Six Questions to Ask Your Potential Divorce Lawyer
The following article appeared in the November issue of the “Mendham Neighbors” Magazine, which featured Carolyn Daly as their Expert Contributor in the area of Family Law.
You have made the decision to seek a divorce, or to at least get advice about getting a divorce. You have the names for potential lawyers, but what do you ask them? Here are six questions that would be a good start.
- Do you specialize in divorce cases and what credentials do you hold?
When getting divorced, you want someone who has a lot of experience and hopefully specializes in divorce, particularly if you have complex custody or financial issues. You don’t want someone who is practicing in several different areas of law as they likely lack the depth of knowledge needed to handle your issues. You also want someone who understands divorce is emotional, and can help you navigate the emotions of both you and your spouse in addressing issues.
- How will my case be handled in the office?
In some offices, one lawyer will be the only one working on your case. However, in most offices multiple attorneys and other legal staff (e.g. paralegals) will also work on the case. You want to be comfortable with your legal team and know who is working for you. Will the lawyer you consult with be at all court appearances? Is someone else going to handle scheduling or day-to-day questions so that you aren’t billed at the highest rate? What will your attorney do to keep costs down? You will want to understand how the office works and, if you want the lawyer you are consulting with to be the only one appearing in court, you need to say that in the consult.
- How do I communicate with the office and receive information on my case?
If you retain a smaller law firm, it may be that all communications are with the lawyer or secretary. In other firms, there may be specific communication guidelines. You will want to know who you can and should e-mail, have phone calls with regarding issues and if the lawyer has in-person meetings or not. You also need to remember that your attorney is handling other cases, so you should know the protocol for how quickly communications are answered and what the protocol is for you to be updated on your case. Having good communication with your lawyer will keep you de-stressed and will also help you clarify and define your goals with your lawyer.
- How can I keep my costs down?
Most lawyers will be able to tell you what documents and information to gather and get to them that they are going to need in order to help you resolve your case. Many may even have checklists that they would be willing to share. The more information they request that you can provide in an organized manner, the more you can save on fees.
- How long does it take to get divorced and are there alternatives that might save time and money?
Most people ask this question multiple times during their case, but it is very hard to answer, especially post-COVID with the very significant shortage of judges that we currently have. While the court’s “goal” is to have your divorce complete within a year, that is definitely not the norm at present. In most counties, trials take well over two years, and some trials are paused completely. Knowing that, you will want to ask about what alternatives there are that might assist in getting the case, or certain issues, resolved sooner, such as mediation, collaborative divorce and arbitration to name a few. Find out all your options.
- Now that we have talked a little about my case, how would you approach it?
This person is going to be representing you and working with you to get you what you hope to achieve in the case. So, you want to know that the way they would approach your case, or certain issues, aligns with your goals and approach. You may want a very aggressive lawyer, or one who takes the high road, or one who can be either, when necessary. You may be willing to compromise on certain issues to achieve favorable results in others and you will want to know if the lawyer would agree to approach it the way you do, or, if not, why not? You want to gain some insight into the lawyer and what it will be like working with him or her so that you can decide if that is a person you want to work with for the next year or more.
There is no right answer to any of these questions, but hopefully the answers help you make a decision on the lawyer you want to represent you as you navigate the difficult, often emotional, issues in divorce. And it is why you should always consult with a lawyer before retaining them.
Carolyn Daly is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney in New Jersey, President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a divorce mediator and arbitrator. She prides herself on a pragmatic, no-nonsense approach to resolving family law matters while focusing on the client’s goals.