Recently, Frank and Jamie McCourt, owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, reached a mutually agreeable divorce”¦with Jamie getting a settlement of $131 million in exchange for the rights to the Dodgers. Frank McCourt now faces bankruptcy, and may have to sell the team. Shared finances, joint property, and joint debt: while the dollar amounts may be a bit different, the issues Frank and Jamie faced, and will continue to face, are echoed in virtually every divorce in every part of the country. With all these financial (and reputational) assets in play, both of the McCourts had divorce attorneys who were hand-selected and carefully chosen to meet each of their very specific needs. And, of course, no legal expense was spared.
While every divorce is painful, most of us do not have the same level of assets and the financial ability, or willingness, to fight to the bitter end. Further, it should not be necessary. Every divorce is difficult and every divorce brings out the worst side of a person whom we once could not live without. Every divorce is full of grief, anger, and the full range of emotions you can imagine. Perhaps the biggest difficulty of divorce is accepting that things will change in your family’s life. It is impossible for a couple to divorce and have everything to stay the same.
Often, emotions get the best of us in the divorce process. Some of us have a flight mentality, meaning we just want to fold our tents and get out as quickly as possible with as little emotional damage. Others want to fight for everything, down to the dog bowls and the everyday silverware. However, neither of these options has to happen, either. Most importantly, you don’t have to bankrupt yourself to emerge from the process with your best interests protected.
Many people avoid hiring a lawyer for fear of just one more cost in an already costly process. But divorce attorneys are often a key to saving yourself money, protecting your present interests, preserving your future ones, as well as helping your family to find the best solutions to the inevitable disagreements that arise during a divorce.
Like the McCourts, you can, and should, have an attorney who can specifically meet your individual needs, if it is in your best interests and personal situation to have counsel.
Below are six questions to ask when meeting with a divorce attorney for the first time:
- Does the attorney specialize in divorce law? Attorneys who focus on divorce law know it inside and out and can anticipate pitfalls before they happen. They understand the nuances of family court and negotiating through what can be volatile situations. They should have experience with local family judges and magistrates (make sure and ask) and will know a great deal about those judges and how they will react to particular elements of your divorce proceeding.
- What are the attorney’s priorities? Your divorce is not about their priorities; it is about yours. Is he or she all about winning the most money? Protecting the children? Standing up to the demands of the opposing party? Your attorney’s priorities should align with yours as they set about handling your case. Most importantly, your attorney must be willing to understand your priorities and give you the best advice given the particulars of your case and situation. Critically, that advice will not always be what you want to hear, either.
- Is the attorney willing to call in outside expertise? In some divorce cases, finances or parenting situations can be highly charged. Is your attorney willing to call in a CPA or a valuation expert to value the family business? Does your attorney have therapists to recommend if your child is struggling with the divorce? Has your attorney worked with Child Family Investigators or Parental Responsibility Evaluators?
- How much does the attorney charge? Attorney costs are often one of the things feared most as people initiate divorce proceedings. Do not be afraid to ask about fees. How do they bill? Based on your case and finances, what alternative arrangements can they offer? Can they assist you in a do-it-yourself divorce for a smaller fee set in advance? Good attorneys offer no surprises when it comes to money. Ask questions about how and what this will cost? Feel free to ask what it might cost if you go it alone.
- Does the attorney come recommended? Can you speak with past clients or read client reviews somewhere? Is your attorney recognized by his or her peers in law directories for their good performance? Have they been disciplined by the state bar, and what were they disciplined for? Do not shy away from asking for the names of past clients to talk with to understand their experiences first-hand.
- Do you trust the attorney? Attorney-client trust is vital to the success of your case. How do you feel about the attorney you are meeting? Is he or she friendly and approachable? Did you have a good rapport or did you feel awkward and uncomfortable? Remember, you will have to hear things you might not like during a divorce case. Does he or she seem like someone who will give you a straight answer, even if it is unpopular?
Choosing the right attorney is one of the most important decisions you will make during your divorce. These questions will hopefully help you evaluate your options, so you can choose a divorce attorney who will always have your best interests in mind.