Divorce Attorney Checklist: 4 Things to Look for in a Lawyer

By: Michelle Bunt
Last Update: January 20, 2017

Are you considering getting a divorce? Having the right advice during this difficult period in your life can make all the difference. Your divorce attorney is the person that can protect your rights and assets so that you can start the next chapter of your life with the resources you need. Hiring the right divorce attorney can significantly reduce the time, cost, and emotional stress associated with divorce litigation.

4 Things to Consider Before Hiring a Divorce Attorney

1. Experience and Specializations

At the top of your divorce attorney checklist should be finding an attorney who has experience in family law and specializes in divorce cases similar to yours. For example, a divorce attorney that has a lot of experience in negotiating marital assets for couples with no children might not be the best choice for you if your divorce is likely to involve a child custody dispute. Browse attorneys' websites and look for attorneys that list their specializations.

If you meet with divorce attorneys in person, ask them what type of clients they typically work with and what their success rate is. Even if you are hoping to avoid going to court, your ideal attorney should have a good track record in court. An attorney’s trial record and history of success in court is often a major factor which influences your spouse and their attorney to settle amicably rather than drag things through court. 

2. Fee Structure

The fees of divorce attorneys can vary greatly as well as the way they charge. Some attorneys charge by hourly rate, and many may ask for a retainer (an upfront fee to be paid in advance). Other divorce attorneys negotiate fees based on the anticipated settlement figure. It's important to be realistic about what you can afford.

Also, ask what is included in the fee. Some high-profile divorce attorney firms include access to extra services in their fee, including financial experts, forensic appraisers, and counselors. Those living on the east and west coasts will experience significantly higher legal fees than those in midland states. As a general rule, divorce attorneys charge anywhere between $100 and $600 per hour, plus expenses.

3. Reputation

You can find recommendations for divorce attorneys by utilizing your network. As well as asking family and friends and checking online reviews, you can also ask accountants, psychologists, and other lawyers. These professionals often work closely with divorce attorneys and are likely to know who is trustworthy. If you are hoping to stay on amicable terms with your spouse post-divorce, you might not want to choose a divorce attorney who has a reputation of going for the jugular and being extremely adversarial.

4. Personal Compatibility

You need to feel comfortable with the attorney you hire, as you’ll need to share personal details of your life and marriage with this person throughout the divorce process. So, if you don’t feel comfortable opening up to this person, you should hire someone else. Although you are hiring someone for their legal skills and knowledge, it is also important that they can communicate with you using plain English, not legalese. Unless you have been through a divorce previously, this will likely be uncharted territory for you and you need someone who can communicate clearly so you can make the best informed decisions for yourself.

Although your divorce lawyer will likely learn many aspects of your personal life, resist the urge to treat them like a priest or psychotherapist. Your attorney’s billing clock is running, counting the minutes of every conversation, so get down to business promptly, and seek additional help from other qualified professionals if needed.

This divorce attorney checklist should help you find the right attorney for you. Before you interview attorneys, consider the following questions so you know what you want to achieve and whether the person in front of you can help you achieve your goals. You may even like to print this list out and take it with you when you meet prospective divorce attorneys:

  • Who will have physical and legal custody of my children?

  • What visitation rights will my spouse have?

  • Should I prepare a parenting plan? If so, what will it include (e.g., child support, children’s health coverage, academic, and extracurricular expenses related to our kids)?

  • What are our shared marital assets and debts?

  • What portion of the property and debts will each of us take from the marriage?

  • Will I need spousal support (alimony) payments?

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