What Questions To Ask a Divorce Lawyer?
Choosing a divorce attorney may be one of the most important decisions you ever make, especially if you are facing a high-conflict divorce. Most people have never needed an attorney before, and choosing the right representation can feel overwhelming. Especially when there are so many clear advertisements and law firms claiming to be the best.
You need an experienced divorce lawyer who has the skills and resources necessary to handle your family law case. What decisions you come to with your soon-to-be ex on matters such as child custody, property division, and child support could impact you for the rest of your life.
At Skillern Firm, we believe that we can provide the highest quality legal services in family law cases. We are committed to your needs and take a highly personalized approach to the attorney-client relationship. However, we want you to be as confident and informed so that you can make your decision from a place of clarity. That is why we have compiled these key questions to ask your divorce lawyer.
Contact us today for an initial consultation with an experienced divorce attorney at 936-213-8479.
A Summary of What Questions To Ask a Divorce Lawyer
Here at Skillern Firm, we understand that divorce is complex, and for those that have no experience using a divorce lawyer, or in fact, any lawyer, you may feel a little bit overwhelmed.
We have compiled a list of all the potential questions you may wish to ask your divorce lawyer. We have covered a lot of information in this article, so to keep things simple, here is a quick list of questions:
- How long have you been practicing family law in Texas?
- Can you handle the complexities of my case?
- Do you have any professional associations or awards?
- Can I see reviews from previous clients?
- What is your fee structure?
- How often can I expect communication?
- Are you a trained mediator?
- Will you be prepared if my case goes to trial?
- What would a good settlement agreement look like in my case, and how do you plan to get there?
Finding A Good Divorce Attorney
What percentage of your cases are divorce-related cases?
How many of the cases your attorney deals with on a regular basis are divorce-related as opposed to other areas of practice. High-quality attorneys usually practice one area of law, rather than trying to handle all areas from criminal defense to personal injury. If an attorney covers many practice areas then they might not have much experience in family law.
At Skillern Firm, every one of our attorneys has a narrow focus on family law and divorce. That means that we handle cases like yours every day.
How long have you been practicing family law/divorce law?
There are a lot of different aspects to family law, and it can be difficult to navigate without experienced legal representation. Your attorney can help you understand the complex laws surrounding divorce, child custody, and other family law matters. Without experienced legal representation, you may not be able to fully protect your rights or the interests of your children.
Do you feel you have a manageable caseload?
A good attorney will have a full and busy caseload that they manage with impeccable time-management skills. You should ask your divorce lawyer about their current caseload and ensure that they have the time and the skill to give your case the attention it deserves.
At Skillern Firm, we are proud to offer a personalized approach to the attorney-client relationship. While your attorney may not be available 24/7, they will always be prompt to answer your questions. You should feel comfortable coming to your attorney for advice and you should feel listened to and cared about, and that is exactly what we aim to provide.
How long have you been practicing in this county?
The longer your attorney has spent fighting cases in your specific county the better. The longer they have been practicing in a given county, the better the chances are that your attorney knows the local family court judges.
Are you familiar with the Judges in this county?
Attorneys with a lot of previous victories and wins in a county will most likely know the judges that preside there. This will allow them to tailor a more bespoke approach based on their knowledge of the judge’s temperament and morals.
At Skillern Firm, we only operate in Texas, which, paired with our narrow focus, means that we probably know the family law judge assigned to your case.
What are your professional associations?
Attorneys should be associated with your local state bar association. State bar associations keep attorneys to a high standard of practice. Our founder and leading attorney, Matthew Skillern, is associated with the Houston Bar Association, State Bar of Texas, and the Fort Bend County Bar Association.
Have you received any peer-viewed awards?
Lawyers will not say good things about other lawyers unless they know they are competent, as it may affect their reputation.
For example, Super Lawyers is a national directory of lawyers that uses a rigid peer review process, and only selects around 5% of lawyers in each state. The process begins with peer nominations.
Matthew Skillern has received many awards, including Texas Super Lawyer 2010-2011 and 2015-2017.
Can you show me testimonials from previous clients?
Any good attorney should be more than willing to show you testimonials from previous clients. But of course, they will only show you the best ones. That is why online reviews can also be valuable.
