Sometimes hiring an attorney is the right decision to help your family’s situation. There are important questions for your attorney that you should consider. Maybe you need help with complicated aspects of your divorce, or need advice about a changing support or custody situation. This doesn’t mean that you and your ex don’t get along, but laws can be confusing and complicated. Whatever the reason, it’s perfectly okay, and many times advised, to retain an attorney to help bring resolution to your matter.
Where to start
When it comes to such a personal situation, it’s likely best to get a referral from someone in your network you trust. Working with a family law attorney is an incredibly intimate affair, as you’re trusting someone with decisions about your day-to-day life, your finances, and your children. 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. Read reviews, talk to people in the community who might know an attorney’s reputation, and if possible, speak with someone who has been a client.
Preparation is key
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. You should 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, it’s worth considering the following factors when preparing questions for your attorney:
Can they explain things in a way you understand?
You’re probably about to spend a lot of money, so you should understand where this money is going. A good attorney should be able to break down the complicated terminology and strategies in every decision that they make. There are a lot of ways to approach any one family law issue, and your ability to understand those decisions will empower you to guide your attorney toward advancing your best interests. Be wary of attorneys who don’t explain the “legalese” (because trust us- there’s a lot of it). They should explain the “why” behind their strategies and the pros and cons of each.
Do they have a mediation or litigation mindset?
It’s easy to be attracted to attorneys who advertise as “aggressive” or a “fighter” for your rights, but trust us when we say that attorneys whose first move is to go straight to court likely do not have your best interest in mind. Or even worse, they might not be sophisticated enough in conflict resolution. Most cases are served by meaningful attempts to resolve issues amicably, with the least amount of conflict possible. 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 the billable hour works?
The billable hour seems fairly straight-forward, but 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 about your children?
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.