Most lawyers who regularly practice in family court will have a basic understanding of the laws that apply in family court. The rules that decide issues in a family court case are also relatively simple (for example, the division of marital property should be relatively equal). If most lawyers know most of these basic rules and laws, then, what is there to help you to decide who to hire?
- You should consider whether a lawyer is someone who listens to you and who is interested in your issues. Family court cases often involve very emotional issues because it is where the law collides with your most intimate relationships. Lawyers are often referred to as “counselors-at-law” because many legal issues—particularly those involving families—also require an understanding of human relationships before they can be effectively resolved. Many family court lawyers are effective “paper-pushers,” meaning they can file the proper documents in the right way to help you accomplish your legal goals; there are fewer lawyers who are also good at handling the human element of a case, such as when your ex is three hours late returning the children and refuses to answer his cell phone. A paper-pushing lawyer can file a contempt petition against your spouse in such a scenario. A more effective family court lawyer, however, may take your late-night phone call, talk you through your worries and help you to understand the relationship dynamics behind your spouse’s behavior.
- You should remember a lawyer works for you, not the other way around. Working with a lawyer in a family court case requires communication and understanding going both ways. This means both you and your lawyer will have certain responsibilities in your case; your lawyer, for example, may require you to gather financial documents or to provide copies of your children’s school records. You, on the other hand, may want regular updates on the status of the case or you may want to receive copies of all documents that may be filed. In order for the relationship with your lawyer to work, each one of you needs to try to meet the expectations of the other one with respect to communications and understanding. It is helpful to remember your lawyer works for you, but that work is only as good as the cooperation he/she gets from you. If you fail to gather documents as requested by your lawyer, for example, your case may suffer because the court may not receive all of the necessary information it needs to make the proper decision. By the same token, if there is something you need from your lawyer, you have the right to expect your lawyer will try to meet that need. A lawyer-client relationship without open communication and understanding between the parties is a relationship that will leave both parties unsatisfied.
- You should decide whether you would feel comfortable telling a lawyer very intimidate details about your life. Few legal cases involve issues more personal than those in family court cases and the representation a lawyer can provide is only as good as the information that lawyer receives from a client. Perhaps your spouse has cheated on you? Maybe you are concerned with your spouse’s history of drinking or drug use (or, maybe you are concerned your spouse will make those kinds of allegations against you)? Or it could be as simple as being ashamed about how much credit card debt you have. In order to receive effective legal representation, you need to be able to disclose all of these details to your lawyer. If the lawyer intimidates you or makes you feel embarrassed by discussing these kinds of issues, you may not disclose everything the lawyer needs to know and your representation may suffer as a result. No one feels comfortable talking about difficult or embarrassing issues in life, but you should try to find the lawyer who helps you to feel the least uncomfortable with these things if that representation is going to be effective.