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How to Choose and Manage Your Divorce Attorney

By Joanna M. Furia

In the midst of all the emotional turmoil connected with your separation, now you’re faced with choosing a divorce attorney. The following is a guide to selecting the right attorney.


Your ideal candidate is an experienced attorney who concentrates his or her practice in family law. This is vital for a number of reasons. First, you will be best represented by an attorney who handles family law matters every day. He or she will know how to address your issues, because he has dealt with them many times before for other clients. He or she will know what works, and what doesn’t. Second, a family law attorney will be familiar with the ongoing changes in the law, and will know how they apply to your case. This is crucial particularly regarding custody of your children and calculation of child support, where there have been sweeping changes in the law within the last year. Lastly, hiring a family law attorney may actually save you money. That is, you will not have to pay your lawyer to research past changes in the law or local Family Court rules because he hasn’t handled a divorce in a while. Experience can save you from costly mistakes in the strategy of how best to handle your case. There is no substitute for the wisdom gained by an attorney who has represented many divorce clients, in diverse economic and emotional circumstances, who is skilled both in negotiation as well as in the Courtroom. Equally important in your selection is choosing a lawyer who responds to your first phone call promptly and with interest in your case. A delay in getting back to you may signal that the lawyer is too busy to accept a new case at this time. Many successful attorneys are indeed very busy, but you should expect to receive a return telephone call within 24 hours if he or she is unavailable at the time you called.


For most people, the best way is to ask for recommendations from those you trust: friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, etc. It may be painful or embarrassing to ask, but it is often the most direct way to get the name of a reputable, local divorce attorney with whom you can consult. If you or your family have used an attorney previously, perhaps to prepare your Will or handle a business or real estate matter, he or she can be a good source for referral to a divorce attorney. A final alternative is to contact the bar association in the county in which you live. Every association has a Lawyer Referral Program that will point you to an attorney who is experienced in family law and whose office is convenient to your home or workplace.


Once you hire a divorce attorney, you will be asked to pay a retainer. That retainer not only secures the attorney to represent you, it also gives you the right to expect certain things from your relationship. At a minimum, you should expect that your telephone calls are responded to promptly; that your questions and concerns are addressed to your satisfaction; and that you are kept current on what’s happening in your case. If you don’t understand what you’re asked to sign, or what happened in Court, ask for it to be explained to you until you do understand. If you have difficulty reaching the lawyer by telephone to find out the status of the case, ask the secretary to inquire from the attorney and call you back.