Choosing a Family Lawyer
Choosing a family lawyer can be overwhelming. After all, your family lawyer is the expert you'll rely on to help you make the best decisions about your separation. A lawyer can be involved in your matter from start to finish, or work with you on a limited basis. You and your former partner may both feel confident about your ability to draft your own agreement and may be able to limit your use of a lawyer to initial advice and information and final evaluation and feedback.
When you do hire a family lawyer, it's more than a matter of running your fingers through the lawyer ads in the yellow pages until you spot the word "divorce" or simply retaining the lawyer who helped you negotiate your office lease or draw up your will.
- You need to hire a lawyer experienced in family law.
The Law Society of South Australia has a list of lawyers who are accredited as Family Law Specialists. These lawyers specialise in family law disputes and other kinds of family law issues. To be accredited, they must have significant family law experience and pass a rigorous examination. To maintain accreditation, they must undertake substantial continuing education in family law each year.
- The lawyer you retain should talk to you in plain English..
- The lawyer should be someone you trust and feel comfortable with, because you may have to reveal highly personal information about yourself and your relationship.
- If you have young children, look for a lawyer who makes it clear that you must put your children's needs first and that he or she will not pursue unreasonable demands for child support or help you pursue vindictive child living arrangements.
- Your family lawyer should be affordable.
Appropriate skills and experience
An old adage states, "There are horses for courses." This saying is as true for a family lawyer as for any other professional. When you select a family lawyer, you want one with the legal skills and the knowledge needed to get the job done for you:
- If you need help negotiating your separation agreement, the ideal lawyer is a problem solver, works well with people, is adept at compromise, and is comfortable in court. Most family law disputes resolve without proceeding to trial. You should retain in a family lawyer who will help you explore resolution of your matter without promoting resort to expensive court process. Ask your lawyer if they have experience with mediation or whether they are an accredited Collaborative Practitioner. It is also helpful if the lawyer you choose is a member of alternate dispute resolution associations such as LEADR and the IACP.
- Don't base your hiring decision on which lawyer has the nicest office. A fancy office in an expensive building says nothing about the adequacy of a lawyer's legal skills. At the same time, don't assume that just because you pay a lot of money to a lawyer that their legal representation is appropriate to your needs or is of high quality.
- Ascertain whether your family lawyer is interested in the emotional effect of your separation upon you and your children.
- If your financial situation is complex, the lawyer you retain should have a solid understanding of the issues and law that relate to your seperation and be able to work closely with financial experts who have that knowledge, such as a forensic accountant, financial planner or valuer.
Remember, negotiating your separation agreement is as much about the emotional and financial matters as it is about ending your marriage.
If you are relying on a lawyer to do more than simply review your divorce paperwork, you must be prepared to share details about your personal life, marriage, and finances. Therefore, you must feel comfortable with whoever represents you.
In addition, your family lawyer should share and support your basic philosophy or attitude towards your separation. For example, if you want to keep things as calm, cooperative, and nonadversarial as possible, avoid lawyers who like to "go for the jugular."
Do not confuse your lawyer with your therapist or counsellor. Your lawyer's clock is usually running regardless of whether you call with a legal question or to complain about your former partner.
Most family lawyers bill for their services on an hourly basis. Few agree to take a flat fee based on the total amount of time and labour they think your matter requires. Estimating up-front just how much time is necessary to finalise your matter is difficult, because no lawyer knows exactly how any divorce is going to play out.
Your family lawyer should be able to provide a range of likely costs for various stages of work to be done.