Preparing for divorce is one of the most serious things you will ever do. The questions are endless. I will delve into the various questions that may be on your mind and I will address each one individually.
Here is a typical list of questions asked of me when someone meets with me, seeking a divorce.
Trust me, these are not all of the questions you will ask. Many of these questions are not part of the initial consultation. If you hire a highly experienced divorce attorney, this is only a small part of what we are thinking at your initial consultation.
Throughout this guide, I will briefly discuss each of these topics, so that you can begin to have a proper education. While you might not get all of the answers, you will at least know the questions to ask, which will get you thinking, as well.
How Do I Research The Best Way To Divorce Using The Internet?
I always ask my clients how they found my firm. Most clients are referred by other clients. Increasingly, clients find me with an Internet search. I would say that Google remains the number one way clients find me. There are more specialized websites, such as Superlawyers, Findlaw and Avvo.
Geographic-Specific Search Queries
Google will search for exactly your search query. Searches can be geographic, such as Howard County divorce attorney, Ellicott City child custody attorney, etc. They can also be purely topical, and Google will add in the geographic restriction on its own. Suppose you are looking for a domestic violence attorney. A men’s right’s attorney. You can always go back and add in a geographic element if you wish.
Findlaw.com will typically search for attorneys who subscribe to Findlaw, such as hosting websites or more. Avvo tends to also search its members. Like a blog, many Avvo subscribing attorneys answer questions from the public. If you want, look up my name on Avvo.com, and you will see what I mean.
The real question is why would someone seek a divorce attorney using the Internet? The answer is that when you do not have a family member, friend, co-worker or acquaintance who can provide you with a referral, you will usually turn to the Internet.
Top Search Queries For Divorce Attorneys
What are the best searches for a divorce attorney on the Internet? I would suggest a combination of general, topical and geography. Start with Howard County. Add in divorce, custody, domestic violence, visitation, appeal or child support.
What about ratings from various websites? Should I care about them? I would say absolutely not. Attorneys sometimes ask their clients to rate them. They are only asking the satisfied clients, so the results are not exactly meaningful, although complimentary. The negative ratings are often, although not always, from clients disgruntled with their case, the legal system or a judge. Sometimes they are also upset with their attorney, but more often than not, it has little or nothing to do with their attorney.
Tips When Search For A Divorce Attorney
If I can give you one great piece of advice on finding a divorce attorney using the Internet, I would look for experience in the specific area you are seeking an attorney. A well-respected family law attorney with at least 25 years experience, combined with a firm that includes associates, paralegals and non-billable support personnel, is likely to be your best fit.
Once you hire your divorce attorney, if that relationship is truly not working for you, have a candid conversation with your attorney. You need to have the divorce attorney who is the best fit for you, but judges tend to judge you if you “attorney shop”.
How Do I Know If I Am Finding The Right Divorce Attorney?
So, you found your divorce attorney, and you and the attorney are now working together. Perhaps it is purely for advice. Perhaps you are drafting a separation agreement. Maybe you are engaged in hard-nosed litigation.
How do I know if my divorce attorney is doing a good job? If you have a meeting with your attorney and your spouse’s attorney, and your attorney appears to not know what he or she is talking about, while the other attorney appears competent and confident, you probably need to have a blunt conversation with your divorce attorney.
The Types Of Questions Asked
It is incredibly important for your divorce attorney to have a thorough conversation with you, determining your goals, how your attorney will seek to achieve those goals, as well as the risks and probabilities of achieving your goals. There tend to be two types of divorce attorneys: those who will agree to anything you identify as a goal, and those who will sit down with you, walk through the pros and cons and provide you with a candid assessment of risk assessment and your best game plan.
For example, I have seen attorneys file aggressive litigation regarding a minor issue regarding holiday access to their child, only to have the other parent get so fed up with the style of litigation, that parent then turns around and files for a change of custody.
Your Comfortability Communicating With The Attorney
Managing risk is incredibly important in all aspects of decision-making in your family law case. Do you want to seek an increase of child support of $100 per month, only to enrage the other parent to seek a change in custody or visitation? There are many examples, but at its core, your ability to communicate with your divorce attorney, strategize and become comfortable with your choice is the key to finding and keeping the right family law attorney for you.
How Do I Know How Much Divorce Should Cost & How Do I Pay For It?
Most divorce attorneys will shy away from any question of the ultimate cost of legal services. Retainers vary widely by attorney. Hourly rates vary, as well. Some divorce attorneys will start with a low retainer, but you may have to keep re-paying a new retainer monthly, as the end cost could be quite high.
Have A Conversation About Fees Upfront
A conversation about fees always begins at your consult with your attorney. If your attorney does not bring it up first, you should be concerned. Our job is to provide you with an education. Our fees are part of that education.
Unless an attorney is willing to provide a flat fee service for a family law representation-and if the attorney does, be wary, very wary-no attorney can predict the total cost of legal services. What I like to do is provide likely ranges of counsel fees depending upon how the legal issue plays out.
For example, preparing for and attending a domestic violence hearing tends to have a finite period of time, and therefore, it is often a bit easier to predict a cost range. The same is true for any shorter representation. Included in this example would be the preparation of a Marital Separation Agreement, Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement. We can often provide a range of costs for drafting these agreements, but we will candidly tell you that the negotiation of the agreements could cause fees to increase.
Consider Your Type Of Case & Attorney’s Experience
One final word here. Often, you have no ability to pay for a divorce attorney. Experienced divorce attorneys know how to handle this situation. We can ask the Court to have your spouse contribute to your fees.
The Court looks at who controls the assets, who has more income and who has the ability to contribute to fees in making this determination. Never be discouraged by thinking that you do not have the financial ability to retain an attorney. Instead, sit down for a complimentary consultation with a divorce attorney to receive a great education and learn your options.
