We consult professionals about almost every aspect of our lives. We visit doctors to know whether we’re healthy. We go to accountants to discuss what we might do to reduce our tax liability. We even sit down with estate planning attorneys to make plans for our assets after we pass away.
A divorce lawyer is no different. While you don’t need to choose the first lawyer you consult with, you want to make sure you’re seeking out true, professional divorce attorneys and that you’re choosing the right questions to ask a divorce lawyer so that the process is as efficient as possible.
Making the Right Choice
There are lots of lawyers out there, and many advertise themselves as “family law” or “divorce” attorneys. However, family law is technically a sub-specialty that involves complex legal principles, which take time and experience to master.
Within the area of family law, there are even further sub-specialties, such as custody law, international custody law, guardianship, etc. It is extremely important to hire a good lawyer early in your divorce process, but how do you determine who is a “good” lawyer for your situation? What questions to ask a divorce lawyer during a consultation?
Preparing a list of questions to ask a divorce attorney before hiring them helps you narrow down the best attorney for your legal needs. Here is a list asked from the point of view of a potential divorcee looking for an attorney:
“How Much of Your Practice Is Devoted to Family Law?”
You don’t want to hire someone who is just starting out in the practice of family law. There are many intricacies and nuances that can only be learned with experience. Now is not the time to give the “rookie” a chance – experience trumps personality, affordability, or charm in this situation.
“How Do You Charge for Your Time?”
Some attorneys have different rates for their time, whether in court or out of court, and you need to know this upfront. In addition, you want to know in what increments of time you will be billed. Some attorneys break down their time into portions of an hour, while other attorneys will charge a minimum for drafting letters or appearing in court.
When you partner with our family law firm, you can rest assured that you’ll know everything about our payment plan from the very beginning.
“How Much Will a Divorce Cost?”
Do not expect the attorney to give you a specific quote on fees, but they should be able to give you a rough estimate and a list of services covered by that estimate. More experienced lawyers should be able to provide you with a roadmap of the process and the cost of each step.
You should be very skeptical about an attorney who quotes you a fixed rate or guarantees that your entire divorce will only cost a certain amount. Remember – you get what you pay for.
“Do You Prefer to Negotiate and Settle, and What Is Your Attitude Toward Mediation?”
You will be best served by an attorney who is looking for ways to solve problems, not to create disagreements or make them worse. An attorney who is willing to try all possible avenues to resolve your case can help make your divorce less costly, both financially and emotionally.
“How Often Do You Reach a Divorce Settlement Out of Court?”
Building on the question before this, ask the attorney how often they reach an out-of-court agreement in divorce cases. Anyone can say they prefer mediation to get your business, but after you hire them you might discover they rarely ever settle cases. An attorney who has the skills to resolve a case out of court is someone you should look more closely at. Attorneys who typically take divorce cases to trial might do so as a way to keep the billing rates up.
“How Will You Communicate with Me When Needed?”
Whether it’s via email, phone calls, or text messages, you need to know how an attorney best communicates with their clients and the time frame in which they communicate. You don’t want to have an unfulfilled expectation of how long you need to wait for a response from the attorney – that will only cause frustration on your part.
“Can You Explain the Legal Issues in My Case, as Well as the Legal Process?”
A solid attorney should be able to easily identify and explain the legal issues surrounding your case. You do not want to hire an attorney who must refer back to the law book every time you have a question.
After all, legal textbooks only give so much information. You want someone familiar with both divorce proceedings and state law.
Referring to legal resources may be necessary if your case has unique legal issues or if the law has recently changed. This scenario differs from someone who needs to look up the most basic elements of Alabama divorce law.
“What’s Your Experience with LGBTQ+ Divorces?”
This question won’t apply to everyone, but it’s one of the most important questions to ask a divorce lawyer if it does apply to you. You need a family law attorney who will strongly defend your rights. Finding an attorney who is an ally is best. Some attorneys claim to support same-sex marriages, but it comes out during the divorce proceedings that they are not true supporters. Because same-sex marriages often have different issues to resolve, you want someone who has a history of successfully resolving divorces involving LGBTQ+ individuals.
“What’s Your Experience with High-Conflict Divorce Cases?”
This question is also one that won’t apply to everyone. However, it’s important if you expect your divorce to be adversarial. High-conflict divorces are more likely to wind up in trial as neither side typically wants to compromise. In this type of situation, you want a divorce lawyer who is a strong negotiator and skilled in the courtroom.
“What Is Your Game Plan or Strategy for Handling My Case?”
Your attorney should be prepared to provide you with their overall strategy, even if it isn’t as detailed at first as it will be. You want your attorney to be proactive and not just reactive, which will save you time and money in the long run.
Remember, your case’s strategy may change during the course of the proceedings, but its end goal should remain the same and be fully communicated to you.
