Many single parents will need the services of a family law attorney at some point. Separation, divorce, death of a partner, modifying a visitation agreement or child support order are just a few of the times to seek out a family law attorney. However, many of us have little experience with attorneys. The following will give you some general information on how to select and what to expect from a family law attorney.
Where Do I Find an Attorney?
- The phone book – Look under the Family Law section in the yellow pages. Here you will find a wide selection of attorneys. There are attorneys who specialize in the representation of men or the representation of women. Some attorneys specialize in a particular component of family law, for instance custody. There are attorneys that are Christian focused, and some that offer payment plans. Many offices will give you a free phone consultation.
- The library – Ask to see the Martindale & Hubbell Law Directory. This directory lists most lawyers and areas of practices within the United States.
- State or Local Bar Association - Most operate a Lawyer Referral Service. After asking you to briefly describe the facts of your case, they will refer you to attorneys in your area. Tell the attorney you were referred from the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service and you will often get a half-hour consultation at no charge. The referral service does not give legal advice.
- Network - Ask friends, family, and co-workers for names of attorneys they would recommend. Ask friends who have gone through a divorce if their attorney did a good job and if they would hire him/her again.
- Legal Aid Offices – If lack of money is a problem call your local legal aid office to determine if you qualify for representation. Your income has to be below a certain point to qualify for most services. Legal aid organizations often have restrictions on case acceptance. For instance, they may only take domestic violence cases. If they are not accepting your type of case ask them to refer you to pro bono attorney programs. These are local attorneys who have agreed to provide free legal representation to eligible persons, usually lower income. Like legal aid, some have restrictions on case acceptance.
Shop around for an attorney just as you would a doctor. You want them to be knowledgeable in family law but you also want to feel comfortable working with them. Some things to consider besides their expertise in family law:
-Do they have weekend or evening appointments? This is important when you work full-time.
-Are their offices fairly close to where you live or work? Single parent time is stretched to the limit. You want one located in a convenient location.
The Initial Consultation:
Many attorneys offer a free initial consultation. This is usually half-hour to listen to an overview of your case and give you options on how to proceed.
-Create a “cheat sheet” – Write down the main facts of your case and put them in chronological order. Also, list the questions you have about your case. Bring it to your initial consultation. Refer to your sheet when speaking with the attorney. It will ensure that you don’t forget to tell the attorney something important.
-Some Questions to Ask in the Initial Consultation:
How long have you practiced family law?
Do you have experience dealing with cases similar to mine?
If all goes well, how long will it take for my case to be resolved?
What should I expect?
What will be happening step-by-step?
How can I be sure I get my child support, visitation, etc?
What are the best case and worst case scenarios in regards to the outcome of my case?
How much will this cost?
How do you bill?
How Do Attorney’s Charge?
Some attorney’s charge by the hour and some will charge you one lump sum when your case is completed. Some of the common ways lawyers bill for their services:
Retainer Fee: advance payment to the lawyer for a portion of their fee.
Contingency Fee: an agreed upon percentage of any money obtained through settlement, trial or negotiation.
Hourly Fee: the lawyer’s hourly rate. They will take their hourly rate and multiply the number of hours worked on your case.
Fixed Fee: a specific amount of money charged for a specific service. Cost advance: reoccurring advance payment for on-going expenses related to the case.
Mixed fee: A combination of contingency and hourly fees.
How Will the Attorney Bill Me?
If the attorney charges an hourly fee ask how often they bill. A monthly invoice is common. Ask for a detailed monthly billing statement that specifies what services the attorney provided and how much time they spent on each service. Do not accept a bill that says: ” service rendered.” This doesn’t tell you what you are being charged for. Be assertive. If you don’t understand your bill ask the attorney to explain If the attorney charges a fixed fee ask if they have payment plans. Paying a little each month is easier to budget than paying one lump sum.
Hiring the Attorney:
When you decide to hire an attorney you will sign a retainer agreement. This is a document that states what services the attorney will perform and what the fees for the service will be.
If you accept the fees and understand the services to be performed then, and only then, should you sign the retainer. Find out if the quoted fee includes court costs, copying costs, and filing fees or if these services will be extra charges.
Do not sign the retainer unless you understand all the terms of the agreement!
After You Have Hired the Attorney:
-Be prepared and organized for each appointment.
-Obtain the documentation your attorney has asked for.
-Put in writing what you want out of the case. For instance, what property you want, how much child support, etc. Give this to your attorney. Ask what problems you face in getting what you want.
-Create a folder labeled “Attorney”. Keep all correspondence and documentation relating to your case in the file so it will be easily accessible.
-Write down what you want to ask your attorney before you call him. This will ensure you don’t forget anything. It will also help you stay on track since most attorneys will charge for time spent on the phone.
-Listen carefully to what the attorney says and make notes if necessary so you can review them later.
Hint: Remember, your attorney is not your therapist. Don’t pour your heart out to him about your personal problems each time you meet. He is only interested in the facts of the case - besides he will probably charge you for listening.
Selecting and hiring an attorney is an important decision. You should research your selections carefully. He should be receptive to your questions and keep you informed about each step in the proceedings. If you do not feel that your attorney is representing you in the best possible manner than dismiss his services and find another attorney. Remember, the attorney works for you!
The information is free to reprint in any format provided the information at the bottom, including this, remains intact. Reprinted from Single Parent Central, www.singleparentcentral.com, which offers information and resources to single parent families. ©2000 SingleParentCentral.com
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