How to Find a Divorce Lawyer

How to Find a Divorce Lawyer


How to Find a Divorce Lawyer

In 2019, approximately 747,000 couples divorced in the United States. Most often, a divorce takes a long time and is emotionally draining, and the divorce process can last more than a year, with an average total cost of  12,900$. Although you don't have to have a lawyer to divorce, the process is legally complicated, and the absence of a lawyer can lead to problems, especially if the other spouse has one.


If you decide that it makes sense to hire a lawyer, what is the best way to find the right lawyer? Of course, each spouse will have his own problems and needs, and each spouse will need his own lawyer. The types of divorce lawyers and their fees may vary significantly. But it is important to understand the main elements of what divorce lawyers do, where to find them and how much they can cost. Even if the spouses were able to settle the divorce without going to court, good legal advice can help. If you are considering hiring a divorce lawyer, here's what you need to know.


KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Divorce lawyers provide advice on marriage termination, including dividing assets, custody, and the options available to the client under the law.
  • The total cost of divorce proceedings averages $12,900, with attorney fees costing $11,300 on average in the United States.
  • Divorce lawyers can help navigate the complex legal system of divorce proceedings—typically characterized by significant paperwork, waiting periods, difficult terminology, and acrimony.
  • When looking for a divorce lawyer, word-of-mouth referrals from friends, family, and other professionals are a useful place to start.
  • Seeking out attorneys who specialize in areas such as custody or division of assets can also be beneficial.
  • Asking about an attorney’s billing practices and getting a cost estimate provides useful information on what to expect through the process.
  • Interviewing attorneys before choosing one can provide insight into what they'd be like to work with through this difficult period.


What Does a Divorce Lawyer Do?


A divorce lawyer protects the rights of his client, and also deals with custody and financial aspects of the divorce. It is important to note that a divorce lawyer will also explain the law and the legal options available to you.


The lawyer should familiarize himself with your situation and the relevant documents. They may include salary receipts, tax returns, information about the value of the property. They should also listen to the client's account of their situation and goals and make recommendations based on those specific needs.


Although only a small percentage of divorces reach Court (90% are resolved before trial), of those cases, lawyers for each of the spouses undergo long training to present evidence to the judge, call witnesses to support their case and make opening and closing statements. Divorce lawyers draw up a prenuptial settlement agreement, which is a legal contract that, among other things, determines the terms of custody of children, alimony and division of property.


Divorce mediation is an alternative to litigation. This process involves a neutral mediator who facilitates divorce negotiations by trying to help the parties reach an agreement. It is often cheaper and faster than going to court. Spouses can resort to mediation without lawyers, but this may not be the wisest way, unless the divorce is very simple — for example, the marriage was short, there are no children, and the division property is minimal.


Divorce arbitration is another form of resolving disputes during divorce negotiations without going to court, and it can also be faster. It differs from mediation in that both parties present their case to the chosen arbitrator, and the arbitrator decides how to manage his case. The arbitrator is most often a lawyer or a retired judge. However, it is important to note that most often the arbitrator's decision is not subject to appeal.


Do You Need a Divorce Lawyer?


Working within the framework of the legal process of divorce is often difficult — it is characterized by a large amount of paperwork, waiting periods, submission of several forms, among other requirements, which creates additional obstacles for people who may want to undergo divorce proceedings without a lawyer. Depending on the circumstances of the spouses (whether they have children, property or large retirement accounts), they may need lawyers who will be actively involved in their divorce. The more work a lawyer has to do, the more expensive it will cost.


There are many reasons why people prefer to hire a divorce lawyer. Firstly, divorce lawyers are able to submit a case to a judge, see the big picture and find the best deal for their clients. Secondly, a divorce lawyer can offer options that people may not even suspect. They can predict the result, suggest settlement options and make settlement proposals as a result of their experience in similar situations.


It is important to note that due to the emotional stress of the divorce process, divorce lawyers act as an objective third party, helping clients to keep calm and work out the best possible solution. Individuals with children or significant assets are likely to need a lawyer, while two people with few and comparable assets probably will not need the same level of assistance.


Payment: What You Should Expect and How to Pay


The average total cost of a divorce can range from $7,000 to $28,000, with divorce lawyers charging an average of $270 per hour. According to a study by the Martindale - Nolo Research Foundation conducted in 2019, the average lawyer's fee for divorces that lasted less than six months was $6,500; for divorces that lasted more than 30 months, $23,000. As a rule, lawyers in divorce proceedings are paid an advance payment, which requires clients to pay in advance for their services. On average, the start-up fee ranged from  $2,000 to  $5,000.


In some legal aid associations that provide legal services and represent the interests of people in financial difficulties, there are divorce lawyers. But since divorces are of less interest than other types of cases, lawyers may not be available to most applicants. Given these variables, it is important for individuals to weigh the costs and benefits of each scenario.


