There are so many divorce attorneys out there it can be tough to know how to choose the right one. After all, family law involves complex legal principles—plus there are umpteen financial aspects in divorce to consider, including financial disclosure requirements, alimony (spousal support), child support, and the division of property and assets.
Before you make your choice, read our list of 10 questions to ask an attorney. You might not need to ask all of the questions—maybe because the lawyer will give you some of the information on their own—but you'll want to at least consider all of them so you're familiar with the concepts. Having this sort of list can be a big help as you decide if an attorney is the right one for your case.
You'll want to know if your attorney specializes in divorces, or whether family law is just a part of their practice. How long have they been practicing in this field? How many family law cases have they handled? Are they a "certified family law specialist"?
Ask your lawyer what their strategy would be for your case. And try to get a sense of how long it will take to resolve the case, as case length might affect your stress level and will almost certainly affect the cost.
How long do they take to return phone calls and emails? What forms of communication do they respond to? How do you get a hold of them if there is an emergency? And what do they consider to be an emergency?
Will anyone else in the lawyer's office be working on your case? What experience do they have? Can you meet them?
It's important to know what the attorney will charge. What's their hourly rate? Do they charge for the time you spend with other lawyers, paralegals, and/or secretaries? If so, at what rate? What is their up-front retainer?
For context, our national survey showed the average to be $270 per hour. For more on the numbers, read our write-up about divorce costs.
Ask the lawyer what kind of other costs they expect to be involved in the case. This could include filing fees, private investigators, forensic accountants, physicians, and/or psychologists. And how will the attorney charge you for them?
Many divorce attorneys will resist answering this question—the cost of the divorce depends greatly upon the level of conflict in your case. Still, their answer might help you size them up. An honest attorney might say it's difficult to estimate these costs in advance while walking you through the relevant factors. Watch out for unrealistically low estimates, and answers that otherwise make you feel like you're being hurried into signing up.
Would the lawyer allow you to negotiate directly with your spouse? Are there tasks that you can do yourself to cut down on the amount the attorney would charge you? If they wouldn't want you handling certain tasks, does their explanation as to why make sense to you?
Based on what they know about your case, can your lawyer give you their sense of how a judge would rule on it? As with most of the questions on this list, consider their reasoning and the vibe they give.
Ask them what they would do to help you understand the tax effect of the decisions you'll have to make. Divorce involves lots of decisions with long-term implications, so you'll want someone who is ready and able to prepare you well for the future.