How do I find a good divorce attorney?

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

A good attorney can change the course of your divorce. It can be the difference between feeling like you have an advocate to protect you, or feeling like you’re fighting a battle alone. Divorce is hard, but an experienced divorce lawyer can take on some of that burden and help you achieve your goals. Find out more about what to look for when choosing a divorce attorney.

What Type of Attorney do I Need?

When you’re getting a divorce, you’ll need an attorney who is experienced in family law matters. A old college friend who now practices medical malpractice law isn't likely to be the best choice to handle your divorce. Different areas of the law have different rules and requirements. Attorneys in each practice area have different skill sets. Divorce can be a complex process and it’s essential to have an attorney who knows the nuances of family law and is familiar with your local court's rules and judges.

Can My Spouse and I Share an Attorney?

The short answer is “no.” The professional rules of conduct governing lawyers prohibit attorneys from representing both spouses in a divorce. This would create a conflict of interest for the attorney, since your interests, rights, and needs in a divorce are adverse to your spouse’s. A single attorney can’t ethically give good legal advice to two people in adverse positions.

While some couples choose to use a single attorney to draw up divorce paperwork, that attorney legally only represents one of the spouses. If your spouse has hired an attorney to prepare paperwork or a settlement agreement, it’s important that you seek advice about your rights from a your own attorney before signing anything.

How Do I Know If an Attorney Is the Right fit?

You should interview any prospective attorney just as you would someone who was applying to work for you. You need to like your attorney. It’s also important that you have confidence in your lawyer’s abilities and respond well to communication style. Some lawyers pride themselves on an aggressive demeanor, while others highlight their ability to collaborate and settle most divorces without a drawn-out courtroom battle.

Your needs, your personality, and your spouse’s demeanor in the divorce will also affect the type of attorney best suited to your case. For example, if you and your spouse want to compromise and settle your divorce economically and quickly, you may want to avoid a “bulldog” type of attorney, meaning one that never gives in. Additionally, certain attorneys have collaborative law certifications and will commit to helping resolve your case rather than racking up legal fees.

What Resources Are Available?

If you’re unsure where to begin your search, you can start by reviewing Nolo’s Lawyer Directory. Nolo’s online directory allows you to look for attorneys by practice area and provides a detailed profile with each attorney’s experience, philosophy, and expertise. Your local state bar is another resource for finding an attorney trained to handle divorces.

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