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Divorce Resources for Women

How to Find the Best Divorce Lawyer

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Your marriage isn’t working out. You need a divorce lawyer. What you really want is the best family law attorney you can find.

Unfortunately, what you really want to do right now is close the blinds and pull the covers over your head for a while! You have your children and job to worry about. How can you even begin to think about finding a divorce attorney to help you through the process? The task seems impossible and overwhelming. You have no idea how to determine if an attorney is right for you and your case.

There are many divorce lawyers in North Carolina. Sorting the good divorce lawyers from the others is tough. Figuring out who’s the best divorce lawyer for you in a challenge. Here are some insider tips to help you with the task of finding the best attorney for you.

Your attorney should specialize in family law

You don’t want a dentist performing heart surgery. Likewise, you don’t want an attorney that specializes in criminal law representing you in your divorce.

The laws and issues related to family law are complex.  Arguably, the laws related to the division of property or equitable distribution are some of the most complex laws on the books when you delve into the business of dividing complex corporations or businesses.  And child support can quickly become complicated if one of the parties is self-employed. The list goes on and on…

An attorney that specializes in family law has dealt with the issues that arise in a divorce hundreds of times. They can provide you with an understanding of how these matters typically play out in and out of court.

An experienced family law attorney has been involved in these types of matters enough to have a wealth of knowledge and understanding that an attorney that only periodically handles these types of matters would not. Experienced family law attorneys have been before the judges in the district and have witnessed first hand how the judges rule. You need that type of in-depth exposure to the family law system to have the best representation possible.

An attorney that specializes in family law would also frequently interact with other family law attorneys and have working relationships with them from other cases. This is immensely helpful, as your attorney would have “inside” information on how that attorney tends to operate in handling cases.

It is usually better to find an attorney in the district in which you live that has practiced before the judges that may be deciding your case. Typically, you do not want an attorney that does not practice in your area representing you. In some instances, this may be warranted if both parties are so well known that no attorneys in the area will handle the matter or if there are simply very few family law attorneys in your area. But in most situations, an attorney that practices locally is your best option.

If you have a sense at the outset that your case may very well go to court. It is important to know the attorney’s courtroom experience. Even if you aren’t sure whether the case would go to court, it is still important to know in case things change down the line and court is the only option.

Trial experience is very important. You don’t want an attorney that has never tried a family law case in front of a judge.

If the attorney makes promises, RED FLAG

No attorney can promise you any outcome whether in or out of the courtroom. If the potential attorney begins making statements like “I guarantee your husband will pay you X in alimony each month” or “I can promise you that your wife will never be allowed to have a boyfriend around the children” or  “We will take your husband for all he is worth and he will be homeless.” This is a red flag. Your attorney simply cannot make you promises regarding the outcome of your case.

Issues related to divorce are decided in one of two ways:

1) The parties agree to resolve the issues out of court

2) The court decides

With option 1, your Ex has to agree on the terms of the settlement. How can an attorney guarantee you what he or she would agree to?

With option 2, the judge has the sole decision-making power. How could your attorney possibly guarantee how the judge would rule?

A thoughtfully reasoned approach based on the laws and the facts of your case is the type of information you need from your attorney. Cheap talk will get you nowhere and is not helpful.  To hear false promises may make you feel good in the moment, but what you need is an experienced attorney that knows the law and has experience every single day handling issues such as yours.

Who will actually be your primary attorney?

Suppose you meet with Attorney X, and you really like her. Everybody told you she is the best. You feel great. You decide to hire her. She is really expensive, but you feel confident in her abilities. After the first meeting, every time you call they connect you to another attorney. After doing some research, you realize this person is an associate at the firm who will be assisting with your case. In your meeting with Attorney X, she never mentioned that anyone else would be assisting her with the case. Attorney X didn’t make it clear to you that anyone other than her would handle your case.

The problem is… you never get to talk to Attorney X anymore. You only receive filtered down information from the attorney assisting who you thought would be your main attorney. This is really frustrating to you and not what you expected. You feel like the attorney owed you an explanation of how it would work in the initial consultation. That way you could have decided if this type of arrangement would work for you.

Ask the attorney at the initial consultation if he or she will primarily be handling your case. In bigger firms, it probably happens more often that two attorneys could be assigned to your case.  Or, if the case is a particularly complicated case, firms may place two attorneys on your case to assist with the workload.

The other major reason to identify who will be handling your case is the costs.  If two attorneys work on your case, your costs may very well be more. You need to inquire as to how your case would be handled and how the time is allocated between the attorneys since most family law firms still bill by the hour. Make sure that having two attorneys doesn’t really mean more money for no real reason.

If your firm charges a flat fee for your case, then typically it does not matter who works on the case, you would still pay the same amount, which could very well work to your advantage. Flat fees can often be much less expensive than attorneys that bill by the hour.

