Should I get a lawyer for divorce? How to find an attorney you can trust

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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 attorney 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 divorce 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 divorce lawyer that you actually like.

Should I get a lawyer for divorce?

Reasons to retain a divorce lawyer:

  • You have a very high-conflict divorce with someone who is abusive, addicted, suffers extreme mental health issues.
  • You have a very complicated financial picture that requires an expert to untangle.
  • You and your ex are committed to a low-conflict uncontested divorce, but want an attorney to look over your final divorce settlement.

Searching for “divorce lawyers near me?”

If you are trying to find a local divorce attorney to handle your divorce, you can of course begin with a quick Google Search. This is an easy way to get started in searching for a lawyer. That being said, there are a number of websites designed specifically to help you find and compare local divorce lawyers, which will make choosing the right lawyer much easier than comparison shopping on your own. Below is a list of websites that you can use to find a divorce lawyer:

  • Avvo
  • Your state’s Bar association 
  • FindLaw
  • Justia
  • Nolo
  • Rocket Lawyer
  • Super Lawyers
  • Thervo
  • Thumbtack

Avvo

Avvo.com is a website that brings contact information, ratings, reviews, and disciplinary records for lawyers together into a single searchable directory that you can use to find a divorce attorney in your state. You can search by state and also by their practice area (divorce, family, business, etc.). The site is very easy to use. 

Bar association for your state

If you are weary of third-party directories like many on this list, you can still find a divorce lawyer by visiting your state’s bar association website. Simply search for “[state] bar association” to find the correct website. Most state bar associations will have a search function that allows you to find a divorce attorney close to you that specializes in family law or divorce.

Usually, you will only be provided with the names and contact information of the lawyer, without additional detail (such as reviews) that are often found on other directories. 

FindLaw

FindLaw is owned by Thomson Reuters, a fairly well-known and trusted global company. Through FindLaw, Thomson Reuters operates a directory that you can search to find a lawyer in your area. The FindLaw directory provides you with the name and contact information of divorce lawyer near you, and also provides reviews when they are available. One helpful differentiator of the FindLaw directory is the fact that it notes right on each lawyer’s profile whether or not the firm provides a free consultation. 

Justia

The Justia lawyer directory allows you to search for divorce attorney by state, county, and city. The directory also provides a number of additional filters to narrow your results down in a number of ways, such as by the lawyer’s rating, their fees, the services they offer, whether or not they provide video conferencing, and more. Directory results provide the attorney's name, contact information, and any existing reviews. The directory also allows you to select up to three lawyers and then compare them side by side, which is helpful.

Nolo

Nolo is one of the most well-known law-focused websites, in part due to its lawyer directory and in part due to the vast library of law resources that it publishes on its site. The attorney directory works like this: Select your state or enter your zip code, and you’ll be provided with a list of local lawyers to choose from. Nolo’s directory provides the law firm’s contact information, specialties, and biographical information. It does not include reviews or pricing information.

Nolo also manages DivorceNet.com, another divorce law-focused website. Whereas Nolo provides a directory that you can use to search for a lawyer on your own, DivorceNet.com will ask you a series of questions and then use your answers to connect you with a attorney for a free case evaluation. 

Rocket Lawyer

The Rocket Lawyer directory allows you to search by both issue (divorce, family law, business law, etc.) and by state. You’ll then be presented with a full list of divorce attorneys who practice in your area, including their name, contact information, and the states they are licensed to practice in. This final point is especially helpful if you are looking for a lawyer capable of practicing in a different state from the one in which you reside.

Clicking into a divorce lawyer's profile will also let you see information about that lawyer’s standard rates. While you do not need to be a Rocket Lawyers member to use the directory, if you are a member you may receive a discount when hiring a attorneys on the directory. (Lawyer’s who this apply to have an “R” logo next to their name.)

Super Lawyers

Super Lawyers, like FindLaw, is owned by Thomson Reuters. You can search for a divorce attorneys using the directory by state or by major metro region (such as New York City). The primary difference between Super Lawyers and FindLaw is that, while FindLaw provides reviews and additional information about the attorneys in its directory, Super Lawyers is a bit more sparse. Of the two, FindLaw provides you with more of the information you’ll need to make a decision. 

Thervo

Thervo is similar in many ways to Thumbtack (below) in that it is essentially an online directory that allows users to find professionals for a variety of services. However, while Thumbtack is best known as a site to search for contractors and handymen, Thervo is more focused on professional services such as counseling, coaching, business, and legal.

To find a divorce attorney using Thervo, just enter your zip code and answer a few simple questions about the services you are looking for. You will then receive a number of custom quotes by email within about an hour’s time. This makes Thervo best for someone who would rather let someone else do the comparison shopping for them, but less of a good fit for those who would prefer to do the searching themselves. 

