lawyer

Keys to Hiring the Right Lawyer for Your Divorce Case

It is not uncommon for us to be the second law firm in a divorce case, after the client has grown frustrated with the lack of progress or success that the first lawyer had. Here are what I believe are the keys to choosing the right divorce lawyer. If you would prefer to watch a video I did on this subject, you can view one on the Morgan Law Firm Austin divorce site.

Hire Someone Focused Exclusively on Family Law

One of the common denominators I have seen in divorce clients who are unhappy with their attorney is Continue reading

Informal Settlement Agreements

A relatively rarely used Family Code provision enacted in 2005 codifies the use of the “Informal Settlement Agreement” and makes it an especially effective aid in settling a divorce case.  As long as the settlement document specifically and prominently provides that it is not subject to revocation and is signed by all parties and attorneys, a party is entitled to a judgment on the terms of the agreement.  Effectively this gives the informal settlement agreement a very similar level of enforceability as a mediated settlement agreement and avoids issues that have arisen in the past regarding whether a party in a divorce case has the right to revoke a Rule 11 settlement agreement prior to entry by the court.

It is very common in my practice to use an informal settlement agreement early in a case.  When sufficient information exists to address all issues it can be very helpful to make an early offer via an informal settlement agreement, ideally in the first month or so in the case.  This will often settle the case outright, or at least begin a settlement dialogue.  In my opinion in most cases this is far more advantageous to the client than waiting until the case is several months old.  In other words, I like to begin with the end in mind and at least attempt to settle the case in the early stages.  While the informal settlement agreement is a great tool in a divorce case, based on a precise reading of the statute its use is limited to divorce cases.   As stated in the statute, “the parties to a dissolution of a marriage may agree” to reach an informal settlement agreement.  Thus, the statute appears to not apply to other family law issues such as paternity cases or modification cases and those cases are still limited to the use of mediation agreements or rule 11 agreements.

It is important to note that some cases are not good candidates for the early use of an informal settlement agreement, such as ones that require immediate temporary orders or where the client has insufficient information on the finances and discovery will be needed.  But in a typical divorce case it can be extremely helpful in reaching a reasonable resolution early, before the parties have expended a great deal in attorneys fees or gotten overly contentious about the case.

Divorce Costs – How to Reduce

Here is an interesting article giving some good advice on how to reduce the trauma and expense of a divorce case.  It was written by Cynthia M. Fox, a Missouri family law attorney.  Most of her advice focuses on the client being efficient with the lawyer’s time (since that is how most experienced divorce lawyers charge) and not using the divorce process in an abusive or unnecessarily expensive manner.

This is a good read for anyone who is beginning the divorce process and wants to stay grounded throughout it. Her advice is actually quite similar to the advice I gave in an earlier article I wrote on keeping divorce costs down.

Can Marriage Counseling Help Your Marriage?

It is surprising to me the number of people who file for divorce without having first attempted marriage counseling. In those cases where the marriage is particularly short and there are no children it is understandable, but when a marriage has lasted a decade or longer or the spouses are still raising children then marriage counseling is usually at least worth trying.

I have never advised a client to get divorced, as I feel that this is a very personal decision and one that ultimately the client is the only one qualified to make. The choice is theirs and theirs alone. There are a number of reasons people decide to get divorced. A short list includes extramarital affairs, a lack of shared interests, lack of communication and generally growing apart. When both spouses are motivated to do so many of these issues can be addressed and ultimately resolved with the assistance of an experienced marriage counselor.

The decision to divorce should never be taken lightly and should never be made immediately after an argument. You have to consider the impact of divorce not only on yourself, but if you have children, the impact on them as well. Factors include not only emotional issues, but also practical considerations such as finances, where you will live, et cetera.

Of course what I’m describing is the typical situation. A very different set of criteria comes into play when there are instances of physical or sexual abuse. With these kinds of situations you must act immediately and take appropriate action, including immediately contacting an attorney.

But when the more typical situation exists – that is, two spouses who just don’t see eye to eye on some or several issues, then a marriage counselor can be of great assistance in helping the parties to communicate more effectively and possibly resolve the problem areas.

Divorce Cost

Kelly Chang is a Los Angeles family law attorney.  She wrote an excellent post on how dramatically the overall cost of a divorce can vary and what factors contribute.  However, as Kelly points out, how responsive a client is and how well they follow instructions and take your advice can play a significant role in the overall cost.

Selecting the Right Divorce Lawyer

Selecting the right divorce lawyer to represent you is a very important decision. The following are a few criteria for use in helping to decide on the right attorney.

Experience

Any divorce lawyer you consider should have significant experience handling cases in your geographical area. A divorce lawyer who is experienced in your county will be familiar with the tendencies of that county’s judges and will be able to use this knowledge to your advantage. Additionally, that lawyer should practice primarily (preferably, exclusively) as a family law attorney. Frequently people will hire someone whose practice is mostly in another area of the law, thinking that any lawyer will do. However, family law is extremely specialized and in most states the statutes are modified frequently. It is a field that requires a constant study and a certain skill set in order to best represent a client.

Past Client Testimonials

Probably the best way to determine which lawyer is right for your is to hear what past clients have to say about the lawyer. While divorce can often be unpleasant, some divorce attorneys have more success at satisfying their clients. If you do not personally know someone who has been a client of a particular lawyer, you should consider asking for client testimonials. A good lawyer should have at least a few former clients who are willing to vouch for him or her.

Accessible

One of the most common complaints made by clients who become dissatisfied with their divorce attorney is that they were unable to communicate with the lawyer. It is very important that your divorce lawyer or someone on the staff be accessible and prompt in responding to your phone calls, emails, and requests for meetings. While you can ask about the office policy, this is another area where you can best evaluate by hearing what past clients have to say.

Fees

It is extremely important that you have a frank discussion with the lawyer about fees and what you can expect. Typically, the divorce lawyer will require the payment of a substantial retainer up front, against which that lawyer’s hourly rate and expenses will be charged. You should find out what the hourly rate is, how much the retainer will be, whether any portion of the retainer is refundable if it is not fully used, and how frequently you will receive invoices detailing the hourly charges and expenses. You should also find out how detailed and clear the invoices will be. Again, this is an area where you can get excellent information from past clients.

Are You Comfortable with the Lawyer?

While all the other issues are very important, there is one ultimate question you should ask yourself before hiring your divorce lawyer: are you comfortable with that lawyer and are you confident in his or her abilities? If the answer is anything other than a resounding “yes, absolutely” you should keep looking. Your case is too important to hire someone who does not inspire your confidence.