“Do You Have Experience Working Against the Opposing Attorney (if There Is One Already Involved)?”
This may not be important to everyone, but it is helpful to know whether or not your attorney has dealt with opposing counsel in the past, especially if they know their weaknesses, preferences, or tendencies.
If they have had previous experience with the opposing counsel, your attorney can better speculate how the case might proceed. If your attorney doesn’t know the opposing attorney, it is appropriate for you to ask them to do some research.
“Do You Know the Family Court Judges Well?”
Once you’ve asked whether the attorney knows your spouse’s lawyer, ask how well they know the family court judges in your jurisdiction. It’s beneficial to have an attorney who knows how the local judges tend to rule. For example, maybe the judge in your case is very strict on certain types of custody arrangements. This knowledge can help you build a more effective strategy as your divorce proceeds. The more prepared you are with questions for a divorce lawyer, the better your short list of favorites will be.
“Will I Receive Copies of All the Documents You Generate and Receive Regarding My Case?”
The right attorney will provide their clients with copies of everything that is received or sent out. You don’t want an attorney who is so busy that they forget to send you any documents that require your consideration.
“How Can I Keep the Cost of My Divorce Down?”
You may ask your lawyer: “Are there tasks that I can do myself to cut down on the amount you will charge me?”
If your attorney has any integrity, and if it’s at all possible, they should be able to enlist your help with certain tasks, especially if that will save them time. A decent attorney’s end goal should not be to extrapolate as much money as possible from their clients.
“Can You Predict My Case’s Outcome?”
No divorce attorney can predict outcomes with unmatched accuracy. A seasoned divorce lawyer can give you a probability (likelihood) of which way the case will go. However, they can’t guarantee anything. What’s more, they must hear the facts of the case in detail first before saying which way a case is likely to go.
When a lawyer tells you that you’ll “definitely” get a certain asset, custody, etc., it’s time to find another lawyer. This attorney is telling you what they think you want to hear, not the reality of the divorce process in Alabama.
If your case is very unique to others, don’t expect a clear outcome. However, an experienced lawyer has probably dealt with cases like yours in the past. He/she should therefore be in a position to give a good prediction. However, don’t confuse likelihood with the ultimate outcome.
“How Will My Case Affect My Taxes?”
Divorce affects taxes. Couples are likely to change tax brackets after divorce. Generally, joint filers have a higher income tax bracket. As a result, individuals who earn more than their spouses are bound to pay more taxes after a divorce.
There are also tax implications on property. While divorce attorneys don’t do taxes, a seasoned attorney will have an answer to tax matters in relation to divorce. Alternatively, they should be able to arrange for professional help on tax matters.
“How Can I Continue Communicating with My Spouse Amicably?”
Divorce shouldn’t end with anger and bitterness towards a spouse, especially when there are children involved. The need for amicable communication when co-parenting can’t be overemphasized. A seasoned divorce attorney is equipped to handle the entire divorce process in ways that result in respectful dealings.
They should give you “tools” for diffusing conflict. If your preferred attorney struggles to answer this question, they are probably not experienced. While a lawyer’s main job is to handle their client’s matters, prudent divorce attorneys ensure they don’t damage relationships further.
In fact, their focus is on ensuring the process is smooth and fair. They understand how to communicate and handle people based on their personalities. Most importantly, they can tell when communication should stop.
“How Will My Divorce’s Files Be Kept Securely?”
Divorce proceedings involve the handling of confidential documents with sensitive personal information like bank account numbers, social security numbers, addresses, and other information. As a result, it’s understandable why you would be worried about confidentiality.
The divorce attorney you hire should have systems in place to guarantee data security. Any divorce attorney who doesn’t answer data privacy and security questions properly shouldn’t be hired.
“What Divorce Information Can I See?”
Divorce proceedings involve requests and submission of a lot of personal information from both ends. Generally, you should be able to see every file concerning your case. Avoid hiring an attorney who doesn’t give clients access to their files.
Unless portions of a file have been protected via a court order, i.e., a child custody evaluation, everything should be accessible to you. In most cases, you should be able to view everything. However, a family court order can stop you from having a copy if you are being represented by a lawyer.
“Can You Provide Client References?”
A seasoned divorce or family attorney with a great track record of winning cases shouldn’t have a problem letting you know and/or talking to past clients. By talking to past clients, you should be in a position to judge a lawyer’s suitability. While there may be confidentiality issues when sharing unsolicited contacts, a seasoned lawyer knows how to give potential clients access to past clients for purposes of verifying their expertise.
If the lawyer in question has won a custody or property dispute case in court, providing referrals should be easy. The same applies to other aspects of divorce cases like custody, alimony disputes, etc. If the lawyer in question can’t share verifiable past clients for you to talk to, don’t hire them.
