How do I find a good divorce attorney?

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Question:

My wife just informed me that she's in love with someone else and wants a divorce. She already has a lawyer for herself. I've been getting names of possible attorneys from friends, but my friends often say things like, "This one will make sure your wife won't get a penny." Of course I'm angry, but I'm not sure I want this to turn into a heated battle. What qualities would you advise I look for in a divorce attorney?

Answer:

If you want to keep your sanity through the tough days ahead, you want an attorney who emphasizes divorce mediation or collaborative divorce over litigation. Divorcing spouses almost always come out ahead when they participate in a structured process to negotiate their own disputes rather than letting the court system decide how they'll divide their property and who should have custody of the children. Also, many courts require divorcing spouses to at least give mediation a try before battling it out in the courtroom.

This means you'll want to look for a lawyer who has a strong track record in using mediation (not one who is lukewarm on the subject) or a lawyer who is trained and experienced in collaborative law -- a new way of divorcing where both parties have lawyers, but where everyone agrees to meet together and try to negotiate a settlement, and promises not to go to court.

Ask prospective lawyers how they feel about mediation and collaborative law, whether they've had previous cases resolved through mediation or collaborative law, and whether they think mediation or collaborative law would be appropriate in your situation. The answers will help you figure out whether the lawyer will really try to reach a negotiated settlement with your spouse -- or will rush to the courthouse at the first sign of trouble.

One good resource for finding a lawyer with experience in mediation and collaborative law is Nolo's Lawyer Directory. Nolo's directory provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney that tells you about the lawyer's experience and training, and, perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. For more information, see www.nolo.com.

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