Frequently Asked Questions About Getting a Divorce Lawyer
Insights from a divorce lawyer to demystify legal representationBy Andrew Brandt | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on December 1, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Dori Foster-Morales
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- How Do I Find a Divorce Attorney Who’s a Good Fit For Me?
- I Have a Lot of Questions About the Divorce Process—Is It Okay to Ask?
- I Don’t Know What to Ask About—What Are Good Questions for the First Meeting?
- What Are Some Legal Representation Red Flags I Should Be Aware Of?
- What if I’ve Already Hired a Lawyer and They’re Not the Best Fit?
- Start the Process of Finding an Experienced Divorce Attorney
If you’re headed towards a divorce, it’s likely you’ll need a lawyer. Perhaps just as likely? You’ve never needed one before. We spoke with Dori Foster-Morales, a family law attorney and the 2020-21 president of The Florida Bar, about what clients should seek in an attorney, as well as questions to ask and red flags to watch out for.
How Do I Find a Divorce Attorney Who’s a Good Fit For Me?
Number one, it’s really important to get a baseline by meeting with more than one person. It’s sort of like your wedding planner; you want to be comfortable with someone. You need to ask questions about your case, not be afraid, and then see how well you are able to communicate with that lawyer.
Every lawyer doesn’t have a good fit with every client. Maybe you have a conversation, and the lawyer explains the case and how they see it. And if the client doesn’t like the advice—if you’re already bumping heads with strategy—maybe that’s not a good fit.
I Have a Lot of Questions About the Divorce Process—Is It Okay to Ask?
Do not be afraid of a dumb question—you’re not a lawyer!
As a lawyer, I don’t think I’m intimidating, but I get it: I’m very direct, I’m very assertive. But I don’t want people to be nervous—I’m glad when they ask questions. If they don’t ask questions, then down the road it always ends up not so great. Most good lawyers would rather have people ask questions.
If you’re afraid to ask your lawyer a question, you’re with the wrong lawyer. If you have a lawyer that’s not open, you have to be wary of that. I will tell people I don’t do flat fee retainers. In my view, it’s a bad idea for the lawyer and client not to have those very honest conversations at the beginning.
I Don’t Know What to Ask About—What Are Good Questions for the First Meeting?
In a divorce case, the question is: ‘What’s my entitlement to alimony/spousal support, child support, et cetera?’ You’re not really talking about whether or not you have a good case. The worst thing that can happen, in general, is that you don’t understand your risk and reward in the legal process.
Some important questions to ask an attorney at the initial consultation include:
- How much does a divorce cost?
- What’s my likelihood of prevailing?
- Do you charge attorney fees with hourly rates, flat fees, retainers, or some other method?
What Are Some Legal Representation Red Flags I Should Be Aware Of?
Is the office organized or disorganized? Did they get back to you to schedule your appointment?
You have to feel like your problem is going to be important to the lawyer. If at the beginning you feel like you’re disregarded—even in scheduling an interview—I would just figure they’re either too busy or not interested in your case.
You also have to feel out how realistic or honest people are being with you. We all have credibility detectors—we know when our kids are lying to us. You want to be wary of someone who is just going to agree with you. You need real legal advice. People tell me all the time, ‘I don’t think that’s fair.’ And I say, ‘Look, for you, fair has to do with your emotional belief. For me, fair is: What would a judge do under Florida law?’
What if I’ve Already Hired a Lawyer and They’re Not the Best Fit?
If you’re in the midst of an attorney-client relationship and you feel uncomfortable, interview another good lawyer and give them the [overview] of what’s going on in your case. Sometimes you need that second opinion, and don’t be afraid to tell your lawyer you’re a little uncomfortable. I’m always comfortable with that; I advise people to get second opinions.
The worst thing for your case is switching lawyers a lot. There’s no more surefire way to make a judge think there’s something wrong with you than if you switch lawyers a lot. You really want to make a good decision early on. You can switch lawyers once without it being held against you, but it can be a problem if you’re on your third or fourth lawyer.
The attorney-client relationship is a constant communication process, and you need to be honest with yourself and how you think things are going. People in litigation are sometimes not in a good emotional place. So, just because you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean your lawyer is doing a bad job. That’s why I always say: Get a second opinion and talk to your lawyer about it.
Start the Process of Finding an Experienced Divorce Attorney
If you have questions about divorce, child custody arrangements, or any other family law matter, use the Super Lawyers directory to find an experienced family law attorney in your area. If you’d like more information on this area of law, see our overviews of family law and divorce law, and related legal content on collaborative divorce and alternative dispute resolution.
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