Newspaper article which quote attorneys, or attorneys, who quote themselves. Although coverage of this type is sorely lacking, reporters limit their “sources” and often miss critical, salient points. Thus the emotional and economic realities which accompany divorce and child custody cases, is seldom examined from the point of view of the litigant. As is the reporting dynamic isn’t likely to change, the public remains uninformed and at risk.
1. Recognizing priorities, the first step is writing down one’s goal, first determine the likelihood of reaching the goal based on the current situation. If the first goal is not uncoupling safely, sanely, and with security, it’s time to revise the goal. Safety should always be first. Check back for, Below line basics.
2. If there is a pre-nup – did it include a termination date? If not, I would re-negotiate. With another attorney.
3. If one has time, I recommend sitting in court for a day. Check the local calendars which are posted on every courtroom wall. Note which attorneys seem to spend most of their time in court. It could be a tip the attorney isn’t the best, but more likely to litigate than work on negotiations. Understand local bar associations aren’t always the best source; and it’s always wise to check State Bar records. Sometimes one leaves an abusive spouse only to hire an abusive attorney. I wouldn’t recommend any firm that markets itself “Brutal Divorce Tactics” complete with videos.
4. Know this: The long, detailed form titled “Retainer Agreement” is only a Retainer Agreement if both the attorney and potential client agree, and execute the document stating this is their specific agreement. Otherwise a Retainer Agreement is just words on a page. If feeling pressured to sign, resist. Take it home. Study it. Compare to other agreements. Should you not agree with some of the provisions, such as copy fees, paralegal charges, court costs, what to do in case of a lawsuit; - address them with the attorney. If one won’t work for you, cross it out. If the attorney does not have a provision for timely returning all calls and letters, within a certain period of time, add one. Again, I would not execute any agreement where my concerns are not addressed in writing, and without feeling comfortable about the Agreement in full. Remember, a Retainer Agreement only has value after it’s been executed - not before. Also, Retainer Agreements are drafted by the attorney to best suit the business of the attorney. The attorney, particularly in instances involving a dispute. (See Number 7). Please read carefully. Ask the attorney to explain anything you don’t understand and take notes. It wouldn’t hurt to bring a friend who likewise takes notes.
5. As for Collaborative Divorce - please be aware in Collaborative Divorce most Retainer Agreements involve the attorney promising to leave the case unless the couple works out a settlement. This means should the collaborative process break down, the client is on the hook for paying fees owed the collaborative attorney, but must hire another attorney for court.
6. Any attorney who asks I put a lien on my home to pay the attorney’s fees is not an attorney I want to hire. The very idea has always confused me. I hire an attorney to protect my assets, not sign a lien so those exact assets may be taken away by the individual I hire. Also, my belief is doing so reduces the attorney’s motivation to work on the case. Simply because the attorney would still be paid, regardless. With my assets. I have seen cases where both counsel and opposing counsel also their clients execute a lien…and then both attorneys filed an action with the court to make sure the property was sold. So the couple’s sole asset went to both attorneys for payment of fees.
7. Make sure the attorney carries malpractice insurance. I suggest incorporating the policy number into the Retainer Agreement. “Attorney states he carries malpractice insurance with __________, policy number _____. Don’t be shy. If the attorney has thought what to do “in case of a dispute” so should a potential client. As mentioned earlier, Retainer Agreements are designed by attorneys to benefit attorneys.
8. When the Retainer Agreement is settled, next comes what to do about your spouse’s potential attorney; and yes, there is something to do, This will be reviewed in the future, Below line Basics.
9. As a personal observation, I avoid any attorney who only works with one sex.
10. Did you know the National Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have lobby for more time in Family Court? This will be addressed in the future, Below line Basics.