The process of divorce is difficult enough without involving attorneys who increase the acrimony. The common perception of the divorce attorney is of an insensitive, aggressive individual who fights like a bulldog no matter what the issue. While you should have a divorce attorney who will protect your rights and fight if necessary, having an attorney who is easy to hate may not be the best idea. If you cannot stand to be around your divorce lawyer, chances are your divorce will be equally uncomfortable. When children are involved, finding an attorney with the right skill and personality is of utmost importance.
If either or both parties hire an attorney who fights every issue with aggression and bitterness, the feelings of anger and resentment between the parties will only be increased, making the raising of children civilly after the divorce a near impossibility. While an attorney must advocate their client's position and proceed with litigation if the client insists, the right lawyer will also counsel their client against pursuing an insignificant victory or a claim they cannot win. Often times, a person going through a divorce has so many emotional ties to the situation that they cannot see the value in conceding unimportant issues and putting aside any desire to "win". A good attorney will advise their client to try to settle their custody matter in a reasonable manner, even though it means the attorney earns less money from the case. Divorce attorneys are usually viewed as insensitive to their clients' concerns and particular needs. If your case involves a specific, important issue such as domestic violence, be sure to select an attorney who seems to understand and sympathize with your situation and who has the requisite experience to properly handle the case. You may find both attorneys and judges who treat domestic violence as unrelated to child custody concerns and unrelated to the parties having equal bargaining power through the divorce. Did you know that domestic violence is the only specific factor in child custody cases which family courts are required to consider in New York State? Sometimes that rule is overlooked. It is often difficult to get the court to understand how important it is protect children from being exposed to domestic violence; your attorney should at least understand. Time and money are next on the list of reasons to hate the divorce attorney. The divorce process can be slow and long. You must be prepared for this, and would be rightly frustrated if your attorney promised the matter would end quickly only to have it last over a year. How fast the matter moves depends upon the schedules of the court and attorneys, and how motivated the parties are to settle their case. If either side wants to drag the matter out, unfortunately it is easy for them to do so. In general, the faster the divorce, the lower your attorney's fee. However, in a contentious divorce, whether you have the best attorney or the cheapest one around, you can expect to pay a large bill. If you have an uncontested case, be sure to seek a flat fee so you know upfront how much you will pay for attorney's fees and costs. Most attorneys will offer a flat fee in cases where most or all of the issues are resolved. If you must litigate your case because an settlement cannot be reached with your spouse, do whatever you can on your part to reduce your attorney's fees. Some helpful hints to reduce the bill with your attorney:
- Watch the billings closely. Attorneys bill for their time; this is to be expected. However, does your attorney bill you each time you are left a message or each time they call opposing counsel and leave a message? This can run-up a large bill in a short amount of time as you play "phone tag" with your attorney or others on the case do. As long as you are returning your attorney's calls so that your attorney does not have to chase you for a response, you should not be billed for such quick calls. You may want to hire another attorney immediately to avoid unnecessary fees. Again, your attorney is billing for their time; this is how they get paid not unlike the mechanic who bills for time to put the part on your car. The bill should not include such trivial time matters such as calling you to remind you of an appointment, or leaving you a message asking you to return the call.
- Do not call your attorney or email them unless important. If you have a small issue which does not require immediate attention, make a note of it and ask it later as part of regular contact with your attorney or once you have several questions notated.
- If you have an issue which does not require legal advice, such as the date and place of your court appearance, ask your attorney's secretary for the information rather than asking to speak directly to the attorney.
- Concede any issues in your case which really are not that important in the long-run. Perhaps your spouse wants another day with the children, or they took some furniture you would rather keep. Are these issues really worth increasing negative feelings and pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars more in attorney's fees? Probably not.
- Avoid an attorney seeking a large retainer. Assume your divorce is going to cost at least the amount of your initial retainer. Does the fact that your attorney charges a $10,000 retainer when most in the area charge $2,000 mean that your attorney is the best? Probably not. They may be the most expensive, but that does not necessarily mean they are the best.
- Do a cost-benefit analysis before pursuing any issues. If your attorney tells you a trial will cost you at least $3,000, are the issues you are pursuing worth it? Do not chase assets or issues of small value just to have the "win" and feel good. After all, no matter what you receive in your divorce, the chances that you will feel happy about your divorce are slim. Let's face it; divorce is difficult and it is the not happy ending to a marriage you would like, and nothing about the divorce court process can change that.
Whatever choices you make as you go through the difficult process of divorce, try to choose an attorney who will fit your needs and goals. Is the attorney someone your friends or relatives recommended? With or without a recommendation, is the attorney someone you feel comfortable speaking to? While you may not end your divorce feeling love for your attorney, your choices in hiring an attorney and the choices you make while you go through a divorce may keep you from hateful feelings.