09 Jun Finding a Divorce Attorney
Most people believe that they will never need the representation of a family law attorney, and why should they? Marriage is built on good intentions, and people generally believe that their marriage will last forever. Unfortunately, we know that this is not the case for many couples. While there is an ongoing debate as to what the actual “divorce rate” is in the US, we can all agree that it is high. Experts now say that somewhere in the range of 40% of first marriages end in divorce. Other reports are as high as 55% of first marriage and an even higher percentage of second marriages.
So, the odds are not great. If and when an individual finds herself facing a separation or dissolution, it is critical to seek the counsel of a family law attorney as early in the process as possible.
So, what does “family law” mean? When most people think of family law, they immediately think divorce. In reality, family law covers a great deal more than just divorce, and can even offer guidance before a marriage takes place (prenuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements). Broadly, family law refers to any legal matter involving intimate partnership, marriage and/or children, and the inevitable issues that ensue (i.e. custody and parenting time rights, child support and spousal support). When there are children but the parties were never married, there will often be a paternity matter. Family law attorneys also represent parties with adoptions, guardianships, and third-party custody or visitation proceedings, as well as matters concerning domestic violence and protective orders. Additionally, domestic relations attorneys assist individuals who wish to grow their family through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) law, and with the ever-changing legal landscape for same-sex couples.
Here we will focus specifically on individuals who need legal representation for a dissolution of marriage. If you find yourself in need of a divorce attorney, there are a number of initial aspects to consider, including the following:
- What are the specific issues you are facing?
- How complicated are your issues? Will you need an attorney with specific or unique professional experience?
- What are your resources for the case as they relate to the assets of the marriage?
- Do you prefer either a male or female attorney?
- What is your expectation as to the frequency of communication with your attorney?
- Are you determined to proceed to court or do you wish to explore alternative means to resolve the case?
Generally speaking, attorneys who focus on family law work will be better positioned to represent you in your dissolution, no matter what issues you are facing. Similarly, finding a family law firm or firm with an entire department dedicated to family law, generally results in more and better resources made available to you. The alternative would be to hire a sole practitioner or general practice firm engaging in all kinds of legal work. General practice attorneys may or may not be specifically experienced with dissolution actions or your individual issues.
Whenever an attorney is needed, there will be costs. Sometimes those expenses can be significant. Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict exactly how much the representation will cost, but, because attorneys work on hourly rates, there is a direct correlation between the amount of time and work your divorce will take to finalize and the amount of attorney fees that will accumulate. With regard to the hourly rate, family law attorneys will charge an hourly rate that is based on his/her level of experience. These rates can range anywhere between about $150 and $600 an hour (or higher) and will vary greatly in different geographic regions. For example, attorneys in downtown Indianapolis or near Chicago will generally charge more per hour than will attorneys with similar experience who work in Danville or Greensburg. It is important to do your research and consider what a reasonable rate is for you and your budget. There are quality attorneys with varying hourly rates—more expensive does not necessarily mean better or better for you. Depending on the attorney or firm that you hire, you may be able to arrange a payment plan that fits your needs. Individuals with no resources may qualify for pro bono (free) legal services through local agencies or local Bar Associations.
The relationship you develop with your divorce attorney will inevitably be unique by virtue of the issues involved. Family law attorneys have to be familiar with very personal information in order to do their jobs, and therefore it is imperative that a client trusts her attorney and feels comfortable relaying personal information, regardless of whether that information may be embarrassing or even shameful. Sometimes, a female client will prefer the representation of a female attorney and vice versa. Sometimes, male clients believe their case is better served by a female attorney and vice versa. Regardless of gender, the client and attorney simply need to trust each other and work together toward a resolution.
An additional factor to consider is whether you are the type of person who will want (or need) near constant communication with your attorney, or whether you would prefer to keep contact minimal. There are some clients who have a more sensitive or anxious personality and will expect frequent communication, significant aid in decision making, and very regular reassurance. They might even think of their attorney as a quasi-therapist in addition to their legal representative. For these clients, it is imperative to determine whether the attorney they hire will be capable and willing to lend this level of support and attention. For other clients, there is an appreciation of a sort of “tough love” approach whereby the attorney tells the client like it is and uses a more business-like approach to the relationship. Either way is fine – the point is that you must find an attorney who satisfies your individual needs.
If you find yourself in need of a family law attorney, it is often wise to ask trusted family and friends for a referral. Chances are, you know a number of people who have been through a divorce. Communicate with these people if you can and find out whether they had a positive experience with their attorney. Marriage therapists and mental health professionals are also good resources for attorney referrals. Therapists often work with family law attorneys in the area, and will generally have an idea of the attorneys who would be a good “fit” for their patients.
Internet resources and referrals can be helpful, but can also be misleading. For example, an attorney may have an excellent Avvo.com rating because they have used a professional marketing consultant to optimize their profile and internet presence. In the alternative, an attorney may have negative reviews online anonymously posted by individuals posing as clients or disgruntled former clients who did not like the attorney’s advice. Similarly, an attorney can have excellent reviews due to excellent work or poor reviews due to substandard representation. It is important to meet your potential attorney in a consultation so that you can make your own determination as to the lawyer’s knowledge and competence.