If you’ve made up your mind and there’s no alternative but divorce, talking to at least a few lawyers is always a good idea. The first consultation is sometimes free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. And you can gain a lot of information during divorce lawyer interviews if you head into the conversation armed with the right questions.
Beyond information about the divorce process and perspective on your specific case, these consultations can give you excellent insight into the lawyer’s communication style and personality so you can get a good sense of whether you’ll be a fit. Divorce isn’t an easy process. You’ll be spending a lot of time with the lawyer you ultimately choose and sharing some of the most intimate details of your life with them – so it’s critical that you find a lawyer that you actually like.
First, ask yourself: Do you actually need a divorce attorney?
I can attest to how helpful and comforting it can be to have a lawyer at your side who can guide you and advocate on your behalf. But, lawyers aren’t cheap. In California and New York, divorce with a divorce lawyer on retainer can easily cost each individual up to $25,000.
Keep in mind: The nastier the divorce, the more money lawyers make. Family attorneys are financially motivated to create more conflict, not diffuse animosity.
That said, there are many quality divorce attorneys that will serve in litigation, mediation, or simply as consultants to review a divorce settlement that you and your soon-to-be ex hashed out peacefully the kitchen table.
The cost of a high-conflict separation and divorce is not just financial. The cost is also emotional — to the whole family. Research finds that it is not divorce itself that is harmful to children, but the conflict between parents, whether married or divorced. The more drama now, during your divorce, the less likely you are to successfully co-parent long-term.
Thankfully, there are ways to divorce for very low-cost. In fact, most states allow individuals to represent themselves in the divorce process, and 80 percent of divorces involve at least one party representing themselves.
When you definitely need a divorce attorney
If you and your spouse are at deep odds, and are set on fighting over custody and money, you likely have to invest in a family lawyer.
A lawyer is also necessary when:
- A spouse has a severe addiction or mental health issue, and children are involved
- There are complicated legal and financial matters, including large sums of money, family business, QDROs
- You have agreed on all terms with your spouse, but need an attorney to review the terms, as well as help with the actual filing, and/or technical matters such as a QDRO.
Divorce mediation is a process that allows couples to meet with a specially-trained, neutral third-party to work through all the issues related to dissolving the marriage, dividing assets, and the time, financial and logistical ways of co-parenting of any children.
By keeping conflict low now, mediated divorce can help facilitate a healthy co-parenting relationship long-term.
Divorce mediation can be conducted by a specially trained therapist or counselor, a family attorney who has gone through special education, or a professional, certified mediator.
The benefits of meditation include lower stress, lower cost, and faster time period than involving multiple lawyers and court proceedings.
If you work with a mediator who is not also a family lawyer, you may want to or need to also hire an attorney to review and file the papers. Some affordable online divorce services can work well in this situation. CompleteCase provides all the necessary divorce papers, and provides detailed directions for how to file your divorce papers in your state for a flat fee of $299.
Mediation is a good choice for couples who:
- Realize they have issues to work through before they can come to a settlement agreement, and are not capable of doing that without support
- Are generally healthy people committed to amicably resolving their divorce
- Are committed to staying out of court
Collaborative divorce is a relatively new practice, that is gaining popularity.
In a collaborative divorce, each party has their own attorney. It is critical to choose a divorce lawyer who is specially trained in collaborative divorce. In collaborative divorce, both the spouses as well as their divorce attorneys sign an agreement that commits them to the collaborative process. This includes:
- All parties are committed to resolving the divorce without going to court
- Spouses are forthcoming with documents and information, including income, tax and investments
- Should either spouse choose to move the case to court, the attorneys cannot continue working on the case.
These rules of collaborative divorce incentivize all parties to play fair, negotiate and stay away from the expense and stress of litigation.
Similar to a mediated divorce, collaborative divorce can help both parties understand one another, set a healthy stage for positive co-parenting into the future.
DIY online divorce
Today, most states allow divorcing couples to complete at least some, if not all, of the divorce process online. This is a completely legit and good way to resolve the end of a marriage and can be the least expensive, and least stressful way, too.
As in all the divorce options, it is usually advisable that a divorce attorney at least review the final divorce settlement to make sure all issues are addressed, and the formal details are completed correctly so that the courts do not reject the final filing. Also, you likely will have questions along the way. Divorce is a big deal, it is emotional and often complicated.
There are several quality online divorce services that help couples file divorces online, themselves, while also making available real-life lawyers to help.
If you have a generally healthy relationship with your ex (no abuse, toxic habits, screaming, belittling), hashing out the details of divorce on the family sofa may work for you. This is especially true if you already co-parent well, and don't need help establishing a schedule, cost-sharing or other communication, this is certainly the least expensive option.
This video from HelloDivorce‘s Erine Levine offers helpful insights:
If you decide to look for a divorce attorney, here are some questions to consider:
Questions to ask a divorce attorney before you hire one.
1. What is your approach to the divorce process?
Each divorce lawyer you speak to should have a slightly different answer to this. Sure, the divorce process is the same, in terms of paperwork, but your lawyer’s approach will differ. This open-ended question will give you some insight into the strategies they might employ to get you to the finish line. Some lawyers run to court for every little thing in a divorce.
If that does/doesn’t feel right to you, ask how often they typically find themselves in court during the divorce process. Are you anticipating a heated child custody battle, a big argument over property, or something else? Ask your lawyer how they’ve helped clients reach an acceptable outcome when they’ve worked in similar situations in the past. This article, This is why you need a strategy for your divorce, might also help prepare you for this conversation.
2. Can you describe your ideal client?
This question will help you understand what you can do to be a great client. Not that you wouldn’t be, but look – you don’t know what you don’t know unless you ask. This is likely your first divorce. Getting insights from a prospective lawyer about what makes a good client is a great way to get clued in about when to sit tight and relax and trust the process. And, understanding what qualities each attorney likes in their favorite type of client will help you see whether you’d be a good fit to work with them, or not.