Visit avvo.com and search for the divorce lawyer you are considering. Each lawyer is given a rating between 1 and 10 which indicates their level of professional excellence. It is based on things like independent client reviews, awards, and years of service. It will also tell you whether they have ever been disciplined by the Texas Bar Association.
Mathew Skillern has an AVVO rating of 10.0, the highest possible achievement.
Settlement Approach and Experience
How much training and experience have you had in divorce mediation?
High-quality family law attorneys should be trained to mediate. You may believe that amicable communication with your ex-spouse is impossible, but most people are surprised by what they can achieve with professional guidance.
Mediation is important because it minimizes the need for litigation. That means you save time and money on court litigation. It also allows you to come to personalized arrangements that are not dictated by the judge. Finally, it protects family dynamics and keeps you on speaking terms with your ex-spouse, which is especially important if you have children.
What if my ex-spouse and I are not on the same page?
If mediation is difficult, you need to know where your attorney stands. They may tell you that they won’t waste your time if mediation is not possible. However, sometimes even if litigation is necessary, it can still be limited by settling smaller issues around the mediation table. Perhaps not everything can be worked out this way, but it may still be used productively.
What do you consider to be a good deal in a potential settlement offer?
You should have an idea of what a good deal would look like in your case. This will be highly personal to each divorce case and will depend on things like how long you were married, the needs of each party involved, and each spouse’s contribution to the marriage. Your attorney should be able to analyze your case and decide what the best outcome would be.
How do you charge for your services?
These questions are in regard to the fees your family law firm charges. Most divorce lawyers utilize an hourly billing rate. This will be laid out to you during the initial consultation with your chosen divorce lawyer.
Litigation Training And Experience
Many divorce cases end up requiring litigation to some degree or another. These questions will help you feel confident in your family law attorney and their ability in the courtroom.
How many divorce cases have you taken to trial?
The more cases your attorney has taken to trial, the more experience they will have in the courtroom. While it is important that your attorney can prioritize mediation, it is equally important that they have recent litigation experience and are able to fight your case in court if necessary.
Are you a member of any clubs or associations for Trial Lawyers?
For example, here at Skillern Firm, we are led by Matthew A. Skillern, who is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, an accomplishment that only 1% of family lawyers in Texas have achieved.
If my case goes to trial, will another lawyer in your law firm be able to take over?
Some attorneys may be strong mediators, but they may not be comfortable going to trial. Sometimes that’s ok, so long as there is another attorney in the law firm who can provide strong representation in the courtroom if your divorce proceedings require it.
Divorce Attorney Duties
In your opinion, is it better for my case to settle or go to trial?
Your attorney will be able to inform you if your case is better off settling or going to court. For most people, settling by agreement is the best decision, but in certain cases, such as cases with abuse or children involved, a trial may be necessary.
A high-quality lawyer will only use a trial as a last resort. They will be willing to put the work in and mediate between you and your spouse. Ultimately, this can save you time, money, and stress that is otherwise associated with a lengthy court trial. At Skillern Firm, we are committed to mediation and negotiation and, although we are skilled litigators, we will strive for an amicable divorce wherever possible.
If my spouse does not hire a lawyer, how does that change your process?
If your spouse has decided not to hire an attorney, your attorney will be able to inform you of how that changes their strategy. These cases may get dragged out over a longer period.
When does the attorney-client relationship begin?
It is smart to confirm when the attorney-client relationship and all of the confidentiality it provides has begun.
Can both my spouse and I use one lawyer?
In most cases, your attorney will tell you that they will only represent one client at a time.
Will you be the only attorney handling my case?
Your attorney might be the only person handling your case, or you may have a team who is handling different aspects of your case. There are benefits to both, while a single attorney means that one person knows all the ins and outs of your case, and you will have the opportunity to build a close relationship, a team might mean that you benefit from a broader range of skills and experience.
There is no right or wrong answer, although you might have a personal preference. Either way, it is good to know upfront what role your attorney will take in your case.
How regularly do you communicate with your clients?
It is important to know what level of communication you can expect from your attorney so that you are not left wondering what’s happening with your case.
