7 Important Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney


April 30, 2018

7 Important Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney

Your first meeting with a divorce attorney is important. It helps you get a sense of whether you feel the attorney will have your back during your legal proceedings, and gives you crucial information about what you will need to do as your case progresses.

But your first meeting, especially if your decision to divorce is still very new, can also be emotional and stressful. Remembering everything you need to ask in order to help you choose the right attorney for your needs can be difficult. Here are 7 important questions you need to ask your divorce attorney during your first consultation:

What Is Your Fee Structure, and How Do You Bill Time?

Your mom may have told you it’s impolite to talk about money, but that rule doesn’t matter when it comes to you paying for a service.

Attorneys can have different fee structures, but the most common practices in family law are retainer and hourly billing. Many divorce attorneys require a retainer – an up-front payment that must be received before any work can begin – and then they bill hourly once the retainer is used up. Others require a retainer, and then require you to keep that retainer at a certain dollar-amount level throughout your proceedings. All work your attorney and her staff do, as well as any costs advanced for things like filing fees and copies, are billed against this retainer. [1]

Some divorce attorneys do not require a retainer, and instead bill hourly. You need to know which fee structure the attorney uses, how much your attorney bills hourly, how much your attorney’s support staff (paralegals, legal assistants, filing clerks, etc.) bill hourly, and their terms of payment to make the best decision on which attorney to hire.

What Can I Expect Regarding Alimony, Child Custody, Child Support, Division of Assets, etc.?

Though there are lots of variables – income differences, standard of living expectations, distance apart – many attorneys should be able to give you a basic read on what you can expect for the major categories based on state law. In Maryland, for example, you can expect marital property divided up by a judge to be divided equitably, so it isn’t guaranteed that each spouse gets a 50/50 share of property. Md. Code, Fam. Law, § 8-205. Your attorney can give you a guess as to what you can expect, based on the law, but expect there to be some variance to accommodate your unique situation.

How Much of Your Practice Is Devoted to Family Law?

Does your chosen attorney focus on family law matters, or is it just merely part of his practice? Just because an attorney doesn’t devote his entire practice to family law doesn’t mean he’s a bad attorney or won’t get you the resolution your entitled to; it just means he may not be as quick with answers since family law isn’t all he does. If you’re really concerned about hiring someone who knows all the ins and outs of divorces, and who has been in courtrooms all over your area with divorcing couples, you might want to find an attorney who focuses her practice on family law. [2]

Do You Prefer to Come to a Resolution Outside the Courtroom, or in Trial?

Many people want to find that “bulldog” of an attorney, who will always pursue the most aggressive course of action for his clients. That’s fine, but be sure to know what you’re getting into when you hire an attorney. If you’d prefer to work as hard as possible toward a resolution out of court, either through joint talks or mediation, finding an attorney experienced in these sorts of negotiations and who supports this approach is crucial. [2]

How Involved Will You Be with My Case?

Attorneys are busy, and they can’t possibly do all the work that goes into even one divorce case alone. They have teams of paralegals, legal secretaries, researchers, and other experienced professionals backing them up. In a smaller firm or solo practice, you’re more likely to have better access to the attorney than if you go with a larger, more corporate firm with a complicated organizational chart. Neither choice is wrong, but asking this question helps keep you from getting surprised by your call being transferred to a paralegal instead of the attorney. [2]

If You Are Unavailable When I Call, How Long Should I Wait for a Response?

Being able to communicate effectively with your attorney is important, especially if you have questions or a problem arises. Most attorneys have a 24-hour response policy, where they or someone from their staff will respond to messages and emails within 24 hours on business days. You also should get information on who to contact in an after-hours emergency, just in case you need it. [2]

In Your Professional Opinion, What Can I Expect from This Process?

This is a question that may make some attorneys uncomfortable to answer, because they realize there is so much variation in the divorce process and, what may look like a quick, amicable process at the beginning can quickly turn ugly. However, most attorneys will be able to give you the run-down of the general process of legal proceedings – gathering information, discussions on dividing up parenting time and assets, going back and forth on final matters – and may give you an average length of time they’ve seen in cases they handle. Again, don’t expect the answer you get at this stage to hold 100% true, but it can help put to rest some fears you may have about the overall process. [1]

Compassionate Divorce Representation in Maryland

At the Law Offices of Sandra Guzman-Salvado, we understand your divorce is an emotionally stressful time. Our experienced team partners with you every step of the way, working always in your best interests to get you the resolution you deserve. Contact our offices today for your free consultation.

[1] Franco, Jeff, “Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer During the Initial Consultation,” Legal Zoom.

[2] “Top Ten Questions to Ask Your Divorce Attorney in the Initial Interview,” Second Saturday.