Deciding between hiring counsel and representing yourself is one of the most common and most difficult choices we face in the context of a divorce. Most often, we turn to friends and family to help us with this choice. This is too often a very dangerous source of advice, as their experience with attorneys, professionals and the court system is based upon their unique circumstances. However, there are several factors to consider when researching an attorney.
You could be charged for every word you exchange between you and your lawyer, your lawyer and your spouse’s lawyer, your lawyer and the children’s lawyer and/or guardian, you and the children’s lawyer/guardian, you and any court appointed therapist, expert or other individual, and your lawyer and any court appointed therapist, expert or other individual, so choose your words, emails, text messages, voice mail messages and those whom you agree to pay, wisely. Generally, these professionals work on an hourly basis (often charging by the tenth of the hour) and require a retainer BEFORE they begin to offer their services, and additional retainers as needed. Make sure that you are clear about what you will be charged for, how much, and how often.
It is your divorce, and you are responsible to review the billing statements for all those charging you for their time, and to make inquiries into charges that you do not understand in a timely manner. You should make inquiries into a professional’s billing statement within thirty days after receipt, rather than saving questions for several months. Otherwise, you risk the chance of lawyers and other professionals not being able to recall details of a billing item many months after the billing statements are sent out. Most professionals will welcome your inquiries into the billing statements when the inquiries are genuine and done in a manner that is not accusatory. Remember, these professionals deal with divorcing people on a daily basis, and understand what you are going through, but also understand that there are certain “problem” clients that will question, argue and fight over every item on every bill in an effort to obtain a discount. When in doubt whether or not you will be charged for a meeting, a phone call, emails, text messaging or other communication, it is best to ask. You do not want any surprises later on, or a final bill that dwarfs your settlement.
Divorce attorney Peter Cedeno suggests that one way to save time, money and your sanity during the divorce process is to read as much information about the entire procedure by visiting on line. Check your local court website, which will likely have information for pro se parties (those representing themselves). This information may be titled as “Do It Yourself Divorce” or “Self Represented Individuals”. You can even download sample divorce papers to look at from your state by way of the Internet, and receive instructions for how to fill out each section. Some states now have additional resources to help guide pro se litigants through the process, so contact your local courthouse to inquire about these services.
About the author: Peter Cedeno has been helping people with their matrimonial legal issues for close to two decades in New York. He runs his own boutique law firm by the name of Peter L. Cedeno & Associates. Prominent newspapers have also covered his achievements. Feel free to follow these links to read more about him:
Even if you cannot do your divorce yourself it is a good idea to at least read articles about all aspects of divorce including division of personal and business assets, spousal and child support, child custody, and the emotional effect of divorce. You will also be able to find links to recovery resources that can help you through this difficult time as well.
In doing this research, do not “wed” yourself to any position or article, as each case varies based upon your individual and unique set of facts. While your case may seem ordinary to an attorney, judge or other professional who limits their practice to divorce, do not attempt to fit your case facts into another case’s outcome as a whole, it will simply not work, and will lead to great frustration, and could end up being more costly, in time, money and heartache, than is necessary.
Towards this end, please do not compare “notes” with friends who have been through a divorce and try and duplicate results that you envy — remember, each case is different and yours will depend on your facts: financial, custodial, health, and several other facts that you may overlook without good, sound counsel.
If you need assistance in selecting an attorney, search for your local area to see which attorneys limit their practice or “specialize” in divorce or matrimonial law. This will help you create a pool of potential attorneys who should be aware of the most current changes and developments in law.
While choosing to invest in an attorney to represent you, or even to review an agreement you are creating on your own, may seem a substantial investment, choosing an attorney with knowledge of your goals, and who is honest, will be of greater service to you in the long run, as opposed to having to hire an attorney to “undo” or correct a situation after the fact.