“Who Will Appear in Court on My Behalf?”
Don’t be afraid to prepare a lot of questions for a divorce lawyer. One important question to ask is whether the attorney you’re meeting with will be the one handling your case. You have the right to know who will be representing you in court. It doesn’t matter if you meet with the firm’s partner if they plan to assign your case to the most junior associate with no courtroom experience.
“How Much Will I Get Paid in Alimony or Spousal Support?”
If you are a low-income earner, you should be concerned about spousal support ordered during a final judgment. Most cases also have temporary spousal support before a final judgment. Only seasoned divorce attorneys are capable of offering detailed answers about spousal support.
While a detailed or exact answer isn’t possible in most cases, experienced family lawyers can give accurate estimates based on the specific facts of your case. By analyzing your spouse’s income, and other factors such as your income stream and the marital standards of living, they should give an accurate spousal support range.
Avoid lawyers who give definite figures or unrealistic estimates without looking into the case’s information in detail.
“What Is Your Life Outside of Your Law Practice?”
This question might seem out of place, but it’s important to choose an attorney who shares similar values and interests. You will be working closely with this individual and giving them a significant amount of money. Perhaps their values don’t align with yours. For example, an attorney who loves to go hunting in their free time might not be the ideal choice for someone who’s vegan or is against gun rights.
Sometimes you can do some research on the attorney you’re going to see and use that information to further tailor questions during the consultation. A lot of attorneys include personal information about their hobbies and community involvement in their firm biographies. Start by reading the bio of each attorney you will meet with to find out important details. If there’s something off in their bio, you can move on to the next firm without wasting time on a consultation.
“Can I Modify My Divorce Settlement Once My Divorce Is Finalized?”
You may be able to modify your divorce settlement once your divorce has been finalized. Despite your best efforts, even after you have finalized your divorce, there may come a time when the terms are no longer appropriate, valid, or possible. If this happens, you may need to speak with your ex to determine if you can agree on what modifications need to be made.
In some cases, the spouse paying alimony may require an adjustment when their circumstances change. However, if your ex does not agree to the proposed changes, you may need to bring your case to court. You will need to convince the judge that the modification in question is in the best interests of everyone involved in your situation.
“How Is Marital Property Distributed in Alabama Divorces?”
Alabama follows equitable distribution laws when it comes to the distribution of marital property and divorce. Equitable distribution means your marital debts, property, and assets will be distributed fairly in your divorce.
Equitable distribution aims to ensure both parties are able to maintain their pre-divorce lifestyle once the divorce has been finalized.
“What Is Considered Marital Property?”
Marital property includes any property or assets that were purchased for the benefit of the marriage. It should be noted that any items purchased explicitly for the use of one spouse may be considered separate property.
Other items that may be considered separate property in a marriage include:
- Inherited items,
- Assets you owned before the marriage,
- Money awarded to one spouse from a personal injury lawsuit, and
- Gifts from one spouse to another.
It is in your best interest to try to work out the distribution of your marital property and assets with your spouse as opposed to having this decision made by a judge. The judge does not know you, your family, your lifestyle, or your financial state.
Working with a divorce lawyer to get your marital property distributed fairly could be a good way to get your divorce finalized in a timely manner. Asking the right divorce consultation questions helps you find the best divorce attorney for your situation. You want someone to help negotiate an agreement on property settlement rather than drag your divorce out so it takes longer and costs more money.
Your Prospective Divorce Lawyer May Ask You Questions
While evaluating your situation, your divorce lawyer may ask you some questions about your situation, including:
- Do you have any children? If so, how old are they?
- What is your occupation?
- How long have you been married?
- Do you and your soon-to-be-ex own any businesses together?
- What was the marriage like between you and your former spouse? Were there any instances of violence or abuse?
- How long have you and your spouse been separated?
- Were there any instances of infidelity between you and your ex?
Your prospective lawyer may also ask you to describe your situation as a whole. This will give them insight into how they can seek the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Get Help from an Experienced Alabama Divorce Lawyer Today
The best-of-the-best divorce attorneys don’t struggle to answer any questions. They have a deep understanding of family law in their state and unmatched experience handling cases like yours for years. If a potential lawyer doesn’t inspire confidence when answering questions, find another one.
Lawyers know that prospective clients have a lot of questions. A good lawyer appreciates a client who is prepared and comes with their list of questions to ask a divorce lawyer. It’s better for both sides so there are no surprises. So, if you get the feeling the lawyer is annoyed by the questions you ask, move on.
If you have divorce lawyer questions that need answers and you’re in the greater Huntsville, AL, area, The Law Offices of Charlotte Christian and Associates is the partner for you. Our vast experience and knowledge of the system can help you get the win you need in your divorce proceedings.