You’ve reached the stage where you need to hire a lawyer to represent you regarding family law issues. Alternatively, while you may not be ready to retain a lawyer, you need some reliable information from a lawyer with expertise in family law. Either way, you need to book a consultation with the right person, or persons, to determine your path forward and guide you for the future.
Your first step should be to reach out to friends and family for possible referrals. You might also want to ask real estate agents or financial planners for recommendations. Family law touches many people’s lives, and even if a connection hasn’t experienced a separation or divorce, they may have heard about someone who has. A family law lawyer’s reputation is vital and finding out about that person’s capabilities through contacts will be very helpful. You should also read about the lawyer online because there is often valuable information, including blog articles and publications that speak to the lawyer’s ability and approach to family law.
Cases involving parenting revolve around the determination of the “best interests of the child”. Such cases are often very high conflict as the parents each think their position is best for the child or children. If parenting is the primary dispute in your situation, you will want to consult with a lawyer who has extensive experience with such matters, including using the court process to resolve the dispute, as well as out-of-court processes like mediation, collaborative family law, and mediation-arbitration. You will want to find a lawyer who is very “child-focused” in their approach to your case.
If there are child protection issues with the Children’s Aid Society involved, you will want to find a lawyer who specializes in child protection work. A select few of the family law lawyers practice in this area, and they are dedicated to this important type of work.
You will need to find a family law lawyer who is suited to the complexities of your situation. If there are corporate and tax issues, or complex income issues, the lawyer you choose needs to have experience with those kinds of complicated financial cases. That lawyer will have connections with business valuators and tax experts and be able to work comfortably with those situations, sometimes in court, but more often in out-of-court, private procedures like mediation-arbitration. You will want the lawyer to explain to you what the appropriate alternatives are to court for high net-worth, corporate matters to ensure that the income-generating businesses remain viable and intact at the end of the dispute.
You will want to “meet” with a lawyer either by phone, Zoom, or an in-person meeting as law offices start opening up to in-person meetings once again. The information you glean from a consultation is important; however, your sense of whether the lawyer is compatible with your personality is sometimes more important. Ideally, you will get a strong sense that the lawyer is competent and can be trusted with the significant issues at stake. You need to feel that the lawyer listens to you and all your concerns, and has the knowledge and ability to help you achieve a positive outcome. Find out how much of the lawyer’s work is in court versus out of court, and how much court experience the lawyer has, particularly if you’re facing a situation that clearly won’t be resolved without court.
Ask the lawyer how the billing structure will work. Lawyers with more experience will have higher hourly rates; moreover, they have valuable years of dealing with family law matters in a variety of ways. Ask if more junior lawyers work with the lawyer as part of the team, and what their rates are. Find out if law clerks work with the lawyers and what they do, and how a law clerk’s work is billed. Determine if there are assistants to do the clerical and administrative work. The “team effort” is often very important for an economical arrangement in family law. Find out how the legal fees vary between court and out-of-court matters.
The relationship you develop with your lawyer will be important. Trust is the critical underlying principle in that relationship. You want someone whose focus is on your situation, someone with whom you have a personal connection, and someone who truly listens to what you are saying. Do not feel that you must go with the first lawyer you meet. There is nothing wrong with meeting another lawyer, or lawyers, sometimes at the same firm and sometimes at another firm. The future well-being of your children, and your future financial security, are at stake. Remember that when you retain a lawyer, that lawyer may be in your life for years as court cases can last for a long time, and even negotiations and mediation will as well. There are sometimes variations that happen repeatedly in the future. Choose a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable and confident for potentially many years in the future.
Your family law lawyer should be compassionate with family law experience, and should have connections to lawyers and experts in other areas of the law, such as real estate, estates and wills, corporate and tax issues. Having a family law lawyer who is established in the legal community with a good reputation, and high level of professionalism, will help you achieve the best outcome for your family law matter.