Dealing with the breakdown of a relationship is never easy.  It is often made more difficult and stressful because of concerns about the legal and practical issues that will need to be resolved.   After you have made up your mind to separate, you will have to decide whether the timing is right, how to break the news to your significant other and deal with the aftermath, the financial and childcare arrangements, the legal procedures you should follow, the legal costs involved, and so on and so forth.  

In the midst of all the emotion and desperation to find an answer to these questions, it is sometimes difficult to think straight, let alone make important decisions.  The language can seem complicated and difficult to understand and this can make the process feel intimidating to the most confident or educated person.  Choosing the right lawyer to guide you through your divorce or separation is therefore one of the most important decisions you should make.

Here are 5 important questions to consider when engaging a divorce lawyer:

  1. Is the lawyer familiar with the legal principles and procedures in family law?

    Family law is a specialist area that involves legal principles which not every lawyer is familiar with.  Within the area of family law, there are a variety of issues that may need to be addressed including jurisdiction for divorce, asset division, spousal support, ,  nuptial agreements, arrangements for children etc.  Over the past decade there have been significant developments in family law especially in the areas of nuptial agreements, asset division and maintenance for children born out of wedlock.  An experienced family lawyer will know what to expect from the judges in your jurisdiction and from the counterparty, and will be able to use their knowledge to guide you through the process. 
  2. Is the lawyer able to provide you with practical solutions to resolve your disputes?

    Other than specialist knowledge, a family lawyer should have the skills to be able to assist you to find   suitable strategies and solutions tailor-made for your case, and decide on the right approach whether that involves going to court or using alternative disputes resolution processes such as mediation or collaborative law. .  A good family lawyer will  not only act on your instructions  but will  be able to exercise his/her judgment, look at your case from different angles, consider  the "big picture", and give you honest and constructive advice (which you may not like to hear!).    However upset you may be, it is important to bear in mind that an overly aggressive approach is going to be enormously expensive and, very often, counterproductive.
  3. Is the lawyer a team player? 

    You should feel comfortable communicating with your lawyer and working as a team, as the most personal and private details of your life will often need to be communicated.  An experienced family lawyer will make you feel confident about his/her abilities and will be genuinely concerned about your case and willing to spend the appropriate amount of time to advise and advocate for you. 
  4. Is the lawyer responsive to your questions?

    During this difficult time in your life, you need a lawyer who is accessible and prompt in responding to your phone calls, emails, and requests for meetings.   The proceedings can often involve last minute requests or urgent applications and your lawyer needs to communicate with you effectively and be responsive. 
  5. How does the lawyer charge?

    Your lawyer should be able to tell you his/her fee structure at the beginning of your consultation.  You should find out your lawyer's hourly rate and the retainer terms, including whether any portion of the deposit  is refundable if it is not used, and how often you can expect to receive invoices that detail the charges and when they are expected to be settled.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.