Choosing the Right Family Law Attorney for You
I think I may need an attorney.
Imagine: You find yourself at a crossroads with your current or former significant other. Perhaps you’ve just been served with dissolution papers, or maybe your child's other parent was recently arrested and your custodial arrangement needs modifying. Whatever the case may be, you think long and hard, and come to the conclusion you need the assistance of an attorney. There are many things to consider.
In domestic disputes, any number of factors can influence the decision to obtain a family attorney. Perhaps the gender of a prospective attorney is important to you, given the nature of your case. Maybe you will feel more comfortable with an attorney who is older, or has more experience. Depending on your financial situation, costs and fees could be the first thing on your mind. Or perhaps the location of a prospective attorney's office in relation to your home and the local courthouse is important. These types of concerns should be on your mind when considering which attorney to hire.
They have been around for how long?
For many prospective clients, one of the most important considerations is the experience of the attorney. However, experience does not necessarily equate to having the oldest (as in the lowest) bar membership number. Experience may also be thought of in the context of quality, rather than quantity.
One of the most important characteristics to consider is an attorney's grasp and knowledge of family law. This can include, but is not limited to:
- Child custody disputes
- Child support calculations
- Division of property, including real, personal, and financial property
- Division of debts, including secured, unsecured, and tax liabilities
- Community property and separate property, where applicable
- Alimony/Spousal Maintenance
- Domestic violence, if applicable
- Child abuse or neglect, if applicable
- Alcohol, drug, or chemical dependency issues, if applicable
Often in cases, there will be interplay between family law and other areas of the law. These can include, but are not limited to:
- Tax law
- Real Estate or Property law
- Estate Planning or Probate
In addition to experience with family law, and understanding of the interaction with other fields of law, a prospective attorney should also have sound knowledge of practical aspects of the practice of law. These include, but are not limited to, knowledge of and/or experience with:
- Local bench of judicial officials
- Local courthouse staff
- Local bar association
- Local attorneys
- Local court rules and laws
- Local court procedures for case management
- Local courthouse layout and location
This attorney just feels right.
Another important consideration is the relationship or rapport built between you and your prospective family attorney. You should feel comfortable with your attorney. An appropriate comfort level can allow for the growth of the attorney-client relationship, one founded on trust. You must be open and honest with your attorney. In turn, the attorney must be able and willing to listen to and trust you.
Additionally, it is important for an attorney to be candid with you about your case, and, in turn, you should be willing to accept the counsel and advice of your attorney. The attorney-client relationship is one which is supported by empathy and care. If you find yourself embroiled in a family law case, you may be going through one of the most difficult stages of your life. An attorney should be ready and able to dedicate the appropriate time and consideration necessary to listen to you, understand what you may want or need, and work hard to achieve the best possible result.
You should also understand what the attorney-client relationship is not:
- Attorneys are not financial experts, so you may be referred to a real estate appraiser, tax professional or accountant to answer certain questions at some point during your case.
- Attorneys are not psychological or emotional experts, so counseling or therapy may also be needed.
- Attorneys are not banks, and should not be called upon to finance the costs of your case unless an agreement for Pro Bono representation is established.
- Most importantly, attorneys are not psychics. While they can present and explain legal options, offer advice and counsel, and instill realistic expectations, they cannot make promises or guarantees with regard to the outcome of your case.
I should do my homework.
In order to make the best and most informed decision, it is strongly advisable you do homework. When family law issues arise, you should think about how you want to proceed, whether you wish to battle or settle. It can be beneficial for you to educate yourself on the basic laws applicable to your situation. Doing so can make things easier moving forward.
Shop around. Family members or friends may know attorneys whom they trust. Both the local bar association and legal publications can be helpful resources. Even the internet can be used as a tool for researching and reviewing prospective attorneys. However, there is no better way to determine whether an attorney-client relationship can thrive than for you to meet and consult with prospective attorneys.
Once you feel you have done your homework, you may very likely be ready to hire an attorney. If you find yourself in the middle of a family law dispute, your position and the outcome of your case may affect many, if not all, parts of your life moving forward. Decisions made during the process can have life-long effects. If you make the decision to hire an attorney, make that decision in confidence, knowing you have the assistance of an attorney with whom you feel comfortable.
For more information, contact a family attorney at McKinley Irvin, or read more about How Long Does a Divorce Take?