Dealing with the emotional reality of dissolving a marriage is weighty enough without the stressful responsibility of choosing the right family lawyer. Ultimately, the legal advocate you choose will be the chief architect of a new foundation designed to support the next phase of you and your family’s life.
Ok, hopefully not too many of you are hyperventilating. Now lift your head up from between your knees, take a deep breath and keep reading… We are here to help!
So where do you begin?
The first step in the process will always be an initial consultation with a family law practice. It’s crucial to know what to ask and how to interpret the responses you receive from the attorneys you interview. Here are 5 questions to ask during any initial consultation with a divorce lawyer.
1. Do you offer flat rates or is a retainer required? This might seem like a simple question, but the answer should help you to understand the intricacies that ultimately determine how you are billed. A retainer is simply a reservoir of money and does not provide a reasonable estimate of overall cost. Most family lawyers are roughly $300 an hour and charge by a tenth of the hour. This means time spent on your case, at an interval of 1 to 6 minutes, will cost $30. Make sure to inquire whether a senior attorney or an associate will be on the case and what the billing rate is for each, as they can and should differ. Will the senior attorney review everything? Often this can result in what amounts to double billing. If every document prepared is reviewed by the paralegal, associate and senior attorney… well that may turn out to be one pricey document! A flat rate divorce is a great option for many families and there are attorneys who offer or even specialize in them. You can and should ask.
2. Do you practice outside of family law? Family law in Florida is complicated. It’s in your best interest to hire a practitioner who focuses solely on marital and family law. Some practitioners may “dabble,” but depth of knowledge most often comes from experience. The exception to the rule would be a family and marital law attorney who also offers legal services in wills and/or trusts, as the process of redrafting goes hand in hand with any divorce. A thorough practitioner will address this with clients.
3. What do you estimate the total cost for my divorce might be? TRICK QUESTION! If they don’t offer flat rate, yet provide you with a dollar amount, it’s your cue to say “thanks for the coffee, bye now.” There is no way they could accurately provide an estimate of billable hours, court costs, etc. based on information gathered during an initial consult. This could be a clear sign that you may be in store for unwanted surprises down the line.
4. Why do you practice family law? Believe it or not, most attorneys will not be expecting this question, but their immediate reaction should actually be quite telling. Divorce law can be incredibly lucrative and many have chosen to practice based on dollar signs alone. If they don’t seem to have an answer ready, go a bit green or pause for an uncomfortable moment – you may want to continue you search for the right fit. Money can be a powerful motivator, but if you are looking for the quickest, least complicated resolution for your family, this may not be the divorce attorney for you.
5. Can you give me a snapshot of the process? A good marital law attorney should take time to explain the process to you in the initial consultation. In Florida, mediation is typically mandatory and a useful tool in helping to avoid costly litigation. Ask your prospective attorney about mediation. Do they like court mediation (which in Palm Beach County is capped at 2 hours and 3 hours in Broward) or private mediation? A good mediator is key to identifying all assets and debts which are imperative to drafting a good settlement agreement. Alternatively, does your attorney present as a litigator who may actually prove detrimental to your case? If they are more apt to fight, it may not always be in the best interest of their client.