You found those texts from some other woman on his phone.
Or you had a process server hand you papers while you were putting the kids in the car for school.
You need to find a divorce attorney . . . how do you navigate the web of attorneys out there to find the firm best for you. Here are some useful things to consider.
During your divorce, your attorney will know more about you than your therapist, or your closest friends. Everything that was within the walls of your home now is disclosed. You will share information about your salary and your debt, your saving and your spending habits, your relationship with your children, your mental health and more. You are literally trusting this person with your life.
The key thing to remember is that attorney-client privilege starts as soon as you talk to an attorney. You may want to bring a sibling, parent or girlfriend along to an initial meeting with an attorney for support, but that voids this confidentiality. There may be important things for us to know as attorneys which will impact how we assess your case. It is a careful line for us, as attorneys, to cross when we meet for the first time. We often sense that there is more to a story, such as suspecting physical or financial abuse, but this becomes difficult to discuss in front of a third party if you don’t bring it up. Confidentiality, and trust, start in that first meeting with an attorney, but its foundation is honesty and full disclosure.
Another important note to remember is that your divorce will not be like any other person’s divorce. The attorneys in our firm have collectively over 40 years of family law experience. Just when we say we have seen every scenario, some new issue is presented. So it doesn’t matter that one of our attorneys was able to bargain a deal for a buy-out of maintenance, or get a better percentage on child expense obligations. Your divorce, like your life and your family, is unique. An on-line assessment of, “She’s a great attorney! She got me primary residential custody!” is good to hear, but for other reasons may not be possible in your case. You have to feel comfortable, even in that initial meeting, that this is the right person to represent you.
When you come for a consultation, you have a limited amount of time. You will be reeling with turmoil, but remember, this boils down to a business decision. In our initial consultation with any client, we do give you the right amount of time to tell your emotional side of the story, of what you are going through. But frankly, we will interrupt you throughout your story. We have to get out some of the nuts and bolts – date of the marriage? Age of the children? When did he lose his job? – so that we are able to appropriately advise you.
Here are just a few of the practical things you should think about when talking to a divorce attorney, to see if she is right for you:
1. Knowledge of the Law. You are going to come in with some very real and specific questions, for example: if you have been the breadwinner and unhappily supporting your at-home spouse, or you gave up your career and 401(k) years ago to be the at-home parent, you need to see if there could be an obligation for support, and for how long. The same for children, and paying child support. Keep in mind: We will not be able to give you a precise answer of “how much” in the initial consultation, or perhaps for a while until we delve into all of the finances. Illinois statutes look at “income from all sources,” and while there is a formula for child and for spousal support, there are discretionary factors for setting the final amount. We can give you parameters based upon the law and our experience, but will be able to give you specifics for your financial future as your case progresses. Be weary of lawyers that tell you only what you want to hear in order to have you sign on the dotted line.
2. Is the Laywer’s Approach Right for You. You may have a referral to one attorney, but you should ask how the firm operates. Will a paralegal draft pleadings? Will my lead attorney be there for every court appearance? For example, our partners talk and share information about our cases and clients, and our clients are introduced to everyone on staff. Your lead attorney will be your primary contact, but you should feel comfortable knowing that you have hired a cohesive firm, with all advocating for you.
3. Hourly rate, and retainer. Too many people mistakenly believe that the initial retainer is the entire cost for the divorce. Rarely is that so. Lawyers.com recently gave an average cost for a divorce in Illinois of $13,800, topping over $20,000 if parenting matters are involved. Few families have this kind of financial reserve. You should ask about the hourly rate of your attorney, the initial retainer, and what happens when that retainer is depleted. Ask as well how much trial costs, and what steps happen before a trial, or even how to keep your costs down during the process.
4. Karma. Finally, there’s an intangible to selecting the right firm for you. Don’t forget the gut check. After all I’ve heard, do I feel informed and protected here?
Keep in mind always that this is your relationship with your attorney. Asking these questions at your first meeting will help you make the right decision.