If you’re considering or faced with divorce, choosing a divorce attorney is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The quality of and compatibility with your attorney are vital factors in terms of maximizing your potential to achieve as much financial security as possible during the divorce process and beyond.
No matter how urgent or difficult the situation, it pays to take time to interview attorneys and check out their credentials before you make a decision, according to Melody Richardson of Richardson Bloom & Lines, family law attorneys in Atlanta, Ga. Richardson, who has practiced exclusively family law for nearly 20 years, is a founding member of the firm.
As you begin the process of selecting the attorney that will hopefully partner with you to bring your divorce to as successful a conclusion as possible, here are six dos and don’t designed to help you identify the most professional and experienced attorney possible.
We know that going through the divorce process is difficult, but it’s important that everything is handled properly. There are several different factors that you should consider when you’re choosing a divorce attorney to work with you through this process.
Steps to Help You Choose the Right Divorce Attorney for You
1. Do Seek Specific Experience: While many attorneys could handle your divorce, you deserve an attorney who works full time in family law and has practiced in this specific area for a number of years. Such experienced attorneys will have:
- An in-depth understanding of the divorce process
- Familiarity with the inner workings of Atlanta area courts
- Experience working with local judges and attorneys
- Specific family law accreditations and certifications
- Bar admissions to Georgia, state Supreme Court, and state Court of Appeals
Every person and situation is different, which means that there isn’t a lawyer around that will work well for everyone. It’s important that you find a lawyer that has years of experience working with similar clients. Sure, there are thousands of lawyers that are legally able to help you, but not all of them have experience in that arena.
2. Don’t Believe Promises or Guarantees: If you meet with an attorney and are promised a specific outcome, such as a guaranteed number of years of alimony or that you will receive custody of your children, treat that with extreme skepticism. No attorney, based on one meeting or hearing one side of the story, can make any kind of prediction as to the ultimate outcome of a divorce.
In fact, even when the facts of a case are on your side, outcomes are unpredictable. Any experienced family attorney with integrity will not make promises that may not be fulfilled.
One of the most common things that you’ll hear when you’re looking for a lawyer is that they promise that they will get you the money that you deserve. You should never believe this, especially before the lawyer has gathered all of the information. Nobody can predict the future, and they are only out to get you to choose them, which could be one of the worst mistakes that you make while going through the divorce.
3. Do Obtain a Retainer Agreement: Right from the beginning, you need to understand exactly what the financial arrangements are of the agreement between you and your attorney, notes Rachel Miller, also of Richardson Bloom & Lines. Miller served as the Editor in Chief of the Family Law Newsletter and is on the board of the Family Law Section of the Atlanta Bar Association. “A retainer agreement protects the client as much as it protects the attorney,” she adds.
The retainer agreement should be very specific and you should take time to read it thoroughly and make sure you understand it before signing it. If you don’t understand it, ask questions. It should make a provision for monthly statements with a detailed accounting of everything that your attorney worked on and how long it took, among other issues.
4. Don’t Act Emotionally: Separation, divorce, and custody issues are extremely emotional. However, it’s important to be as objective as possible when hiring a lawyer and determining tactics, says Richardson. Take time to interview several attorneys and don’t be afraid to get more than one opinion. It may cost you more money because the best attorneys charge for an initial consultation, but it will be money well spent.
Most experts suggest that you look for at least three potential lawyers. You shouldn’t ever hire the first attorney that you interview. Just like every divorce situation is different, every attorney is different. It’s important that you compare some of your options to decide which one could work best for you. Not only do you need to find a lawyer with experience, but you also need to find one that you’re comfortable with and has excellent communication skills.
Be wary of any attorneys who try to win short-term battles with tactics such as having a husband served in front of the children because that can backfire and ultimately cause damage to your case and your relationship with your children, Richardson notes.
5. Do Trust Your Gut: Because the divorce and custody process involves the intimate details of your life and your family’s life, it’s important to be comfortable with the attorney who will be handling your divorce. “Don’t be afraid to go with your gut feeling – your attorney is someone with whom you will be sharing many intimate details of your life,” says Richardson.
When you’re doing your lawyer search, you should always look for any warning signs that keep you an uneasy feeling. It could be something as small as how they talk about other lawyers or how they communicate with you and the words that they choose. Regardless of what it is, make sure you’re going with your gut and trusting your own instincts.
6. Don’t Go on Faith; Understand the Strategy: A caring, experienced attorney will outline a coherent plan designed to achieve the best possible outcome to your divorce, rather than expecting you to go along with a “fly by the seat of the pants” strategy, according to Miller. “Your attorney should walk you through the strategy he or she will employ to achieve your goal after discussing your goals and objectives with you and determining what is the most realistic course,” she adds.
7. Ask Plenty of Questions
This tip might seem a little obvious, but a lot of women going through a divorce are scared to ask their lawyers questions. They are worried about sounding dumb or pushy.
It’s important that you ask as many questions that you have. We’ve mentioned that every lawyer is different, which means that they will handle your situation differently. Before you go to meet a lawyer, go ahead and write out a list of questions that you want to ask.
These questions could be as simple as “how many years of experience do you have?” or “how much experience do you have with the judges in the area” or any similar questions. When you’re searching for an attorney, it’s a vital decision, and there are no dumb questions when you’re going through the divorce process.
If you’re worried that you’ll forget to ask a specific question, or that you won’t be comfortable asking certain questions, then you can always take a friend or family member with you to the appointment. Not only can they help you ensure that you’re asking the right questions, but they can also give you the emotional support that you’ll need to get through the process.
Bottom Line in Choosing a Divorce Attorney
These are only a few of the dos and don’ts that you should take note of when you’re looking for the perfect lawyer. There are dozens of different factors that you should consider. If you have any additional questions or concerns about your search, don’t hesitate to contact us today. We would be happy to answer those questions
Going through the divorce process is emotional and difficult. There are very few things that are going to make it easier, but having the perfect lawyer will make the process less stressful.
Learn more about our Divorce Financial Planning services.
Richardson and Miller, whose practices are limited to family law, can be reached at 404.888.3730. All consultations are confidential. You can also email them by filling out a form on their website. Their offices are located inside the Four Seasons in downtown Atlanta at 75 14th St., Suite 2840, Atlanta, GA 30309.