Some attorneys will contact their clients each week, other lawyers may arrange a monthly overview session no matter how often they have communicated with their clients in the previous 30 days.
How can I contact you?
It is important that you can contact your attorney when you need to. How accessible will your attorney be? Can you speak to them via text, phone, or email? Or will you need to speak to an assistant and arrange a meeting before you can speak to them?
What happens if your attorney is off, sick, or takes a vacation?
Lawyers get sick or go on vacation or may have to attend private events that could limit their availability. It is good to know how the law firm handles these circumstances and how they will affect your representation.
What if there is an emergency and you are unavailable?
You can’t expect divorce attorneys to always be available, so it is good to know if the law firm has a system in place for when you need immediate advice. Will there be another attorney you can speak to in case of an emergency?
Can I get an annulment?
For some people, this is an important decision, especially if you have religious beliefs regarding divorce. However, you will need to understand whether an annulment is possible and what it means for your case.
Should I file for divorce first?
Depending on the circumstances of your case, there may be strategic advantages to filing first, or for waiting for your spouse to file first. Your attorney can advise you on what the best option is in your case.
What types of divorce are available to me?
Besides traditional divorce, what other options might be possible in your case? Is it possible to mediate before you file? Is collaborative divorce an option? What is reasonable in your case and why?
What if I am financially dependent on my spouse?
If you are financially dependent on your spouse, then it can create a lot of insecurity in filing for divorce. It is best to speak to your divorce attorney about how they plan on protecting your future so that you can leave your marriage feeling confident.
The Divorce Process
Is this the right state/ county to get divorced in?
In order to file for divorce in Texas, one spouse must have lived in the state for six months. One spouse must have also been a resident of the county they wish to file in for at least 90 days. It is also important that you are in the right place for jurisdictional purposes. You do not want to start a divorce case and have to start again because you filed in the wrong place.
Do I have grounds for divorce?
Texas is a no-fault state, which means that you can file for divorce on grounds of insupportability and do not need to prove that the other party did anything wrong.
Should I file for an at-fault divorce?
Although you can file for a no-fault divorce, some people may choose to file for an at-fault divorce. Grounds for this type of divorce include domestic abuse or adultery. There may be benefits to filing this way if you have justification, but you should discuss your options with your attorney.
How do we keep things normal?
It is important to keep things stable, especially if you have children. You may need temporary orders so that you and your ex-spouse have clear guidance on what to do about things like child custody while you await the finalization of your divorce decree.
Your attorney should be able to help you understand what steps you can take to keep things as stable as possible.
What temporary orders could be needed in my case?
Temporary orders are designed to place obligations on divorcing spouses while they wait for the outcome of their divorce decree. Although they are temporary, they can impact the final decisions, especially because the judge will wait to retain some sense of consistency in a child’s life. Therefore, you need to know that your attorney takes them seriously.
Should I get a physical or mental health examination?
Sometimes a physical or mental health evaluation might be needed to help a child custody or spousal support case. It might benefit you to be proactive and seek one sooner rather than later.
Can I make my spouse get a mental health examination?
If you believe your spouse has issues that could prevent their ability to parent, then you may be able to seek a court order for a mental health examination.
What about insurance during the divorce process?
If you are on your spouses’ car, health, and life insurance, then it is important that you don’t lose your protection. What can we do to make sure you are secure during this time?
How do we determine settlement goals?
Most people going through the divorce process will be aiming for a settlement. However, it is important to have an understanding of how to get there and what a good settlement looks like in your case.
Can both parties secure a settlement they are happy with?
It may seem impossible for everyone to be satisfied at the end of a divorce. However, a good divorce attorney will take the time to learn what is important to each individual. It isn’t always as simple as splitting up everything equally. Sometimes there are needs that need to be met so that everyone can come away with a fair settlement.
How do we prevent your spouse from dragging on the process?
Sometimes your spouse may attempt to drag on the process to rack up fees, hoping you will back down and agree to things that you otherwise wouldn’t have. This is an underhanded tactic that shouldn’t be tolerated. If you think your spouse might do this, then you should ask your attorney how they would handle it.
