There are some things for which you will always want to use the services of a qualified attorney and some things that you can handle on your own. Many of the issues that arise in a family law matter should be handled by a qualified attorney and nothing less. Contested Issues of children (visitation and custody) and contested issues about the division of assets and debts should be handled by a family law attorney. If you truly are in agreement on all issues then it is possible to handle your divorce or modification on your own. Many courthouses now offer the services of a Facilitator or a department to help guide individuals representing themselves. If you want to represent yourself, contact the courthouse in your county to determine what services are available to help you.
1. Where to find an attorney.
If you need to hire a qualified attorney, one of the best sources of information are individuals you know who may have already needed the services of a qualified family law attorney. Referrals are an excellent vehicle for finding the right attorney. Many family law attorneys advertise in the yellow pages (yes, the good ones ARE in there.) As such, that is another vehicle for finding a family law attorney appropriate for your case. Additionally, many law libraries have sources such as Martindale Hubbell in which you can review the listings for attorneys in your area by practice area. Lastly, the internet is quickly becoming an alternate avenue for reaching family law practitioners in your area.
2. What you should look for in an attorney.
For family law representation, experience is only one factor you should consider in choosing an attorney. When dealing with the sensitive issues of divorce, children, assets and debts, it is imperative you choose an attorney who agrees with the way you want your case handled. Some attorneys only want to litigate the issues which results in exorbitant attorney fees and generally, significant ill will. If you want to attempt to resolve the issues in your case more amicably, then you need to be sure your attorney shares your philosophy. You should also inquire as to whether an attorney regularly handles family law matters. Laws and rules change on a regular basis and so it is important to deal with an attorney who focuses on that area of law sufficiently to keep abreast of current changes.
Many attorneys will offer free consultation either over the phone or in person. This is an excellent way to interview the attorney to assure you are comfortable with their views about your case. Some attorneys will charge a consultation fee, from $150.00 to $500.00. Remember, more expensive does not necessarily equate to better. However, if the attorney has been highly recommended, then it may be worth the expense. You will want to talk to at least two qualified family law attorneys. You will soon realize that you can talk with three attorneys and sometimes get three different interpretations of the law. Remember, YOUR comfort level needs to be met and YOUR questions should be answered by the end of the consultation. If not, don’t come back. You are a part of the process and should be able to make decisions regarding how your case progresses.
Most family law attorneys will charge an hourly rate for services that can range from $200 to $450 an hour. Additionally, most attorneys will request a retainer which is an amount of money that the attorney puts in a client trust account on your behalf. The attorney then typically bills their services at their hourly rate and deducts the fees earned from the retainer account. Often, when the retainer is at zero an attorney will request that you replenish the retainer account. Retainers generally range from $2,500 to $5,000, but can be as high as $25,000.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS–if you’re not comfortable with the person you are meeting with or with what you are hearing thank them for their time and leave. It is unlikely that you will find an attorney that meets all of your requirements, but it’s definitely worth the effort to find someone who comes as close as possible. Remember, you can do a lot of the broad initial screening right over the phone.