Who you chose to represent you for your separation and divorce will make a big difference in how you feel during the process. Having an attorney who is truly dedicated to helping you achieve your goals and actually listens to you will help to reduce your fears and lessen your concerns.
The first question you need to address in trying to choose an attorney is whether you need an attorney at all. You may decide hat your needs are not extensive enough that you need full-time counsel. If your marriage was relatively short, you don’t have any children, and you and your spouse don’t have complicated property issues, you may not need to retain counsel full-time. It might be best for you to meet with an attorney a few times leading up to your case, and then you can represent yourself. Also, if you find that your case is slightly more complex but you still want to avoid hiring an attorney to represent you, you could meet with a lawyer for advice and guidance in order to effectively represent yourself in court. Simply consulting an attorney for tips and guidance can bring you peace of mind during your separation or divorce.
Deciding whether to retain counsel could make or break the outcome of your divorce proceedings. Not fully understanding the law and how it applies to your situation can hurt you in reaching your desired outcome. Talking with an attorney about your spouse’s settlement proposal and having an attorney review settlement papers can ensure the outcome doesn’t leave you short-changed. You also can’t depend on your spouse to be completely transparent about what you are entitled to, whether he or she has retained counsel, or that they have your best interest at heart in terms of spousal support, dividing property, or even child custody and support. It is strongly recommended that you seek counsel at least once to have a trained eye look over your case, and the sooner the better!
Making an initial meeting with an attorney should be one of the first steps you take when seeking a divorce. Many people make the mistake of delaying a visit with an attorney because they are intimidated or are in denial about their current marital problems. Also, many people avoid going to see an attorney because they think they can’t afford their services. These barriers can prevent people from seeking the help they need from an attorney during a difficult time.
Finally, in deciding to seek counsel (as opposed to going it alone), know that attorneys have the skill set and knowledge base that everyday people may not have or be able to access. While you may have a general understanding of the law and how your proceeding may go, having a licensed professional will help you weave through the intricacies of the law and maximize the success of your case.
Once you decide to seek counsel, the process of finding the right attorney can seem overwhelming in itself. However, choosing the right attorney can be simple. Factoring in your finances, convenience, personal references, and even common sense are tools you use every day that will also assist you in finding the right attorney. The first thing you need to consider is what your priorities are for legal services. Then you should gather information about lawyers based on those needs. Finally, you should make your decision based on criteria such as the amount of time and money you can put into finding the lawyer who will do the best job for you, the professional’s reputation for specialized skills, the reputation of the lawyer’s firm, and whether you feel they are a person whom you can trust.
Gathering information about an attorney can be as simple as speaking with friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers about their experience with certain attorneys. Also, speaking with people in the community who have gone through a separation or divorce can be a valuable tool. These people could possibly be former clients of attorneys you are researching and can give you a valuable insight into the experience and how the attorney handled their case. If you aren’t comfortable speaking with friends, family, or members of the community, the North Carolina State Bar Association offers a referral list of attorneys that will help you find lawyers who work specifically with family law matters. In addition to providing you with a list of family law attorneys, the Bar Association also provides information regarding volunteer legal services that will be no charge to you. Attorneys who have signed up for the Volunteer Lawyers Program will sometimes take on family law cases at no charge. However, you can’t rely on getting help from the VLP, which receives many more requests than it can handle. Lastly, in gathering information, courthouse personnel will have regular interactions with local attorneys and can assist you with learning about an attorney’s reputation.
One specific thing to look for during your research is the attorney’s level of training in the area of law that’s pertinent to your case. An attorney who keeps informed about changes in the law of property distribution, custody, child support and alimony will likely give you more expert advice. A specialized lawyer will also be able to offer advice that is more tailored to your specific circumstances. In North Carolina, attorneys can become certified in Family Law. These attorneys sometimes charge higher rates; but you may actually save money because these lawyers often can do the work at a faster pace and with less new research than generalists. A list of board-certified attorneys can be requested from the North Carolina State Bar.
Before you make your final decision, it is important to have an initial meeting with the attorney to get a feel for the attorney’s work ethic and personality. Your goal should be to find someone who will act in your best interest and in whom you feel comfortable resting your confidence. Your attorney should be engaged during your meeting, attentive to your questions and concerns, and organized. Remember that a divorce is a highly personal and sensitive matter, and you want to put your fears in the hands of someone who can adress them. Along with how the attorney makes you feel and how prepared they are to represent you, it is important to ask about fees and policies. At the outset you should be given a clear explanation of the attorney’s billing and collection policies. Find out if there is a flat rate or an hourly fee. Ask if you need to pay in advance or if fees are due upon completion of services. Also, you should ask about initial retainer fees. You are entitled to know how you will be charged for the work done for you, what other fees might be assessed to your case, and how you are expected to pay your bill. No lawyer is likely to know exactly how much your case will cost; but every lawyer should be willing to tell you as much as he or she can about fees.
In conclusion, it is imperative to seek counsel as soon as you and your spouse have decided to dissolve your marriage. Even if you do not plan to retain counsel full-time, it is best to have an initial meeting with an attorney to understand your rights and how you should proceed with your case.