When a marriage breaks down and divorce seems to be the only rational step toward a positive and more peaceful life for you and your children, it’s almost inevitably painful, stressful, and difficult. And, depending upon the complexity of your finances, assets, and children involved, a divorce cost can be exorbitant.
The outcome is impacted by the skills and abilities of your divorce attorney, as well as the attention they give to your unique case.
When you meet with a prospective divorce attorney, the most important things to consider are if the attorney has extensive experience handling divorces and if they are a good fit for you.
During your consultation, you are entitled to seek answers to many important questions, too. The attorney should listen and then patiently and openly answer your questions and address your concerns. But, if the attorney is reluctant to answer you, doesn’t have answers or becomes impatient with your questions, be wary. A key factor towards divorce remediation is excellent communication and rapport with your attorney, and dodging questions is a red flag for difficult communication to come.
Here are some suggested questions to ask your prospective divorce attorney:
Question #1 How much experience do you have with divorce and child custody cases? Is this your exclusive practice area? If not, do you have the skills, experience, resources and time to focus on my case? How many divorces have you handled? What types of divorce settlements have you achieved? What percentage of the divorces you handled were settled out of court? Whether your divorce is mediated, arbitrated or goes to trial, your attorney should have all those skills and relevant experience. If there are special marital conditions such as a same-sex marriage or if one or both of you are in the military, your attorney should have experience with those types of divorces.
Question #2 What is your experience with child custody and child support, especially as part of the divorce process? When you and your spouse can’t agree on a child custody or shared custody arrangement, it’s important to understand what may happen if the custody matter goes before a court. In some cases, a mediation or arbitration may be a better way to resolve child custody and support issues. A prospective, experienced family law child custody attorney should advise you what’s in both your and your children’s best interest.
Question #3 Do you have testimonials from clients whose divorces you’ve handled, and can I have access to those testimonials? While client privacy and confidentiality must be respected, an experienced, successful divorce attorney will have written testimonials, or in some cases, you may be able to speak to previous clients.
Question #4 How will marital assets and finances be divided? Connecticut law does not require that marital property be allocated equally between spouses. Here, the law requires equitable distribution to ensure that each spouse ends the marriage with a fair share of the marital estate. After discussing your marriage and assets with you, a prospective experienced divorce attorney should be able to give you an idea of how your assets may be distributed but keep in mind, an ethical attorney cannot promise a monetary outcome.
Question #5 Does determination that one spouse is most “at fault” in the failure of the marriage affect the distribution of marital property? In Connecticut, if the court determines one spouse was substantially more responsible for the breakdown of the marriage, the court may award a greater portion of the marital assets to the other spouse. A prospective, knowledgeable divorce attorney should be able to explain at fault Connecticut laws.
Question #6 Do you prefer to resolve divorce settlements outside court or to litigate in family court? This is an important question because it will usually cost less to settle finances and custody of children in negotiations outside of court. Some attorneys will pursue court for settlement because they’ll be able to charge more. It’s important that your prospective divorce attorney does what’s best for you, not what will inflate their fee.
Question #7 If my divorce must go to court, how experienced and familiar are you with trial and court proceedings? Are you familiar with the judges in the jurisdiction where my trial may be heard? An experienced divorce attorney will know what to expect from the judges in your jurisdiction and should be able to use this knowledge to your advantage.
Question #8 How are your fees structured? Will I be charged a flat rate or hourly? If hourly, will you charge me incrementally? If I call to ask a question, will be billed for a phone call? How will the fee be affected if my spouse contests what we propose? While the amount a divorce attorney will charge you may seem like the most important question, if you aren’t comfortable with the answers the prospective attorney has already given you, the cost is a moot point. But if you’re satisfied so far, the fee structure should be thoroughly discussed. If the attorney won’t take your case for a flat fee, ask what they estimate the total cost of your divorce might be? Be cautious if an attorney will work on a flat fee basis unless it is a simple divorce without many assets or children involved. For more complicated divorces, an attorney who accepts a flat fee may be more interested in settling your case quickly than aggressively working toward the most optimal outcome for you.
Question #9 How long do you think my divorce will take? An experienced attorney may be able to predict a timeframe after reviewing your marital circumstances, assets, and child issues, but it’s impossible to pinpoint a specific time or date by which a divorce will be final. Optimally, your spouse will fully agree with the conditions proposed by your attorney, but if they protest or want to fight the offer, a divorce can go on for years. Bottom line: know that the length of time your divorce takes will certainly affect how much it costs you.
Question #10 What are the Connecticut laws about alimony? Will my spouse or I be required to pay it? Whether a spouse is entitled to alimony is mandated by the length of the marriage and if that spouse stayed home to raise children. If there was a discrepancy in earnings when both spouses worked, one may be entitled to some alimony so they can continue the lifestyle to which they have been accustomed. Whether alimony is paid or received could also depend on a financial settlement. An experienced attorney should be able to suggest what you may be facing.
Question #11 What accreditations do you have? Several institutions provide accreditation to divorce lawyers, including the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Family Law Section of the Greater Bridgeport, Connecticut Bar, where attorney Gordon has served as chair for two years.
Question #12 Have any disciplinary actions ever been held against you? Your divorce attorney must be in good standing with their state’s Bar Association and have an excellent reputation. To check an attorney’s standing with the Connecticut Bar Association, view the state’s disciplinary counsel public website. https://jud.ct.gov/sgc/for_public.htm
After a thorough consultation with a divorce attorney, you must decide whether you feel comfortable with them, have a positive rapport and feel confident about their experience, abilities, resources and time. Further, your prospective attorney must express genuine concern about you and your case and not just be in a rush to get your retainer fee. If you feel a second consultation is necessary to further determine whether that attorney should handle your case, insist on a second meeting. And do not rush into hiring one. This is a critical decision because you are putting your future quality of life in a divorce attorney’s hands.
After you’re satisfied with the consultation, before you sign the attorney’s Retainer and Fee Agreement, do your own research. Then, proceed with confidence.
For over 30 years Attorney Bruce L. Gordon has attended to hundreds of our Connecticut clients’ legal needs and sensibilities with compassion, respect, and diligence. For those seeking a divorce, attorney Gordon and his highly qualified legal team will relentlessly dedicate themselves to achieve the optimal settlement for you while, whenever possible, circumventing the pain and stress inherent in a divorce proceeding and achieving the best result possible for you.
For your free consultation, call 203.259.1100 today to schedule a meeting in our convenient Southport office. Our phones answer 24/7. Or, if you’re more comfortable, send us a confidential note about your situation on our contact form.