One of the most important things about surviving and thriving through a divorce or other family law case or process is ensuring that you have an advocate that you trust and believe in. The best thing you can do is to objectively evaluate your options and try to make careful, unemotional decisions. Choosing your lawyer and advocate through the process can be the single most important decision you make in some circumstances. Even if you have received a referral or strong recommendation from a trusted friend, colleague, medical provider or friend, it is always helpful to make sure you are prepared to have a strong and productive meeting when you meet with your legal professional.
When you are trying to determine whether a particular lawyer is the right fit for your case and will stand by you and advocate for you during such a difficult time, there are a few focused questions that you can ask them. It is our belief that your lawyer’s answers to these questions will help you determine if the lawyer you are meeting with is the bet fit for you, your case and situations/needs.
“Do you handle cases outside family law and divorce?”
Given how complicated the family law statutes and laws are, and the variety of topics a lawyer has to be well-versed in, including child custody, child abuse, division of property, division of debts, income calculation for child support and maintenance, among other topics, it is generally important that you find legal counsel who has a focused specialization and dedicated expertise in family law. Lawyers who assist with cases in a wide variety of areas of the law might not be able to provide the focus, insight and expertise that your case calls for.
It is also important that you consider the lawyer’s courtroom history and ability to deal with complications in your case- even if you plan to resolve everything through settlement. Frankly, many cases that begin with an intention to resolve everything through settlement, end up having one or more contested issues. Your lawyer having the willingness to stand up for you and litigate the case can often ensure the other side will cooperate in coming to a fair and reasonable settlement.
“Do you have experience with family law?”
The lawyer’s knowledge and experience in family law cases is important in many ways. If any difficult or contested issues present, the lawyer’s experience, not only in family law in general, but with your specific judge will play an invaluable role in the lawyer guiding you toward both, making reasonable settlement recommendations, as well as preparing and presenting your case for trial in a way that the trial judge will appreciate (if it gets to that). Often a lawyer with knowledge and experience can provide invaluable insight about when to file motions, what type of legal arguments to make, what legal evidence is going to be well-received by the judge, the appropriate objections to make in trials or hearings and conducting direct and cross-examinations.
Having the confidence that you have an experienced divorce or family law attorney on your side will bring confidence and peace of mind so that you can focus on working with your counsel to prepare necessary evidence and not worrying about whether your legal advocate is appropriately handling his or her job.
“What is your fee structure?”
To ensure a positive attorney-client working relationship, it is a good idea to discuss anticipated costs and how billing and expenses during the case will work. In extreme high conflict situations, a divorce can last for many months or even a couple of years so understanding your anticipated financial responsibility through the process can help meter and set expectations so that you do not have surprises during an already stressful process. Generally, understanding whether the fee is a fixed fee or hourly fee, what is included in the hourly fee charging, the costs for paralegals and other support staff, how the advanced fee deposit and replenishment works and whether different hourly rates are charged in different circumstances will help you prepare for what is to come.
“How will your office handle communication?”
When people have a “bad lawyer” experience, an overwhelming majority of people report it is related to poor or ineffective communication, not knowing or understanding what is going on a case or other similar concerns. You should know up front how often your lawyer will communicate with you, whether you will communicate directly with your lawyer or through staff members, whether you can communicate through phone, email, office meetings or other mechanisms and how long you should expect to wait when communication is needed.
“What approach do you take for family law cases?”
You need to make sure that your family law advocate has a similar approach to you in terms of working through your case and goals. If you are anticipating a very contentious, high-conflict case, you want to make sure that your attorney is prepared to handle those issues. On the other hand, if you want to cooperatively work through all of the issues, you want to ensure that your legal counsel is capable of maintaining a calm, collegial approach to resolving cases that will help expedite cooperation and positive communication.
“What are My Options for Solving My Legal Problems?”
Even if you come to your consultation anticipating the needs for your case (such as a settlement or a trial), you should ask your lawyer about whether he or she has suggestions for other methods or mechanisms that could resolve your case. Particularly in the area of settlement, looking for compromise could save you substantial time, money and emotional energy as compared to a long, drawn out contested process.
“What is the anticipated divorce or family law process in my state?”
The laws and process for obtaining a divorce, child custody determination or other family law situation can vary widely from state to state. Make sure you understand, for your specific state, what will be expected in terms of filing for the divorce, the expectations for custody determinations, how child support is calculated, how maintenance, what used to be known as alimony, will be determined, how property will be divided and how the court will finalize the divorce.
“How should I protect My Financial Interests?”
In many circumstances, there is certain financial planning and other considerations you can make that will help your position in the divorce case process. Make sure you understand how joint bank accounts, joint credit cards and debts, among other things should be addressed during the pendency of the case. You also need to understand whether you should stay or move out of your home and what the ramifications of either plan would be.
Choose a Competent Divorce Lawyer in Kansas or Missouri
While this is a brief guide for questions to ask, remember that having a consultation with your family law attorney is an invaluable first step to determine if he or she is a good fit for your case and situation. Call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation and let us answer these questions for you!