Should I Get a Lawyer?

Since property settlements can be very complicated, a lawyer can help you decide which of your belongings are marital property and which are separate property, and advise you as to how the court will divide that property. A lawyer will also be able to assist you in drafting a separation agreement in order to document your arrangements with your spouse. A lawyer might also be able to help you plan matters where timing is important. For example, you might not know that you must be married for at least ten years in order to qualify for social security spousal benefits, or that if you wait until you are 55 to sell the marital residence, you get a tax break. A lawyer can also advise you if an unexpected problem comes up, for instance, if your spouse files for bankruptcy before you receive money due to you in a property settlement. A lawyer may be able to help you notify your spouse about the divorce if you are unable to do so. Additionally, a lawyer can advise you on how much money, if any, you should pay or receive for alimony or child support.

How can I prepare for meeting with a lawyer?

Questions to ask

It may be a good idea of have a mental or written checklist of questions to ask the attorney at a first meeting. Have along paper and pencil with which to take notes. You can add to the following list other special questions that apply to your own circumstances. If you’d like a printed checklist of questions to take with you, download How To Be Sure You Hire The Right Divorce Lawyer.

1. Who will work on my case?

2. What is the educational training and experience of the lawyers who will be working on my case? Have any of these lawyers published books or articles? What have they published? Do you have a copy that I can read?

3. How many cases like mine has your firm handled in the past year?

4. What are your average fees in cases like mine? What do you think my case is going to cost? If you charge by the hour, will you provide up-to-the-minute billing information online 24/7 so that I can check on the fee status?

5. How do you set your fees? What does the fee include? Is the actual divorce or ‘absolute divorce’ included in the fee?

6. What are your policies with regard to: payment of fees, returning phone calls, providing copies of all correspondence and other documents, keeping me informed about the progress of my case?

7. How long will I wait to get an appointment when I need to come in again? What hours are you available on the telephone and in the office?

8. Are my goals realistic? What problems can you foresee? How will we solve those problems?

9. How will you accomplish my goals? How long will it all take?

10. How often do you go to court? Do you prefer litigating a case to
settling the case?

Based on the answers to your questions, your observations about the lawyer’s style and how you feel after the interview is over, you should be able to tell if the lawyer you’ve met with is the right lawyer for you. Although initial interviews can be very intense, you should also experience some relief if you’ve met with a lawyer who will be good for you. If you notice that you are not feeling better after the meeting, that is a signal possibly to continue your search. When you find the right mix of energy, dedication, wisdom and insight, you will recognize that is the lawyer for you.

What do I need to bring with me?

It will be helpful, though not essential, for you to gather certain documents in preparation for your first meeting with your attorney. Locate and copy your important documents, including:

1. Financial statements
2. Income tax returns
3. Corporate tax returns
4. Partnership tax returns
5. Bank statements (business and personal)
6. Check registers
7. Canceled checks
8. Brokerage statements
9. Children’s bank account statements

In a contested equitable distribution case, these documents will be very helpful in determining just what your family’s assets are. In a child support or alimony case they will help to determine the amount of support you will pay or receive.

Please visit the Choosing an Attorney page for information that will help you make the best decision. Our page on Attorney Fees will give you an idea of how much it will cost to hire an attorney.