How Can I Minimize The Costs Of Attorneys’ Fees In Divorce?
Sometimes you can. Sometimes, you can’t. How is that for what appears to be a BS answer? It is, however, a reality. It is more productive to talk about how to pay for your family law case. Let’s start with the simple issue of how do you afford an attorney when you do not have a great deal of money. The key is to look at your resources, but then to look at the model or reward vs. risk.
Utilizing Your Assets
Resources typically include liquid assets, such as bank accounts, stocks, savings and the like. Sometimes, people will sell an asset to afford a divorce. Less obvious assets would include taking money from a home equity line of credit on your home or a loan against a retirement asset. Sometimes, folks will actually withdraw money from a retirement asset, but that can trigger all types of tax consequences so you will need to get advice before using that strategy.
Still others borrow money from family, and perhaps good friends. Borrowing from friends is not a great idea, although some friends truly don’t mind.
Let’s talk about how to finance your family law case when you are the financially dependent spouse. Sometimes, this is a multi-step process. It starts with asking the other spouse to contribute to your expenses. If the other spouse says no, then it is your divorce attorney’s turn to make a formal request of your spouse’s attorney. Let’s say that does not work either.
Filing A Motion With The Court For Advance Counsel Fees
When there is a large disparity in incomes, and/or when your spouse is holding onto access to the assets, so that you cannot effectively use any of your own money to pay for an attorney, you can apply to the court for your spouse to be ordered to provide you with money for interim counsel fees, as well as expert witness fees.
If all of these alternatives do not work for you, give one of the experienced family law attorneys at SIEGELLAW a call and we can brainstorm with you based on your individualized circumstances.
What Are The Other “Hidden” Expenses Of Divorce?
There are many direct expenses when you divorce. Attorneys’ fees are what most people view as the top cost. When you think about it, that is rarely true. The top cost in any divorce tends to be creating a second household. If you are not already separated when you first meet with your divorce attorney, you might get some sticker shock when you think about the concept that two people living separate and apart from each other rarely can live as economically as two people still living together.
Future College Costs
Interestingly enough, the next hidden cost that people do not think about when they are spending huge dollars to divorce, both by paying attorneys and setting up a separate household, is college costs. Whether college is a year away or 15 years ago, it is often the first or second largest expense you will ever be faced with. In Maryland, there is no requirement for parents to assist their children in paying for college. As a result, many spouses refuse to negotiate it, as they know judges cannot order it.
There is a very small subset of expert witnesses who assist parents with college expense readiness. They are often called FAFSA experts, because they help you plan for and fill out the government forms to assist with grants, scholarships and loans to pay for college. See elsewhere on my blogs for a more complete conversation about FAFSA.
Occasionally in contested divorce cases, expert witnesses are needed to prepare for trial, or settlement. Those costs will run into the thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars. They are to be used judiciously on a cost-benefit basis to ensure they are worth it.
I will mention one more here, which is counseling fees. Sometimes in a divorce, each parent has a counselor, the children have individual counselors and there may be a family counselor overlaying all of these counselors. They are not cheap, although great counselors can sometimes save you tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. Experienced divorce attorneys tend to know the better counselors, as well as all of their prices.
For a complete listing of the potentially hidden costs of divorce in your particular case, start with asking your divorce attorney, and then talk with your CPA. Did you know that highly experienced divorce attorneys can often recommend the top experts in any different fields that can assist you? It is absolutely true. When you start down the path towards divorce, either willingly or unwillingly, you need to walk down the path with your eyes open, financially, emotionally and otherwise.
How Do I Financially Prepare For The Divorce That I Know Is Coming?
There are so many ways you will need to prepare for your impending divorce. Preparing for it emotionally is never easy. Preparing for it financially is incredibly important and can be challenging. If you are the financially dependent spouse, you might not have access to the assets or bank accounts. If you are the primary bread-winner and the spouse who does the bills, you see the impossibility of creating two separate financial households when you are barely able to pay all the bills of one household.
What do you do? Where do you turn? Who can help?
Schedule An Initial Consultation With Your Divorce Attorney
It all starts with your initial consultation with your divorce attorney. That, by itself, should be complimentary, because divorce attorneys are providing a service-your education. If your divorce attorney charges for an initial consultation, you better make sure you have very clear conversations about fees moving forward. It means you are going to be billed for absolutely each and every step of your case.
Identifying Additional Sources Of Money
Affording your divorce is challenging, right? That could be a monumental understatement. You have to figure this out, because not being able to financially afford your divorce will produce a far worse outcome!
Potential sources of money to fund your divorce include the following:
- Your wages
- Your saving accounts
- Loans you can take from a retirement account
- Withdrawals from a retirement account
- Withdrawal from a mortgage home equity line of credit
- Asking your spouse for money
- Asking the Court for money
- Asking family or friends for money
- Cash advance on credit cards or lines of credit
So, that is a partial answer to the “where do I get it from” question. The next question is how do I talk with my attorney about how much I can afford to spend on my divorce? This has to be an honest blunt conversation. Listen, there are likely all sorts of conversations you never envisioned yourself being part of, but now, you have to change, where necessary, to take and keep control of your financial life. No attorney or any other professional should ever give you a hard time about your asking tough financial questions. If they give you a hard time, fire them!!
There is never a substitution for meeting with a highly experienced divorce attorney, so that you can ask the right questions and get the right answers!
Learn More From An Experienced Maryland Divorce Attorney
When preparing for a divorce, there are probably a thousand additional questions you might have and that’s completely normal! To learn more about how to prepare for your divorce, reach out to the experienced Maryland divorce attorneys at SIEGELLAW today by calling (410) 792-2300 or request a consultation online.