Maybe you and your ex both agree you need help to decide a long-term custody arrangement, or perhaps communication has broken down and you’re not sure how to approach the next step to get a support order. Whatever the reason, it’s perfectly okay, and many times advised, to retain an attorney to help bring resolution to your matter. Hiring an attorney doesn’t need to be stressful and problematic.
Research is key
When it comes to such a personal situation, it’s likely best to get a referral from someone in your network you trust. Not all attorneys are created equal, and your attorney will usually set the tone in your case, so you want one you can really work with. Websites don’t offer too much insight into just how different attorneys are and whether they will be the right fit for you and your specific case. Every person and every family is different, and there’s a lot of attorneys who may not align with your values or communication style. There are many websites that review attorneys, and if you’re able, speak with someone who has been a client to help you in your efforts to hire an attorney.
Many attorneys offer a free or reduced-fee consultation to learn more about your situation. Their website might tell you, or you can call directly to ask how it works. Try to schedule consults with a few attorneys so you can compare their approaches to case management and gauge how you feel around them. Come prepared with a concise and clear story of what your issue is, and what you’re looking to accomplish in your case. In deciding between attorneys, you should keep the following in mind:
Do you understand what they’re saying?
Hiring an attorney is expensive, and the law is complicated, so it can be easy to completely hand over the reins. However, a good attorney should engage you in the process and make sure you understand everything along the way. You should be able to tell in the first meeting whether they take the time to explain the complicated terminology and strategies. Be wary of attorneys who don’t explain the “legalese” (because trust us- there’s a lot of it). Your ability to follow their line of thinking will empower you to guide your attorney toward advancing your best interests.
Are they “aggressive”?
It’s easy to be drawn to attorneys who advertise as providing “aggressive” services, fighting for your rights “at all costs.” However, aggressive can mean running to court without first trying to negotiate or being so rude that they alienate the opposing party when you otherwise have a good relationship. This often times can be a sign that they’re not as sophisticated in conflict resolution, since the best attorneys know that most cases are best served by meaningful attempts to resolve issues amicably. There should be attempts to agree and compromise before filing motions with the court. It’s usually profitable for the attorney to go to court, and also more likely you’ll end up with orders that you’re disappointed with (lose-lose situation!). An experienced and trustworthy attorney is one who knows when to settle and compromise, and when it’s absolutely necessary to go to court. De-escalating conflict should be their top priority.
Do you understand how billing works?
Sometimes you can be misled into strategies that you didn’t know would require so many hours. Typically family law attorneys will require a retainer, and will use the money in the retainer until it needs to be replenished. You should be very clear at all stages of your case just how your retainer is being used. You do not want to be shocked into finding out that your attorney decided to spend 6 hours on a brief to the court when you discussed it only taking 2. Your attorney should be transparent when things will take more time, and be more costly, as a result of unforeseen situations (which are all too common). Cases can be unpredictable, but you should be informed and empowered to make decisions based on your budget.
Do they care?
At the heart of custody and support issues should always be the child’s well-being. There are many situations where a result might be better for the parent, but not better for the child. An attorney with a “win at all costs” attitude is likely to forget the real reason you retained them in the first place. In the consult, pay attention to how the attorney references your child and guides you into strategies that are best positioned to remove your child from conflict.
SupportPay can help
SupportPay is an app designed to work seamlessly into parents’ lives to piggy-back on the work of a good attorney and reduce conflict by keeping communication transparent. For more resources and information on how SupportPay can help your family before and after custody or support issues, visit our resources page.