Knowing the fees and how they are allocated is critical information for determining whether the attorney is right for you.

How do I find the right attorney?

Word of mouth is helpful but know your source. If a friend of yours had a bad divorce experience, that person may dislike his or her attorney no matter what the outcome was. For example, if your source was left by the other party for another person, the experience with the attorney for him or her may be bad in their mind no matter what the outcome. It is best to get a variety of input from various sources about the family law attorneys in your area.

If you know an attorney or judge, ask him or her for a referral.  Ask around and see what you hear about various attorneys.

An attorney may be touted as the “best family law attorney” around, but you should still do your research. Make sure that the attorney’s caseload can accommodate your case. Make sure “best” doesn’t mean “busiest”.

When you meet with an attorney, always follow your instincts. If you don’t feel like the attorney is right for you, move on and find one you feel comfortable with.

Is a female or male attorney better?

Some people are more comfortable with a female than male and vice versa. Oftentimes it just comes down to preference.

If you feel more comfortable with a female over a male or vice versa then meet with the attorney you feel more comfortable with.

However, the main issues to consider are the attorney’s qualifications and experience. Don’t just blindly assume because a person is of one gender or the other he or she is superior. Take a close look at the attorney and his or her track record before you make a decision based solely on the gender of the attorney.

Make sure you can understand your attorney

Divorce is a difficult process as it is. You don’t want an attorney that you cannot understand or get along with. An attorney that speaks primarily in legalese and not plain English should raise red flags. You need to clearly and plainly understand your rights as the law applies to them.

You don’t want to feel like you are in the dark during the process because you cannot understand your attorney.

Most clients don’t understand the more technical terms of the law. For example, equitable distribution in plain English means dividing up the property/assets/debts of your marriage. Most people can understand the latter, but the term equitable distribution would be foreign to most.

Make sure you feel comfortable to ask any and all questions. Don’t hire an attorney you feel intimidated by.

Does my attorney need to be board certified?

Being board certified in family law is certainly a nice attribute for an attorney to have on his or her website or letterhead, but many top attorneys are not.  In most states, it is usually just a test that the attorney signs up for and takes. If you pass, you are board certified.

Experience and reputation are the most important assets to evaluate when selecting your divorce attorney.

Prepare a list of questions for your initial meeting with a potential attorney

Go to your first meeting prepared. You are most likely paying for it so get your money’s worth.

Examples of Questions:

  1. How long have you practiced family law?

(Tip: If the attorney says less than three years, ask him or her how many cases he or she has handled. Ask if he or she has colleagues with more experience that work on cases with him or her. Of course, an attorney that has practiced law for less than three years is still an attorney, but you should make sure the person has enough experience.)

2.  Do you only practice family law or other types of law? What percentage of your cases are family law?

3.  Do you have courtroom experience in family law? Approximately how many child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution cases have you tried?

(Tip: Ask the attorney to separate numbers out for each issue)

4.  Have you only practiced in this judicial district or others as well?

5.  Do you have any feedback on each specific family court judge and how they typically rule in my type of case?

6.  Have you participated in many mediations? Have you been successful?

7.  How much courtroom experience do you have?

8.  How do your fees work, specifically?

(Tip: Ask hourly bill rate, and which services are billed for. i.e., am I billed for making copies, etc. Also, ask the paralegals hourly bill rate, if there is one. Further, ask when lump sums may be required such as for a deposition or a court appearance and how much it is. Or, if your attorney is a flat fee attorney, ask how the fees work and when any additional sums are required beyond the first lump sum payment.)

Make sure if you have children that the attorney puts the children first

If your case involves children, their well being should always be paramount. You want an attorney that is sensitive to their needs and feelings.

For example, you don’t want an attorney who would intentionally serve your Ex with a Complaint for a divorce at a time when he or she has the children. You also wouldn’t want an attorney that would advise you to discuss your divorce in front of the children so they can see that the other parent did something wrong in the hopes the child will side with you.

Your divorce will end but your role as a parent is for a lifetime. Don’t jeopardize the health and well-being of your children to gain a perceived advantage in a divorce. You certainly don’t want an attorney that would advise you to do same.

Always remember the children are the innocent ones in the process and they must be protected as much as possible from any residual effects of a divorce.

Divorces are excruciating but try to take the higher ground and find an attorney who is on that same page and your children will thank you for it one day.

Go with your Gut to Pick the Best Divorce Lawyer

When you meet with an attorney, follow your gut instincts. If you get a bad feeling about the attorney, move on to the next one. You don’t have to hire a specific attorney just because everyone says he or she is the best. It is your case and your life.

Do your research and make an informed decision that makes you confident and comfortable.


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