Can I be represented by a male/female attorney?
Some people would rather work with a particular gender. Maybe they feel more comfortable speaking with someone of the same sex. If this is a consideration for you, then you should not refrain from asking potential law firms if you can be represented by your chosen gender. They should be happy to accommodate.
Professionals In Other Fields
Do you have professionals you can refer my case to when necessary?
No one attorney can be an expert in everything, and sometimes expert advice is necessary. Your attorney should be willing to draw upon their pool of experts and should already have relationships with high-quality professionals to make referrals easy.
Do you have any psychiatrists or psychologists you trust to help me?
Sometimes a psychiatrist or physiologist can help families get to a good place, and work through their divorce in the best way possible. A family law attorney with many years of experience may have associations with excellent professionals they know and trust.
I expect the custody battle to be difficult. What can you do for me?
Divorce cases involving a high conflict custody battle can be particularly difficult to navigate. You will need an attorney who has vast experience handling child custody cases and is prepared to fight for the best interests of your children.
At Skillern Firm, our goals are the same as yours, to protect children in divorce cases and ensure that their interests are put first. We have handled numerous difficult child custody cases and understand the care and dedication they require.
Do you have experience handling cases involving parental alienation of a child?
Sometimes, either consciously or unconsciously, one parent engages in the alienation of a child. It is important that these issues are tackled head-on, as they can be incredibly damaging for everyone involved if the behavior continues.
Do you have experience working with parents who have power control issues?
Power control issues can make child custody cases exceedingly difficult. You need an attorney who understands your dynamics and knows how to navigate your case.
Do you have experience handling cases involving mental or physical health difficulties?
If one party has higher needs, whether that be a parent or child, then this may be a big consideration in your divorce case. In this case, you will need to be confident that your attorney can handle the intricacies of your case and that they have some understanding of the issues that are affecting you.
What if I plan to relocate with my child?
In Texas, both parents are expected to share custody rights and responsibilities unless there is a reason why one parent could have a negative impact on the child. This can make relocating very difficult. If this is a concern for you, then you should discuss your options with your attorney.
Financial Information Gathering Process
What documents do I need to start gathering?
In order to divide your property, you will need to start gathering information and financial documents. Your attorney will be able to guide you through this process so that you know where to begin.
How will you be able to help if my spouse is hiding assets?
Hidden assets can make it difficult for you to secure a fair outcome in your divorce case. If this is a possibility for you, then you need an attorney who has experience dealing with hidden assets and understands how to uncover them so that they are considered in your divorce settlement agreement.
Property Division Questions
How will our property be divided?
This is often one of the most concerning questions for people. You may be concerned about losing a large percentage of your wealth, or you might be worried about your financial stability after divorce. Hopefully, your attorney can ease some of your stress and will work to find an arrangement that serves everybody.
Texas is an equitable distribution state, which means that property is split into separate property and marital property. Separate property is anything you attained prior to marriage, as well as inheritance and gifts, and will remain yours upon separation. Marital property is anything attained during marriage and must be split in a ‘just and fair way’.
What happens to the marital home?
When it comes to property division, few things bring up as much emotion as the family home. You might want to ask your attorney about your next steps. For example, should you leave home while the divorce is proceeding, or will that be considered abandonment?
If the home technically belongs to your spouse, but you have paid the mortgage or otherwise contributed, or you have children, and you plan to be the primary custodian, then you may have concerns about what happens next. An experienced attorney can help you determine the next steps.
What happens to my retirement savings?
You might be a long way off thinking about your retirement. However, it is essential that you consider your financial stability after divorce. Retirement accounts are governed by state and federal statutes and your attorney should have an understanding of how to protect them as much as possible.
Do you have experience in high-asset divorce?
If your divorce involves high-value assets or complex assets such as self-owned businesses and offshore accounts, then you will need an attorney who has experience handling cases involving them.
How will my child support and spousal support payments affect my tax?
The amount you receive in child support and spousal support could affect how much you are taxed. Your attorney should understand this and know how to deal with your case to maximize the benefit you receive.
Questions About Child Support and Spousal Support
What type of spousal support might be appropriate in my case?
