How to Choose a Divorce Attorney/Mediator

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Advice from PSP members about how to select and get the most out of your a Divorce Attorney

 "There's a misconception is that a good divorce attorney is a shark who will go for the jugular and be aggressive. When asking a range of my attorney friends they all said: Not true. First and foremost a good attorney has experience with the court in your area (in our case, family court in Kings County); knows the judges and has a good relationship with them. After that it's 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 with my attorney, he's not right for everyone."

 

Where to look for a lawyer:

 

Overview

  • Put your children first and find a lawyer that does the same.
  • Cheaper is not always better. Lots of people ask about “affordable lawyers” but remember that getting a less expensive lawyer could cost a lot pre and post-divorce.
  • Your lawyer is not your therapist. Know, though, that contentious divorces may make you reveal and discuss (and defend) extremely personal and private matters.
  • Interview multiple lawyers to find the best fit. (You can also get some good, free advice). Some ask for a consult fee.
  • Check the Park Slope Parents website for reviews of divorce attorneys. These reviews can offer background about the lawyer’s style, manner, specialties, appointment considerations and overall experience.
  • Ask people for recommendations based on your situation rather than their own. If you are a PSP member, you can always ask the group for perspective on similar, specific situations.
  • Responsiveness is key. You want to find someone who will get back to you about things without a lot of worry.
  • If you can, find out if the lawyer gets along (or does not) with other lawyers and the courts.
  • Consider your relationship and situation; there are all kinds of divorces and all kinds of help getting you through it. You may get by with a do it yourself situation or mediation. You may need a lawyer specializing in finance depending on your assets. Or, if your safety is an issue you may need a lawyer focusing in women’s rights / abusive spouses. The last thing you need is a divorce shark when you’re in an amicable situation. If you're not sure what kind of situation you have, finding a 'flexible' attorney might be useful.

"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 [PSP note: as of 1/2016 the nyccourts.gov website lists five], rather than settle on a "good experience' kind of answer).  b) After describing my particular situation, asked - what is your experience in cases similar to mine? (important to ask if you have specific concerns, i.e. you're worried about how custody works w/ your infant; your ex is abusive; international stuff, etc.)  c) and then asked for advice with specific questions on what I could do immediately to better prepare myself / my case. I got a ton of good, free advice. For example, 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. But I didn't ask this just for the free advice - with their answers, I could get 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."

 

Other basic Questions:

  • What is the fee range? How often do I get billed? (Once a month is typical, and longer can be a costly surprise)
  • Do you require a retainer?  Have you ever given back part of what you see as an overpayment on a retainer?
  • How much would my divorce cost if the other party doesn’t cooperate?
  • Is the lawyer accepting new clients?
  • Is it a group firm or individual? How many people in the firm? Who in the firm will be working on my particular case? What is oversight like with that process?
  • How long does it typically take the lawyer to respond to a question?
  • What forms of communication are acceptable? Email? Text? Cell Phone?
  • What are the lawyer’s typical working hours? Do appointments happen during normal office hours only? Are there long wait times for an appointment?
  • Are there support staff?  Do they seem nice on the phone? In person? These are the folks who will help you through billing issues.
  • Is it a convenient location? Spending an extra 3 hours to and from appointments can be a time suck.
  • Questions for the lawyer and the legal process:
  • What is the attorney’s approach to a new case?
  • Does the lawyer believe in mediation?  What is your experience with mediation? (Some do both mediation and law). Does the lawyer have expertise or experience in collaborative law?
  • How many cases has the attorney handled that are like yours?
  • How is your relationship with Brooklyn Family Court?  The Court Attorney? (You can ask specifically about the 5 Brooklyn Judges and their experience for really in-depth knowledge.)
  • Do you have experience with real estate law? (Important if you are having to sell your house in the divorce)
  • Are there times the lawyer needs to go for the jugular and really get nasty? When are those times and how do you get what your client needs?
  • When does the lawyer think it appropriate to go to court? What percent of cases go to court versus settling?
  • How long has the attorney been in practice? Why did they choose this type of law?
  • What is the lawyer’s approach to settling a case rather than going to court?
  • How much experience do they have in the court that will hear my case? (In Brooklyn Family Court PSP members has describe lawyers and judges as “tight knit.”)

 

Determine your goal:

"To that point, one thing that helped me was I stayed clear and focused on my ultimate 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."

 

Final Gut Check:

  • How is their demeanor? Do you like the person? Do you trust this person?
  • Do they make you feel comfortable about your choices? (If a lawyer is honest with you, you may hear some things you do NOT want to hear. That can be okay as long as they were helpful in their approach to bad news. Having a lawyer who helps you stick your head in the sand is not useful!)
  • Does the attorney talk to you in plain, easy to understand English, or legalese?
  • Some of these things you just won't know until you spend more time with them. A thorough interview helps.

 

Throughout:

This is tough, lonely process - even with a support network. Take a moment to nurture yourself and read the support mantras, quotes and sayings that PSP members leaned on for getting through separation/divorce

"For mental health, make sure you take time to prioritize yourself. even if its as simple as a bath after the kids go to bed. yoga. whatever you need to do. I listened to Louis CK stand up on the subway commute, and it helped to laugh a little during that time. Continue to reach out to other single parents and people who have gone through a bit of what you are going through."

 

PSP Member Recommendations:

Collaborative Lawyers

Divorce Coaches and Counselors

Lawyers - Divorce & Separation

Therapists

 

GOOD LUCK!

 

Disclaimer:  This post has been written for educational purposes only by Park Slope Parents and was not meant to be legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice or be relied upon. The post may contain errors, inaccuracies and/or omissions. You should always consult an attorney admitted to practice in your jurisdiction for specific advice.