Among the many qualified family lawyers in your community, choosing the right lawyer for your particular circumstances is crucial. In most states, the family laws are not terribly complicated, but the details of how those laws might apply to you and your individual family situation can get tricky. Although many lawyers who are general practitioners do a fine job with divorces, your best bet is to hire a lawyer who specializes in family law. That person is more likely to be up to date on the most recent changes in the law, tax ramifications, the finer points of your states’ divorce laws, as well as the personalities of the judges and courthouse personnel in your area. In addition, that person will spend most of his or her time in domestic court, and your chances of having your matter expedited are improved because your lawyer may be more available to you.
Although the law itself may occupy relative few pages in the law books, tricky issues such as whether an inheritance or gift from your family is a marital asset, how best to handle disputes pertaining to children, and how to divide up assets such as pensions are best handled by the specialist practitioner. For more information about divorce in general, which may help you have more confidence in your choice, see http://www.peace-talks.com/divorceinformation.php.
Your local bar association has a lawyer referral service. You could also ask your therapist or accountant for a referral. If you know a lawyer, ask him or her for a referral. Lawyers tend to know who among them is the most talented, and most will refer you to someone they respect. Speak to friends or family members who have gone through a divorce for referrals.
Remember, however, that the way that person reacted to the process may influence whether he or she gives a lawyer a good review.
What should you be looking for in a lawyer? Obviously, you want to select a lawyer that knows as much as possible about family law in your state. The manner in which the lawyer conducts the interview will tell you a great deal about that, but don’t be afraid to ask questions:
How long have you been practicing in this state? What portion of your practice is family law? How do you keep current on changes in the law, taxes, and emerging issues like stock options?
What is your policy on returning telephone calls, fees and billing? How much will it cost?
How long will this take? What is the basic process?
How is support determined? What if we can’t resolve custody or visitation?
How do you feel about working with mediators?
What percentage of your cases are resolved without having to go to trial? If the lawyer tells you that more than 5% of his or her cases end up in a trial, beware. A good, ethical lawyer is able to settle most cases.
Have a list of questions ready to ask your lawyer at the initial appointment. Pay attention to how you lawyer responds to your questions. Does he or she treat your inquiries with respect? Do you get a complete answer in terms that you understand? If he or she doesn’t know the answer, does the lawyer admit it, and offer to get back to you — and does he or she follow through? The way in which the lawyer responds tells you a great deal about how the lawyer operates, and how you’ll be treated as your case goes on.
Choose a lawyer who is responsive to your questions and needs. Divorce is a very personal process. You are living with the choices that you make in your case. Your lawyer is not. A good lawyer is also a good listener, explainer, advocate, negotiator, and barometer of the pros and cons of the decisions you’ll have to make in your case. If your lawyer doesn’t have time or patience to answer your questions or to explain the legal process to you, then you shouldn’t hire this person. More information is also available at our resource center, http://www.peace-talks.com/resources.php.
Excerpted from Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001). For more information: http://www.yourdivorceadvisor.com/.
For more information contact Peace Talks www.peace-talks.com
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