Divorce and custody cases are expensive. Most good family lawyers work by the hour. Time is their only commodity, so they must charge for it. Not only must your lawyer do what is necessary to advance your case, your lawyer must respond to whatever your ex-spouse’s lawyer does to advance his or her case. Here are some pointers to increase the chances of achieving your goals, make the process more tolerable, and save some money along the way.
- Hire the right lawyer the first time. Do your research. Don’t just rely on billboards. Check out Avvo.com. Read lawyer websites, focusing on practice areas and testimonials. Do they only practice divorce and custody law or is family law just one of many practice areas? A jack of all trades is a master of none. Are they Board Certified? Do they take care of their business? Ask around.
- Gather and copy your important documents before meeting with a lawyer—including emails, texts, pictures, deeds, tax returns, bank account statements, retirement account statements, securities account statements, credit card statements, mortgage statements, and loan documents for at least the last five years.
- Before meeting with a lawyer, write out your questions. Then meet with the lawyer who will actually represent you—not the lawyer’s paralegal or other representative. Confirm the lawyer is a good fit. Take notes during the meeting. Make an informed decision.
- The contract with your lawyer should be in writing. Read it carefully. If you are pressured to sign it on the spot, find another lawyer. Ask questions. Make sure you understand the contract before you sign it. Percentage fee contracts are not allowed. Fixed fee contracts disincentivize lawyers from doing what it takes to win. Hourly fee contracts are the best value for many reasons.
- Once you hire a lawyer, get to know his or her paralegal. You won’t always need to talk to your lawyer when you have questions or need to provide information. Keep in mind that paralegals bill at lower hourly rates.
- Your lawyer works for you. After you have been fully informed about your case and reviewed your options, you and your lawyer should agree upon a game plan that fits your situation.
- Insist on detailed monthly bills explaining the precise services provided by your lawyer. If you have questions about your bill, talk to the paralegal or office manager first. Discussing the bill with your lawyer should be the last resort. Again, lower billing rates.
- Copies made at your lawyer’s office may cost 25 cents or more a page plus the time of the person making the copies. For large copy jobs, consider making them yourself at a copy shop to save money.
- Your lawyer should keep you reasonably informed about the status of your case by sending you copies of important court filings and discovery responses. Spur-of-the-moment telephone calls or emails to find out what’s going on can get expensive.
- Don’t second-guess your lawyer based on the advice of friends, family, or co-workers—especially co-workers who also have gone through a divorce. Every case is unique. But if you feel strongly about a point, seek a second opinion. Let your lawyer know you feel this way.
- Don’t be surprised if your case takes a while to get resolved. It’s a process. Although you may be in a hurry to finalize it, your lawyer has no control over the court’s schedule or your ex-spouse’s lawyer’s schedule.
- If your lawyer promises or guarantees you a specific result, get another lawyer.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified divorce, custody, and family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. She only practices divorce, custody, and family law.