Thumbtack

Thumbtack is a website that allows users to find professionals that provide a range of services. While it is perhaps best known as a way to search for handymen and the like, it is also possible to search for a divorce lawyer. The Thumbtack divorce attorney directory provides the lawyer’s name, contact information, reviews, and an estimates hourly rate, which can be very helpful in quickly narrowing your search to only those lawyers who fall within your budget.

Leaving your spouse? Divorce checklists

Searching for “pro bono divorce lawyers near me?”

Pro bono attorneys are those who work for you for free. Typically, an attorney will volunteer their services through an agency whose work they believe in — say, helping people with immigration, domestic violence, animal welfare, or shared parenting. Larger law firms will have more formal pro bono programs to select and support cases of people or issues that cannot otherwise afford attorney fees.

Attorneys near you will provide pro bono services, but it can be hard to find them. There are online tools to get your legal questions answered for free or cheap. Also, even if you can't afford to hire an attorney to represent you, most do offer a short, free consultation during which you can get a lot of meaningful information that can help your case.

You can find a free attorney consultation at Lawyer.com.

The American Bar Association has a searchable database of pro bono legal services for low-income clients.

How do I choose a good divorce lawyer?

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.

An attorney is also necessary when:

  • Your to-be ex is very abusive
  • 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 considerable assets, and/or a jointly owned business
  • You have significant shared debt you need help separating
  • Your ex is fighting for primary or custody
  • There is a real risk your ex will abduct the children out of the county, state or country
  • You have agreed on all terms with your spouse, but need an lawyer to review the terms, as well as help with the actual filing, and/or technical matters such as a QDRO.

Otherwise, a good divorce lawyer is one who is honest, transparent, and will help guide you during one of the most stressful times of your life. The best divorce lawyer for you is not necessarily one that will do what you want, but instead offer their expert advice based on what will help you thrive going forward, as well work effectively with your ex's divorce attorney, as well as any judge, therapist, mediator or evaluator involved in your case.

Unsure of whether to pursue divorce? Pros and cons of divorce, and how to ask your husband or wife for a separation or divorce.

Ready to go? How to leave your spouse

To find a good divorce attorney:

  • Ask around to people you trust and share sensibilities. Look for a divorce lawyer who is good at keeping costs and conflict low.
  • Google ‘divorce lawyer near me.' Yelp and other reviews may be helpful.
  • Call around. Most lawyers will give you a free phone consultation — this gives you a sense of their personality and strategy and help you choose the best divorce lawyer for you. Plus, these calls will educate you about the divorce process in the community in which you live. Ask whether the attorney practices collaborative or mediated divorce.

    Also: it is free legal advice!

How to file for divorce 101 — the basics

How much does it cost to retain a divorce attorney?

Depending on where you live, the experience of the attorney, and other factors, expect to pay in the range of $100 to $1,000 per hour. Most divorce lawyers require you pay a retainer — or a sum of money up-front against which their hourly rate is billed. Depending on the complexity of your case, and the individual attorney’s own policies, a retainer can range from $2,000 to $30,000 or more.

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 attorney 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 attorney by your side – the attorney 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 Rocket Lawyer.

How to get through divorce without going bankrupt

If you decide to look for a divorce attorney, here are some questions to consider:

Questions to ask prospective divorce attorney before you hire one

1. What is your approach to the divorce process?

Each divorce attorney 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. The best divorce lawyers will keep you out of court — or minimize court time if your ex keeps filing.

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.

15 signs your husband or wife is ready to leave you

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.

5 tips for a quick divorce

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 attorney 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, 3) choose the best divorce attorney for you.

How to co-parent peacefully with even the most toxic ex

“Is it necessary or worth it to hire a lawyer for a divorce?”

Thankfully, divorce is moving away from high-conflict, dramatic and expensive litigation, in favor of lower-conflict processes that preserve both spouses and their children's mental health, time and finances:

1. Divorce mediation

Mediated divorce means both spouses hire a single mediator — typically an lawyer, therapist or professional mediator — to negotiate a single divorce settlement without going to court.

2. Collaborative divorce

Collaborative divorce involves both spouses hiring their own attorneys, and all four parties sign a contract committing to staying out of court, which fosters a lower conflict process aimed at fair and positive long-term outcomes.

3. DIY online divorce

Many couples opt to collect their own divorce papers, sit at the kitchen table, and work out the details of their divorce between the two of them, filing their own settlement in the local court. Online divorce paper services can make it easier and sometimes faster. Read our roundup of the Top online divorce paper companies for 2021.

When you need a divorce lawyer

I can attest to how helpful and comforting it can be to have an attorney at your side who can guide you and advocate on your behalf. But, lawyers aren’t cheap. If you use a divorce lawyer to end your marriage, the average cost is $15,000 nationwide. 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 at 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.

