Divorce is considered the second highest stressor most people encounter, but if you’re already looking for an attorney, you probably don’t need anyone to tell you that. Since the outcome of your case can significantly impact your children, your home, your finances and potentially your career, you need to be sure you have the right person representing you.
If you’ve never hired an attorney before, there are some basic questions you should ask, because the answers will tell you if you’re talking to the right person. Before you hire a divorce attorney, ask these two questions:
Question 1: Other than family law, what areas of law do you practice?
If the answer to this question is anything other than “none”, you might want to reconsider.
Family law is a specialty, just like cardiology and oncology are medical specialties. If you needed open heart surgery, would you want a cardiologist – someone who has done hundreds or thousands of open heart surgeries, and knows everything that could potentially go wrong? Or would you go with a general surgeon who might have an appendectomy scheduled before you and a tonsillectomy after you?
Family law is different than criminal defense, personal injury, real estate law, and so on. While other attorneys might understand the basic concepts, once a divorce case gets beyond splitting the house and the 401(k), it can get complex very quickly. For example, consider just a few of the less common issues where a family lawyer provides much-needed expertise:
- Dividing unvested military retirement
- Temporary orders for custody and support
- Multiple states competing for jurisdiction over child custody issues
Perhaps more importantly, attorneys who focus on family law also know the court, and the court has a huge amount of discretion to determine what it considers “equitable” or “in the child’s best interests”. If you go into court with an attorney who knows which court doesn’t like 50/50 parenting time, or how another court usually calculates spousal support, you’ll have a significant advantage. Knowing where the court stands at the outset helps you understand your best and worst case scenarios and can help you decide when to settle and when to fight.
For example, let’s say your lawyer knows that a particular magistrate relies heavily on the recommendation of a Guardian ad Litem in custody matters, and you get a favorable recommendation from the Guardian. You might want to use that knowledge to take your case to trial, where the burden of changing that outcome will be on the other party. Conversely, if you get an unfavorable recommendation, you might want to try to reach a settlement that would be more favorable to you than the recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem, knowing that you might very likely lose in court. An attorney who focuses solely on family law will know the courts and the magistrates and help you achieve the best possible outcome.
Question #2: What will the result of my case be?
No one can predict with certainty the outcome of a family law case, and anyone who tells you “I can get you custody of the kids and X amount in child support” is making you promises they can’t keep. It may not be the answer you were hoping for, but you should be looking for a lawyer who tells you the truth: “It depends on a lot of things, and there are no guarantees.”
We don’t live in a black and white world. Things like child custody, spousal support, and who gets to keep the house are going to be different in every single case. The court has the discretion to apply the facts of each case and determine what they consider to be “equitable”. No two divorces are ever the same, so answers to your questions will probably begin with “It’s possible that…”, or “Most likely…”, but the last thing you need during a divorce is to be given unrealistic expectations.
We understand that if you’re reading this and looking for a divorce attorney, some things in your life may not be going as you planned right now. But having a plan for what comes next can make all the difference in what your future looks like. You need to start narrowing the wide spectrum of possible results and position yourself to get closer to your preferred end of the spectrum.
A good family attorney will be able to outline for you what your best day in court and your worst day in court will look like; the more complex your case is, the further apart those two scenarios become. You need to know, for example, if your lowest possible child support payment is $300/month, and the highest payment is $850/month. That way, if you get an offer of $350/month, you know you should take it and run!
Everyone likes being told what they want to hear… until they have to face the harsh reality of the situation at the end. The truth is, you may have a tough time getting the outcome you want, or it might be difficult to get custody of the kids. But your attorney is there to give you the facts, guide you, inform you, and fight for you, not hide behind promises or set false expectations. If it’s likely that you’re going to be writing a check at the end of the day, or losing half of your retirement account or your house, it’s better to know that going in so you can formulate a plan for what comes next…like buying a new house before the divorce is finalized.
Very few things are certain in family law, but this much is: the better informed you are going in, the better off your position will be at the end.
Get the knowledge you need from an experienced family law attorney at Kirkland Sommers.