Fees


Most often, divorce lawyers are paid by the hour, and not a fixed fee. Customers are usually billed in increments of six to 15 minutes. Below is a breakdown of the average hourly rates based on the 2019 survey:


  • $100/hr.: 11%
  • $200/hr.: 34%
  • $300/hr.: 35%
  • $400+/hr.: 20%


Some lawyers charge a fee for a consultation, some provide free consultations. Ask before arranging it. During the consultation, discuss the lawyer's cost estimates and their billing practices. Lawyers with experience in relevant cases can better understand what charges to expect, as well as knowledge and a critical view of the subject.


When it comes to billing, services such as reviewing documents, communicating with the spouse's lawyer, setting up settlement negotiations and every communication — such as emails or calls — with your lawyer are paid.


Reducing costs


According to a research survey conducted by Martindale-Novo, the two main factors that affect the cost of a divorce lawyer are whether disputes have been resolved before trial and the duration of the divorce. Expenses jumped by an average of 70% for those who filed for divorce in court, not agreeing to an out-of-court settlement.


To help reduce costs, individuals can opt for a task-based billing system in which only certain issues are handled by a lawyer and the rest are handled by paralegals. It costs less than a comprehensive basic service, with which the lawyer conducts the entire divorce process.


Asking for a flat fee is another option, especially for the less complicated divorce process. Although this is less common, it can help to get a clearer idea of the expected costs.


How to Find a Good Divorce Lawyer


As with many other services, the search for a good divorce lawyer can start with recommendations from friends or family. In addition, other specialists, such as accountants or financial advisers, can give recommendations. A deeper understanding of their experience with a lawyer can provide valuable information about what to pay attention to and what to avoid. 


You can also search the websites of lawyers, including those specializing in marriage or family law.


Organizations to check


Online information portals, such as Martindale-Hubbell, Avvo, and Lawyers.com offer client and peer attorney reviews. Another good source is an association of attorneys focused on divorce and family law that often provides search portals for members, resources, and information you can use to educate yourself about legal issues around divorce. You can also use these sites to check the names of attorneys who have been recommended to you.


  • The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers focuses on raising standards and education in family law. Amal, based in Chicago, is a professional organization of family lawyers. You can use their website to search for a lawyer by City and state.
  • The Family Law Division of the American Bar Association has thousands of members worldwide. It publishes research articles on divorce and related issues, from Case Analysis to quarterly news and publications. Its search portal allows you to search for lawyers by state. Like Amal, it is based in Chicago.
  • Outside the United States, there is an International Academy of family lawyers, whose members lead divorce lawyers in their fields and countries. It employs 930 colleagues from 67 countries around the world. The organization was created to improve the practice of divorce and family law at the global level. It provides a search portal to find divorce lawyers in different countries and regions.


Finding the Right Lawyer for Your Situation


When you identify potential candidates, interview your best candidates. Some offer free consultations, but set aside a budget for a paid meeting if you think the lawyer is worth it. From each meeting, you will learn something about how you want your divorce to proceed. Find out if they have the knowledge you need, if their approach is consistent with the way you hope to work, and how much you think you can work with this lawyer. In addition, as mentioned above, specify the cost structure that will entail the appointment of this lawyer.


Experience. Find a lawyer who specializes in divorce and issues that are most relevant to your situation. Perhaps you need a person who deals with issues related to storage, or a specialist in the separation of complex assets. The presence of a lawyer who has worked in the committees of the family law bar association or has spoken to bar associations on these issues is another indicator that they are knowledgeable in this area. Also useful: a divorce lawyer is familiar with the judges and the judicial system in your jurisdiction and can shape his strategy based on knowledge of how individual judges have ruled in the past.


Approach. Find a lawyer who shares your approach to divorce. Ask how he will solve your problems. Some may work in a collaborative style aimed at solving problems, minimizing conflicts, and, possibly, settling a divorce without going to court. Others may take a more aggressive approach. Find a lawyer who handles your case the way you want to handle a divorce.


The level of comfort. Since divorce is one of the most stressful, painful and financially dangerous events in life, find a lawyer with whom you feel a level of trust and comfort and who treats you with respect, attention and patience.


How Can I Afford a Divorce Lawyer?


Since the cost of a divorce can range from $7,000 to  $28,000, many Americans are wondering how it can be paid for. Getting out of a 401 (k) is a valid option if the money was spent on a divorce. However, it is important to note that automatic temporary restraining orders do not allow individuals to withdraw money from their retirement accounts before the divorce, in order to prevent a change in their financial situation.


The states also have fee waiver options available to people whose self-reported income was in the lower income category, which excludes fees related to litigation. Legal aid associations can provide a free lawyer for divorce proceedings.

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