Spousal support can take many forms. Generally, it is used so that both parties can maintain a certain standard of living. It might be a short-term arrangement or a long-term plan. Sometimes it can be used to help one party get back into the workforce and become self-sufficient.
What child support payments should I expect?
Usually, the higher-paying spouse will pay child support to the other unless they themselves are the residential parent. It is good to be prepared with an understanding of how much child support payments should be and what they should be used to pay for.
How is child care, health care, and dental care paid for?
Important financial considerations such as health and dental care can be included in the child support obligation.
In Texas, if your divorce began after September 1st, 2018, then the parent who provides child support should also provide medical and dental coverage if it is available at a reasonable cost.
Are experts needed to help guide my spousal support case?
Sometimes divorce cases require certain experts to provide evidence, and your attorney should have access to them when appropriate. Spousal support payments can sometimes be supported or defended by forensic accounting experts or vocational rehabilitative experts.
What can I do if my spouse does not pay child support?
Perhaps you don’t trust that your spouse will pay child support. In this case, your attorney may be able to arrange for it to come straight from their wages. At Skillern Firm, we also offer post-divorce support, so if your ex-spouse fails to meet their obligations, we can help you file contempt proceedings against them.
Domestic Violence and Substance Misuse
How would you approach a case involving domestic violence?
If you have been a victim of domestic violence at the hands of your ex-spouse, then it is essential that you have an attorney who can meet your needs. They should have experience dealing with cases similar to yours and should have extensive litigation experience, as it is likely that your case will go to trial.
How do I keep my spouse away from me?
If necessary, your attorney will be able to file contempt proceedings to keep your spouse away from you and your children.
How can we handle a custody arrangement if my ex-spouse has abused my children, or me, or is struggling with substance misuse?
If your ex-spouse has issues such as these, then you will need guidance in your child custody case. If you believe your case warrants sole custody, then you will need to provide strong evidence to the judge. Again, it is important that your attorney has handled cases similar to yours before.
Do you have experience with cases involving substance misuse?
If one parent is struggling with alcoholism or other forms of substance misuse, then they may need to address their issues before they can see their children. They need to be willing to work through their issues and you need a supportive attorney.
Can I videotape my spouse to evidence my claims?
There are strict laws in Texas regarding videoing someone without their consent. In general, you should seek advice from your attorney and refrain from taking matters into your own hands.
Texas has a one-party consent rule. That means that it is legal to record a conversation if one party has given consent. That means that you can record yourself talking to your spouse without their permission.
If you are still weighing up your options, then here are a couple of extra considerations to guide you.
Be Careful About Advertisements
While it may be tempting to dive in with the first advertisement you see, it is important to remember that a good advertisement is designed to catch your eye but does not always equate to the best service.
Finding an advertisement or article is a good place to start, but be sure to do your research by arranging an initial consultation and asking the right questions.
Consider If They Have The Same Approach As You
When it comes to family law, it might be important to you that your attorney shares your values and has a similar approach. For example, will they prioritize children and strive to keep things amicable in your case? Consider what is important to you and make sure your attorney will keep your best interests at heart.
Ensure You and Your Attorney Get Along
We have covered a lot of factors in this article, from awards and honors to experience, approach, and testimonials. However, one thing that is often overlooked is how well you get along with your attorney and how comfortable you are speaking with them.
It is essential that your attorney is compassionate about your needs. You may be spending a lot of time with them, and they may be handling very private issues, so you need to be confident in your choice.
When you seek an initial consultation, while asking some great questions will certainly help, you should also consider how comfortable they made you feel and whether you could see yourself being open and honest with this person without feeling judged.
Contact Skillern Firm Today
Finding the right divorce lawyer is an important decision, and it is important to do your research. It is important that they can handle the complexities of your case, and that they take the time to listen to your needs.
At Skillern Firm, we are committed to our clients. Our goal is to leave you feeling confident and secure in your future. We always prioritize the needs of children and will strive to reach agreements using mediation wherever possible. However, we are equally skilled litigators and are prepared to take your case to court if necessary.
To secure representation from a divorce attorney who is committed to your needs, contact Skillern Firm today and arrange an initial consultation at 936-213-8479.