It starts with a golden ring and ends in a boxing ring: for some, divorce is an inevitable evil and who “wins” often depends on who has the best divorce attorney.
There are words in our vocabulary that perk up almost anyone’s ears. Divorce is one of them – a big, bad word that aside from an opportunity to elicit juicy gossip seems to evoke an emotion from everyone — whether you’ve been through one yourself or it’s happened to a friend or family member.
During and after my divorce, which lasted a ridiculously long four years, I randomly received calls from women I knew personally as well as from women who were, as they say, six degrees of separation away. Since my own divorce involved three different attorneys and just as many fax machines, I had unknowingly become an authority on divorce.
The question from these women was always the same: “Do you know a good divorce attorney?”
Let’s face it. Attorneys are intimidating for a few reasons. First, they have superior knowledge about things most of don’t have the time, courage or inclination to learn about. Legal language is, for the most part, archaic and therefore not easily understood. It’s rare for even the most intelligent among us to walk away from an initial interaction with an attorney not feeling a bit stupefied and overwhelmed.
Secondly, they represent law and authority, which can be downright intimidating. Up until my own divorce, I had little to no dealings with attorneys. But unless the soon-to-be ex-spouses are amicable, have minimal assets or custody issues, and opt to use mediation, you’ll need a divorce attorney because they will be the ones to negotiate your settlement.
Most of the women who called me had yet to select an attorney. In most cases, their soon-to-be-ex had gotten an attorney first. Hence, the panic.
The first question I would ask: who is his divorce attorney? Just as we get to know the names of our favorite actors, actresses, directors, composers, chefs and moguls, I had acquired a mental database with the names of top-rated divorce attorneys in Los Angeles.
The best way to find any competent professional is to ask your friends for referrals. You can’t just search for a divorce lawyer on Google. Fortunately, you don’t have to go beyond the grocery line or a Sunday barbecue to find people who are more than eager to recommend their professionals.
Who doesn’t have the “best dentist,” the “best hairdresser,” the “best dermatologist” or even the “best pet groomer”? But when it comes to divorce attorneys, even though you might get a recommendation, don’t expect to hear a lot of love, and I’ll tell you why.
In almost every case, by the time someone reaches a divorce settlement, they’re e exasperated by what the attorneys and the legal process has put them through. Even if you find an attorney who is a good fit, one who will have your back and guide you through the inevitably painful dismantling of your marriage and family, it’s never going to be an easy or painless process.
Here are three tips to help you select your divorce attorney:
1. Consult with at least three attorneys before making a choice (so you don’t end up going through three attorneys like I did).
Most attorneys will consult with you for a limited amount of time at no charge so you can both get a feel if they are the right person for your case. For you, that means someone who understands the particular issues pertinent to your divorce and for them, an opportunity to determine if you’re worth taking on as a client (hint: how much money is at stake).
Even if they do charge a consultation fee, if they come with strong recommendations, in the long run, it’s worth the price. It’s crucial to have good chemistry with your attorney and you can only determine that by meeting with them and deciding, for yourself, if they fit your needs. If you’re more comfortable with men than women, that’s something to be taken into consideration. If you have children, it might be best to choose one that likewise has children. Is he/she someone who harbors anger towards their ex? Do you feel like they are really listening to you when you talk? Or do they seem distracted or dismissive?
2. Scrutinize their credentials.
Don’t pick an attorney because they have the corner office, are good looking, or share your passion for golf. Scrutinize a divorce attorney as you would scrutinize a plastic surgeon. Would you let someone who didn’t have an extensive experience carve up your face? You don’t want to put someone in charge of chopping up your financial assets if they don’t have your best interests at heart and that means an impressive reputation, a degree of loyalty, and a mind that’s sharp as a knife.
3. Get an egg timer and check your bill.
Your divorce attorney is not your friend; they’re not your money manager, and definitely not your therapist. You pay for every minute of time they spend on your case. In the beginning of your attorney/client relationship, you might feel a bond and even a sense of protection. Keep in mind that you are paying for that protection.
While you might relish the relief your feel to finally have a bona fide champion on your side, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is their business. The shiny plaque on their office door is not a coat of arms, and in the legal profession, knights in shining armor are few and far between. During my long ordeal, I began to consider family law attorneys to be nothing short of a necessary evil in the divorce process.
At the beginning of any divorce, it is fair to say that a person won’t be in their best frame of mind. You might feel fragile, or vacillate between anger and sorrow. I’ve often heard people say they felt like it was an out of body experience.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to retain an attorney that takes you from beginning to end with your sanity intact so that you can move on with your life. Do your research, ask questions, take your referrals seriously, consider the source, choose wisely – then fasten your seat belt because no matter what, you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Copyright © Susan Landau / 2016 Singular Communications, LLC.
Susan Landau is from Brooklyn, New York and currently lives in Woodland Hills, California. She was married for ten years and is the mother of two teenage sons. After graduating college at age 39, she went on to grad school and graduated from UCLA’s Drug Abuse and Counseling Studies program. She has spent the last five years writing about women’s pivotal stages of life, with humor, of course. Her book, “Getting Divorced In Leopard Pajamas” is available as an e-book on Amazon.