judge presiding over your case can be an invaluable asset in mediation. They can help find areas of compromise and can better advise you why a certain proposal is less risky than going before the judge.
Attorneys that insist on more “complete” victory and not on reasonable compromises, and that don’t have insight on how the judge could rule at trial, could be leading you into a trap. Your attorney could “fight” for you and end up getting you less than what was available in mediation.
In conclusion, if you find yourself in the difficult process of filing for divorce, remember that you do not have to face this journey alone. TLC Law is here to help you through every part of the process. Give us a call at 903-871-1714 to see how we can best serve you!