Getting a divorce can be a daunting and isolating experience. It becomes even more overwhelming when you have to navigate the process on your own. If you, like many women, have faced power imbalances in your marriage–such as financial control, bullying, deception, or manipulation–hiring a divorce lawyer can provide the support and guidance you need. A skilled divorce attorney who advocates for your rights can make you feel less alone and potentially change the outcome of your divorce.
1. Assess Your Needs
Before beginning your search for a divorce attorney, it is crucial to identify your specific requirements. While the ultimate goal is to get a divorce, understanding your priorities is key. Different family law attorneys specialize in various aspects of divorce. Are child custody matters your top concern? Do you and your spouse jointly own property? Are you in a new marriage with minimal assets to divide? Perhaps you are considering a legal separation or postnuptial agreement? These factors dictate the type of attorney you should hire and the most suitable divorce model for your situation.
It’s worth noting that there are four general types of divorces: DIY (Do-It-Yourself) for uncontested divorces, the Traditional Model for both contested and uncontested divorces, Mediation for uncontested divorces, and the Collaborative Model for uncontested divorces. To learn more about these models, you can read “The 4 Types of Divorce and How to Know Which One’s Right for You.”
Understanding Divorce Complexity
Another critical factor is the complexity of your divorce. Consider the dynamics and power dynamics between you and your spouse, as this will influence your choice of attorney. If power is evenly shared, and both parties are transparent about finances without any abuse or deceit, mediation might be a suitable approach. For couples with children seeking an amicable divorce and focusing on co-parenting, a lawyer specializing in collaborative divorce can be beneficial. In cases where the divorce is expected to be highly contentious and potentially go to trial, it is advisable to select an attorney skilled in negotiation and experienced in the courtroom.
By understanding your specific needs and your spouse’s personality, you can approach your search for an attorney with clarity.
SAS Tip: We recommend that all women, regardless of their circumstances, consult with a Traditional Divorce attorney first. This way, you can learn about your rights and entitlements as an individual woman, wife, and mother. It also allows you to discuss the major issues in your story, helping you make an informed decision about the type of divorce model that suits you best.
2. Seek Referrals
One effective method of researching potential lawyers is by seeking referrals. Referrals can come from both social and professional connections. Social referrals involve recommendations from friends and family who have previously gone through the divorce process. While valuable, be mindful that your situation may differ from the person providing the referral. Additionally, a friend going through her own grievances may not objectively evaluate her attorney.
Professional referrals, on the other hand, come from trusted professionals such as doctors, accountants, or therapists who work closely with attorneys. These individuals can guide you towards reputable family law attorneys. Always inquire whether they can provide you with multiple recommendations to ensure you have options.
SAS TIP: When requesting referrals, ask for the names and contact details of at least three potential divorce lawyers. This accounts for the possibility of certain lawyers being unavailable or not aligning with your requirements.
Other professionals may direct you to reputable lawyer organizations such as the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, the American Bar Association, local bar associations, and legal aid centers. Exploring these resources can serve as a starting point in your search process.
3. Conduct Thorough Research
Divorce laws vary from state to state, so it is crucial to find a divorce lawyer in your state of residence. In addition, consider searching within your local area to facilitate ongoing communication. By searching for attorneys by city, county, and state, you can access a list of qualified professionals before narrowing down your options. Online platforms enable you to read client reviews and testimonials, providing insights into the experiences of previous clients.
SAS Tip: If you are truly interested in a lawyer and cannot find reviews online, consider asking the attorney for peer or client referrals. Hearing firsthand experiences can offer valuable insights into their professionalism and expertise.
4. Schedule Consultations
Once you have established your goals, conducted research, and consulted trusted individuals, it’s time to arrange meetings with potential attorneys. To make the most of these consultations, come prepared. Refer to our article “Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney at a Consultation” for guidance on what to bring, which questions to ask, and how to maximize your time.
SAS TIP: Some attorneys offer free consultations, so check their websites to determine if this is available and how long the consultation lasts. If it’s only 30 minutes, consider whether you need more time. Keep in mind that free consultations are not always the norm, so consider consultation costs when budgeting for legal expenses.
While virtual consultations via Zoom are possible, meeting in person allows you to gauge their responses, body language, and the professional atmosphere of their office.
Shopping Around for the Right Fit
Avoid rushing into a decision and hiring the first lawyer you meet. It is recommended to consult with at least three different lawyers, if feasible. Engaging in multiple consultations allows you to gather different perspectives on your situation and find the attorney who truly understands your needs. This process enables you to avoid lawyers who may oversell their services or lack the necessary experience. Focus on lawyers who specialize specifically in matrimonial or family law rather than those who practice various types of law.
It’s crucial to have confidence in your attorney’s ability to navigate family law and ensure that they will simplify the divorce process. Trust and a good rapport with your attorney are vital for a successful divorce.
SAS Tip: Understand why seeking cheap divorce lawyers is not in your best interest. Quality legal representation is crucial during this significant life event.
5. Pay Attention to Red Flags
Remember that attorneys are professionals operating in a business setting. Some may prioritize closing deals over your best interests. During your consultations, be cautious of attorneys who tell you what you want to hear to secure your business. A competent attorney will give you a realistic overview of the divorce process, including best and worst-case scenarios. Seek an attorney who treats you with respect, understanding, and professionalism. If they dismiss your questions, talk down to you, or speak negatively about other attorneys or clients, it is likely they will exhibit the same behavior towards you in the future.
Consider your attorney’s communication skills and responsiveness. Frequent distraction during consultations or a lack of responsiveness to your messages may indicate an overwhelming caseload or a lack of dedication. Additionally, observe their demeanor during your initial meeting. You want an attorney who is compassionate, empathetic, and supportive during one of the most challenging periods of your life.
SAS TIP: In addition to following the advice given here, remember to trust your instincts when choosing a divorce attorney. If something feels off about a lawyer you have just met, it’s likely worth considering an alternative option.
6. Make Your Decision
After conducting diligent research, vetting attorneys, and listening to your intuition, it’s time to select your divorce lawyer. This decision will shape your future and who stands beside you throughout the divorce process. Your chosen attorney should be a professional expert who makes you feel supported and understood. They should prioritize your best interests and guide you through the process. Selecting the right divorce attorney is a significant decision that will greatly impact your future. With thorough research, goal setting, vetting, and trust in your instincts, you will find an attorney who is capable of supporting you through this transformative experience.
Elizabeth Newland, a passionate advocate for children and family rights, is currently a third-year law student in Chicago. She aspires to work in a family-related non-profit firm after graduation.
SAS for Women has been providing unwavering support and guidance to women facing unexpected challenges while considering divorce and navigating the divorce process since 2012. We offer six months of complimentary email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies tailored to your needs and future. Join our tribe and stay connected. (Learn more at Garrity Traina)
Note: While we fully support same-sex marriages, for the sake of simplicity in this article, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or using gender-specific pronouns.