3. How often should I expect to hear from your office, and what’s the best way for me to reach you when I have questions?
The best way to find out how frequently your lawyer connects with their clients is to ask. If you’re an e-mail junkie and detest interaction by phone (or vice versa), make that clear. If you want regular face-to-face meetings to discuss your case, a video conference, or messaging through a platform that is extra secure, make that clear. Lay out your expectations for communication up front. Remember: this is your divorce. You get to be picky about who helps you through it and how often you check in with your legal help.
4. How will I be updated on the status of my case?
Many lawyers are incorporating technology into their practices – which is a good thing for you. It keeps the process more transparent, letting you follow along at each step. As you interview attorneys, ask if their office uses technology like Clio, MyCase, or other case management software that you can also use to message your attorney, review your filed documents and track the status of your case.
5. Now that you know the details of my case, do you see any red flags? Any areas where my case could go off track?
This is a good chance to get help thinking ten steps ahead. After you’ve laid out the path that led you to pursue divorce and shared the outcome you’re hoping to achieve after your divorce is final, ask the lawyer where they’ve seen things going off the rails in similar cases they’ve worked on. What red flags did your story raise for them? What questions is the lawyer asking you about your situation? This question is your chance to 1) make sure they’ve been hearing you and 2) get insights that could help keep your divorce process moving along without surprises.
6. How much does a divorce lawyer cost?
Depending on where you live, the experience of the attorney, and other factors, expect to pay in the range of $150 to $500 per hour.
This question is especially important if you’re concerned about your financial situation. It will be helpful to know whether there are options, such as monthly payments or a payment up-front and at the end. If you’re not sure you can afford the lawyer you like, ask about their process of helping clients pay divorce lawyer fees out of the marital estate, rather than just out of your pocket. A lawyer who wants to work with you will help you find a way to afford their services and might offer options – like working more closely with a paralegal during the bulk of the process – to help you keep costs down.
Money-saving tip: Find out if your lawyer has staff (preferably a trained paralegal). You can cut down significantly on fees by forming a relationship with team members who bill at a lower hourly rate.
Taking all of this into account, I want you to remember one thing: this is your divorce. You get to choose who helps you through it. That’s why I highly recommend interviewing at least two to three divorce lawyers before selecting one. Don’t let anyone pressure you into working with them, either. This process is going to get harder before it gets easier, so it’s important that the lawyer by your side – the lawyer who is going to be learning a lot about the inner workings of your marriage, your finances, and more – is someone that you trust, respect, and actually like.
If you’re in the market for legal assistance but want to save money, consider an online lawyer, or company like CompleteCase.
Questions to ask a divorce meditator before you hire one
Don't be shy about interviewing any professional you hire to help with your divorce. If you are considering hiring a divorce mediator, here are some questions to ask …
What is your background and education? Do you have special certifications in mediation?
Formal training is just one indication of a mediator's ability — or whether they are a fit for your family. It may be important that you work with an attorney, or may find that a counselor is a more natural fit for your style. Perhaps you prioritize lots of formal training, or not at all. You may be impressed by mediators who have advocated for mediation requirements in local courts, or perform pro bono legal work in their field.
Some trained mediators may not be attorneys but work closely with divorce lawyers who can fill in tasks like writing a divorce agreement and filing the paperwork.
How much will divorce mediation cost?
Mediators typically charge by the hour. Ask about up-front costs, any retainers, what filing fees or any other expenses, so you are not caught off-guard. Ask what the average total cost of mediating a divorce is at the firm.
How much experience do you have?
If your divorce is simple and amicable, extensive experience may not be a requirement for hiring a divorce mediator. However, you may feel more comfortable if your mediator has a long track record, or works in tandem with a senior mediator who can support a more junior mediator.
How do you typically work with clients? What is your mediation strategy?
As with the other questions, these answers will give you a sense of whether this mediator is a good fit for you, and what you might expect working with you. Look for someone who is patient in explaining their methodology, puts you at ease, is helpful in answering your questions, and expresses genuine interest in helping your family move through this difficult time with ease.
How did you come to be a mediator? Why did you choose this work?
This is the professional's chance to express their passion and commitment for helping families, advocating for better courts and divorces, and telling you about themselves as people.
How successful are you in keeping couples out of court?
This might be the greatest sign of success!
Divorce mediator vs. divorce attorney
In general, a divorce mediator is committed to resolving the end of your marriage quickly, affordably, and with low drama. This is a great option for most couples.
Divorce attorneys are necessary in cases where one or both parties are committed to fighting, cases in where a spouse or children are in danger at the hands of abuse, addiction or severe mental illness.
A mediator or divorce lawyer can be helpful in conjunction with an online divorce you do yourself.
Questions to ask before paying for an online divorce
There are many online services and apps that will help you file your divorce online. Several of them are excellent, legit and reliable, as outlined in this review of the Top 10 online divorce services.
Before signing on with an online divorce service, ask:
- Do you operate in my state?
- Do you offer consultation with a divorce lawyer?
- Is that included in the initial fee — or extra?
- Is that consultation by phone or email?
- How quickly can I expect a response?
- Will you file my divorce papers for me?
How long does an online divorce work?
CompleteCase is a leading online divorce service, which operates in every state, and will file a divorce on your behalf, for a flat fee of $299.
CompleteCase works like this:
- Go to CompleteCase.com.
- Answer some questions about yourself, your spouse, and your situation.
- Your divorce documents are stored online, so you can go back and edit and change them as needed.
- When you are ready to file, print out your completed divorce forms, along with instructions for how to sign and file in your state.
Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.