As an individual prepares for the realities of a pending divorce, regardless of which spouse has taken the first step to terminate the marriage, the first decision that must be made is hiring a lawyer to represent their legal and equitable interests. In choosing a lawyer, there are a number of considerations that dictate whether an individual lawyer is an appropriate fit for your case.
When looking for an attorney, first and foremost, it is imperative that he or she have experience in the practice of Family Law (custody, divorce). When meeting an attorney for the first time, the prospective client must determine whether or not they are comfortable with her or him and that there is a mutual level of trust and respect. If not, you should continue interviewing until you find an attorney who meets these standards. The attorney you hire must listen to you and be clear about his or her intentions for your representation.
Second, the individual client must identify the pressing concerns and issues in the pending divorce. Specifically, when there are children involved, there are two interdependent yet unique conflicts that must be resolved: (a) familial concerns (i.e., custody and parenting time) and (b) financial concerns (i.e., alimony, child support, equitable distribution, etc.).
As it pertains to the familial concerns, it is imperative that the divorcing individual finds an attorney who understands their concerns and desired outcomes, yet take all necessary precautions to attempt to eliminate and/or reduce the negative impact that the divorce will have on the children and the parents, without jeopardizing the client’s position. Almost all divorce attorneys have the wherewithal to understand the legal underpinnings of the custodial disputes, yet not all attorneys have the ability to engage in litigation regarding custody without causing the family to become collateral damage.
As it pertains to the financial considerations, the issues can become quite complex depending upon the specifics of the parties’ finances. The complexities can result from unique budgetary, spending and saving habits, complicated income structures due to bonus payments or being self-employed, and asset/liability bases which require in depth analysis of finances, including business ownership, stock portfolios, pre-marital or exempt funds, etc.
In this regard, it is imperative to have a divorce attorney with a strong financial background to understand the realities of the client’s finances. It takes more than an ability to read and relay this information, however, as successfully representing an individual’s financial interests requires an actual, in-depth understanding of the family’s finances from the perspective of actual (vs. reported) earnings and cash flow, spending habits, and investments. This in-depth understanding enables the attorney to negotiate from a position of strength, while obtaining better results due to the better understanding of the finances and the financial implications of a settlement. When this understanding is lacking, a “cookie-cutter” divorce agreement results, which benefits neither party and calls into question the decision to hire an attorney in the first place.
In the end, a divorcing individual needs to find an attorney who is the right fit for their needs, both personally and due to the realities of their case. Most importantly, while many divorce litigators take ownership of their client’s case, in the sense that it is now the attorney’s case to “win”, one should find an attorney who is mindful that it is the client who always owns their case and the attorney’s role is to serve as an adviser, advocate and champion of their cause.