Choosing the right attorney to guide you through your divorce and/or custody matter is the first step to advancing your case and can be one of the most important decisions that you make in the course of your divorce or custody matter. When seeking family law counsel you should not simply hire the first attorney you meet. Rather, it is crucial to do your homework by reviewing such things as the attorney's qualifications, experience level, and past client satisfaction. Even if you received a referral to a family law attorney from a friend or another lawyer, these suggestions still apply. Most competent counsel will very likely charge a consultation fee for this initial meeting, but rest assured this is money well spent to ensure you are comfortable with your counsel and get educated on your case.
Additionally, you should be certain that your attorney's philosophy for handling your case agrees with how you would like the matter to be handled. For instance, if you know your divorce will be litigious, you should be certain that the attorney that you select can handle himself or herself in the court room and be a zealous advocate when they need to. Many custody law attorneys have never been to trial. In this instance, if push comes to shove, you may not get the level of advocacy you require. Conversely, if you would like to keep your case amicable and do not anticipate unnecessary acrimony, you will want to be sure that your choice of counsel will not incite conflict needlessly. Unnecessary conflict can erode your relationship with your soon to be former spouse to the detriment of your financial well-being and the well-being of your children. It can also needlessly raise your stress levels.
Family law is a categorization applied to several areas of law including child custody, divorce, child support, spousal support, alimony, protection from abuse orders, and other subcategories of domestic and family law. Many attorneys advertise themselves as "family law" or "divorce" attorneys because there is a somewhat common misperception that family law is not complex. However, practicing family law involves legal principles and subtleties that take time and experience to master. Even a single mistake by the casual practitioner can set your case back significantly and cost you money and time with your children.
In addressing all of these matters, there are numerous hurdles that need to be diligently managed.
- Investigation of factors affecting custody
- Financial disclosure of assets and debts
- Injunctive orders to maintain current beneficiary designations and/or to prevent the transfer or dissipation of assets
- Alimony factors
- Child and/or spousal support
- The division of assets, including real estate, collectibles, any business interests owned by either spouse, and retirement benefits accrued during the marriage.
Moreover, in addition to the complexities of family law, there are frequent changes to the laws in this area by the Pennsylvania legislature. Without frequent practice in this area of law, it is possible to overlook recent changes to the law or to misinterpret the law applicable to your case.
In order to assist you in hiring an attorney who regularly practices in family law and has experience with the particular issues involved in your case, here are a few questions you might consider asking during your initial interview:
1. How many family law cases have you handled? How many custody matters? How many divorces?
2. How many times have you been to trial in these matters?
3. What is your strategy for my case? Do you recommend an adversarial stance or would you recommend an approach to minimize conflict? Why would you recommend this approach?
4. How long do you take to return phone calls?
5. Will you be handling my case personally, or will it be handed off to others in your office?
6. How will you charge me? What is your hourly rate? How frequently will you bill me?
7. What costs (other than your own) do you expect will be involved (for example, for private investigators, forensic accountants, physicians, and/or psychologists), and how will you charge me for them?
8. Based on what you know about my case, what is your initial assessment of reaching the goals that I have for this matter? What matters would you like to know more about over the course of my case in order to make a more knowing assessment of my case?