How to co-parent peacefully with even the most toxic ex

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.

Here are some situations where you need to hire an attorney:

  • You need a divorce lawyer if there is abuse in the relationship, or against the children.
  • There is a severe addiction, cognitive impairment, or severe mental illness that prevents one spouse from being an equal co-parent.
  • You need a family lawyer for your divorce if there are large sums of money, assets, property or a family business that are complicated and require professionals to divide equitably.
  • There are international visa issues at hand.
  • It is not possible to proceed with an amicable divorce or annulment.

If you are not working amicably with your spouse on the divorce, you may need to hire an lawyer who will manage this process for you. Your ex then will also likely hire an attorney. Then, both camps can hash out a divorce agreement, which will then be filed in the courts. Or, you may have to go to trial if you can not come to a divorce agreement outside of court.

How do I file for divorce with a lawyer?

Typically, if lawyers are involved, each spouse hires their own attorney, and between the two parties, an agreement is reached, and then filed in court. Sometimes a couple agrees to use one attorney to mediate the agreement, which is a lower-conflict, and more affordable way to divorce. If you cannot agree on a settlement, you may go to court. A judge may order a mediation or arbitration, in which a third-party will help you come to terms of agreement, typically in line with what a judge would order.

Keep in mind that a good lawyer will advise you as to what to expect should your case be heard before a judge, so you and your spouse can settle without the expense, time and stress of a hearing.

Contrary to popular belief: Divorce cases are not heard before juries.

If you decide you’d like to speak with a divorce attorney, start with the Rocket Lawyer attorney directory. Ask around to friends for a local attorney referral. Divorce lawyers will typically take an in-bound call and give you a free or reduced-price initial call to see if the two of you are a good fit. Be honest about your case, and take notes. You can learn a lot from these sessions.

Questions to ask a divorce attorney before agreeing to work with them:

  • What is your rate?
  • How often do your clients settle out of court, vs go to trial?
  • What is your philosophy about low-conflict or amicable divorces?
  • Do you provide mediation services if we agree that is a fit?
  • How many men vs women are your clients?
  • What are your personal feelings about (alimony, 50-50 custody, parents moving out of state, or any other issue that is important or worrisome to you)?
  • Will I be working with you, or one of your associates?
  • What kind of response time can I expect from you?
  • How will we communicate — email, phone, text, video, fax?
  • Given what you know about my case, what do you expect my outcome will be in terms of speed of reaching a settlement, and getting what I want?

If you work with an attorney for your divorce here is what you can expect:

  • Sign an agreement to work with your attorney, including their hourly rates. Most divorce lawyers require a retainer — or a sum of money up front against which their hourly rate will be billed.
  • Set up a time to meet and work through the main information and create a strategy — will you first file for divorce and then serve your spouse? Or will your lawyer reach out directly to the other spouse’s attorney?
  • You, your soon-to-be ex and your respective lawyer will likely meet in a ‘four way’ meeting to discuss terms of a settlement. There may be several of these meetings, with emails and calls between the parties to negotiate details.
  • Ideally, a settlement is agreed to, all parties sign, and one attorney files in court.
  • Some states require an appearance in front of a judge, who will review the divorce papers, and either sign them and issue a divorce decree (congratulations — you’re divorced!), or ask for revisions. Other states allow divorcing spouses to file their divorce papers online, in which case a magistrate or judge will finalize them and send you the signed divorce papers.
How much does it cost to retain a divorce attorney?

Depending on where you live, the experience of the lawyer, 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.

Who can benefit from divorce lawyers?

Here are cases when you definitely need a divorce attorney: your to-be ex is very abusive; there is ongoing, active addiction or severe mental health issues; you have considerable assets, and/or a jointly owned business; you have significant shared debt you need help separating; your ex is fighting for primary or custody; and there is a real risk your ex will abduct the children out of the county, state or country.

Should I get a lawyer for divorce?

There are three reasons to retain a lawyer: very high-conflict divorce, very complicated financial picture, or you want a lawyer to look over the settlement you and your spouse negotiated.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

2 Comments

Emma, I really appreciate your tips for choosing a reputable divorce attorney. My best friend is going through a divorce right now and wants to hire the best attorney for her case. I love how you recommend telling the lawyer about your communication expectations right away to make sure they can work with your needs. I will be sure to pass these tips along to my friend.

Thanks for mentioning that speaking to a few lawyers is a good idea if you and your spouse have decided that divorce is the only alternative. My sister is thinking of hiring a divorce attorney because she’s considering separating from her husband due to irreconcilable differences. It seems like a good idea to consider hiring a reputable professional that can help with the divorce process so it can go as smoothly as possible.

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