Top 3 Questions about Hiring a Divorce Lawyer in California
There is no requirement that you have a California divorce lawyer. In fact depending on your specific situation and the details involved, it may be wise to avoid hiring a lawyer prematurely.
Unless there is a reason to hire a divorce lawyer right away, hiring an attorney in a divorce case may only escalate the matter by forcing your spouse to hire one as well. Whereas with the right guidance and coaching, the two of you may be able to avoid hiring lawyers and instead, either do your own divorce entirely, or do your divorce under the direction of a neutral attorney who guides both of you, offers education and mediation to both of you, and helps both of you with your paperwork.
Having said that, there are circumstances in which hiring a lawyer is wise and necessary to protect your children, your health, your property and your finances.
Some of the facts that will help you decide whether hiring a attorney to represent you is necessary include:
- The length of the marriage – Generally, the longer the marriage, the more likely it is that there are substantial substantive issues involved, such as community assets as well as the exposure to pay, or the right to receive spousal support.
- Status quo – Is status quo suitable for the short term? If you have minor children together, can you and your spouse workout a parenting arrangement that will be best for everyone without a court order? Can you count on your spouse living up to the terms of the agreement if things do not go well? Whether you do or don't have children, do you have enough money to pay for your regular expenses comfortably without having to ask your spouse for help? Are you entitled to child support and or spousal support? Do you need uninterrupted and undisturbed use and access to certain assets, such as the house, the car or the business?
- Nature of assets and finances involved – Not all financial matters are alike. Assets can be simple (such as the paid off car, or the cash bank account that you are both aware of, furniture/furnishings, etc.) or they can be complex (like stock accounts, stock options, pension rights, business owned by one or both of you, etc.).
Similarly, finances can be simple (like the person who earns regular income working for a reliable company with no overtime, fringe benefits, commission, bonuses) or they can be complex (such as a self-employed person, a person who works for cash, a person who does not work or earns less than what you believe they are capable of earning, a person who has all or part of their income as commission, etc.).
Assets and debts need to be characterized properly as community property, separate property or a hybrid, they need to be valued properly and they need to be properly divided. The more complexity involved, the more likely it is that you may need the help of a lawyer to avoid long term negative effects of a wrong choice.
- Cooperation of your spouse – Can you count on your spouse to be “fair” in the divorce process? Will your spouse participate in the divorce process if lawyers are not involved? How important is it to one, or both of you, that the process move forward quickly? Do you have, or can you get, access to financial information, whether with or without your spouse's cooperation?
Especially in the area of family law and divorce, it's important to get the balance right in deciding whether to hire a lawyer to represent you in your divorce or not. Hiring a lawyer pre-maturely may actually cause problems, and hiring a lawyer too late may leave you unprotected and in fact jeopardize your rights.
As with hiring any professional, you need to interview as many lawyers as your time and patience will allow. As a group, attorneys are not the most pleasant people to speak with, especially under these circumstances. However, it's crucial that you have a large enough selection from whom to choose. The lawyer you hire will play a significant role in your divorce, your financial future and effectively, the remainder of your life.
You need to ask questions and listen critically.
What's the plan - It should go without saying that the lawyer, and yes, you should be speaking directly to the lawyer, not a staff member, should have substantial experience and expertise in the area of divorce. But beyond that, ask the lawyer what his or her specific plan is in representing you. The lawyer should want to know more about your situation before having a plan because each situation is different and there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to the lawyer's plans for your matter.
Education – No, I'm not talking about where the lawyer went to school or whether the lawyer is a specialist or not. Neither of these will do anything for you. I'm referring to the willingness of the lawyer to take the time to educate you on the law, your rights, your obligation and the choices you will have in the divorce process. They should not be attempting to impress you with fancy legal talk and Latin terms. Ultimately, this is your life and the choices made by you and your lawyer will substantially affect your future. You should be an active participant in the divorce process, and that can only take place if you have guidance and knowledge about the process.
Reasonable expectations - The attorney should provide you with realistic expectations, both in terms of your rights and obligations as well as the timeline for things being done in the legal system. Do not rely on sugar coated comments or promises that seem too good to be true. Lawyers will often tell potential clients what they want to hear only to reveal later that “things just didn't work out that way.”
Substance over titles and promises - Do not rely on a lawyer's title as a specialist, the location of the office or the promises they make in their advertisement. Use your instincts to determine whether this lawyer can serve your best interest during what will be one of the most difficult times of your life. You will know when you are getting straight answers, or just being told what you want to hear. At the end of the process, trust your gut.
Ultimately, what most people are looking for when hiring a lawyer is to get through a difficult time in their lives as painlessly as possible and with the best possible result. What makes one attorney better than another is their ability to:
- effectively represent you,
- with the least amount of stress, and
- to achieve the best possible outcome,
- in the least amount of time.
Use the above guideline as you interview attorneys with this expectation.
Call (800) 689-0774 and speak to one of the lawyers at Nader, Naraghi & Woodcock, APLC. We are experts in:
- assessing your situation,
- educating you about your rights, obligations and options,
- customizing a plan for your divorce, and
- helping you through the difficulties of divorce with the best possible results.
Whether you would be better served with representation through our office, or self-help services through Divorce Helpline our attorneys are here to help.