Advice about Using a Divorce Attorney

In 2015, Park Slope Parents conducted a survey of single, divorced and seperated (SDS) parents, asking about their experience, advice and tips to share. Here, parents respond to the PSP SDS Survey question: Is there any advice you would give people about using a divorce attorney?

 Consider the unique dynamics of the legal process:

"File for divorce as pro se litigant to learn the name of your judge in your case. Once you know who the judge and your spouse's attorney are, then conduct a rigorous attorney selection process. You need an attorney who is well respected by the judge and who can handle the opponent. Narrow the search based on your unique situation. Interview plenty of attorneys and ask them tough questions such as: can you handle so and so? Have you worked with this attorney? How is your relationship with the Judge? How many cases like mine have you handled? How many cases have you lost? When would you return my emails and calls? Are you afraid to speak to the Judge? How is you relationship with the Court Attorney? Do you know the court rules for my Judge? What was the last training you took? Are you familiar with Park Slope Real Estate (believe it or not, this is a very important question if you ex is forcing you to sell the home to get his/her portion of the equitable distribution prior to dissolution of the marriage)? How much would my divorce cost if the other party does not cooperate?"


Feel comfortable with your attorney:

"Chemistry is important. Make sure it's a good fit not only in terms of professional expertise, but personally as well. If your divorce is a bitterly contentious one in which the other party is attacking you personally (and there is a custody battle), then not only will you will be forced to reveal and discuss (and defend) extremely private matters, but your attorney will also see you at your worst (i.e. totally stressed out, desperate, defensive, etc). If you are not with an attorney you feel totally comfortable divulging very personal things to, then the process will be even more hellish."


Have realistic expectations of your attorney:

"Attorneys will not make miracles, will not make your ex disappear, will not get you exactly what you want. What they can do is explain to you how the law in NYS, predict the exit of your case, protect your interest and maybe, hopefully, save you time in Court and in the waiting rooms."

"They are expensive. Use them carefully. They are not your therapists; find a therapist if you need one."


Consider alternatives like mediation or collabrotative divorce to end things amicably and afforably:

"If at all possible (and in my estimation, it's almost always possible), go with collaborative divorce or mediation.  Will save you thousands of dollars and is always better for your kids except in extremely rare (i.e., abusive) circumstances.
Don't. They cost a fortune and complicate everything."

"Find someone who is open to mediation as a process, but who is nonetheless an attorney and familiar with the law. Mediation didn't work for us, but collaborative divorce did. Do NOT litigate."

""My attorney saved me.  He had my back.  Mediation isn't always the best path (upon hearing our story, 3 mediators told me to get an attorney)."


How to find a lawyer:

1. I reached out to my own attorney friends, and I heard that the misperception is that a good divorce attorney is a shark who will go for the jugular and be aggressive. they all said: not true. first and foremost a good attorney has experience w/ the court in your area (in your case, family court in kings county); knows the judges and has a good relationship w/ them; and after that its personal fit. What to look for: someone who listens to you, and you feel like they will keep YOUR best interests at heart. So, although I am really happy w/ my attorney, he's not right for everyone.

2. I kept an interview questionnaire, a few questions like:

a) what's your experience in kings county? (I had them run through who the four judges  in Brooklyn are, rather than settle on a "Good experience' kind of answer).

b) after describing my particular situation, asked - do you have experience in cases similar to mine?

c) and then asked for advice, specific questions on what I could do immediately to better prepare myself / my case. i.e. I got a ton of good, free advice. One was, if you can help it - i.e. if you are safe - try to stay in the apartment and have him leave. Once someone leaves, its very very hard to come back. and also, its much easier to keep him out.

also, asking this question, I got a sense and range of people. Some attorneys, in trying to be fair, I felt were too sympathetic to my ex! and others, in trying to be aggressive, went straight into suing, acting fast, going for everything and making my ex "pay", which I just did not want.

To that point, one thing that helped me was I stayed clear and focused on my goal: I just wanted a divorce, as quickly and cleanly as possible, and I had one or two non-negotiable things I wanted out of the divorce. It has helped me to remind myself of the long-term picture, and its helped me stop myself from going overboard. i.e. the courts will never look at divorce as punitive (who is "wrong", who deserves to "pay", etc.)-- its more like a matter of dissolving a business relationship and dividing assets, according to a formula. which is infuriating if your ex has mental or emotional issues. but there it is.

3. then I made a list of attorneys I wanted to call. I trolled through PSP lists (also joined PSP Single Divorce Separated group); asked all my friends to ask their friends; etc. and I systematcially went throught. the ones that said I had to first pay $100-$250 for an initial consult I said "never mind" too. if cash is a problem, you don't need to pay consult. 90% of ppl I called spoke w/ me on the phone for free. Jason did too, although I ended up paying for the consult after I signed a retainer w/ him


Be comfortable and confident in yourself:

Figure out as much things on your own without relying on an attorney regarding finances, taxes and possible parenting time schedules. Ask as many people (resources) questions as you can. So many people have gone through and can offer advice.
I would advise that they interview several lawyers in person preferably.  I also think that using recommendations from a variety of sources can be helpful to find the right attorney."


Have boundaries with your ex:

"Don't use the same one as your spouse."