• Jake W. Purdy, PMP, CDC®

5 Questions you Should ask a Family Lawyer Before Involving Them in your Divorce

Updated: Apr 22

A Certified Divorce Coach will not ever promote that clients do the entire separation without, at least, getting some independent legal advice. There are far too many stories of those kitchen table separation agreements where one party takes advantage of the other by hiding money or drafting clauses that are full or loopholes.

People who have something to hide will scare their future ex with stories of lawyers charging an arm and a leg and creating conflict. They like to manipulate and play mind games, so they can get away with disclosing financial information about their company or trying to pay less support. If your spouse is being ‘too nice’ and offering a quick settlement, you must question the motivation. NEVER sign an agreement before consulting with a lawyer. If this has happened to you, do not feel stupid, you are likely just a good person that fell for a trick and there is always a way out.

Assembling your support network is important because your divorce journey will define your future (and the future of your children, if applicable). Choosing a lawyer that fits your needs takes work and you should be prepared before meeting with them so you can make an informed decision. Once you have a lawyer, remember they work for you. They will follow your lead.

Lawyers offer a 30 minute consultation so you can explain your case and they can tell you how they would deal with your legal issues. This is a job interview for them. Don't be intimidated by a degree and have the courage to put them under the microscope. Come to this meeting prepared and ask them these 5 questions:

Photo by Ijeab via iStock

1. What is your style?

Hiring a family lawyer to represent you through a divorce can be extremely beneficial or a huge mistake. Many clients retain a lawyer only to find out after thousands of dollars that their best interest lie in billable hours and not a successful and fast settlement for the client. Wealthy people often fall into the trap of an aggressive lawyer who submits motion and motion, accompanied by dozens of threatening letters to the other party. This tactic will likely exacerbate conflict and drag you through years of court proceedings.

Client should trusts their legal counsel to do what is right but some lawyers have an incentive to have long-term clients, to pay the bills. More and more, family lawyers are not participating in litigation because of the harmful impacts this has on the family and in particular, the children. A good collaborative lawyer will work with the other party to find solutions whereas a ‘shark’ will do everything in their legal power to destroy the other side for you. Sounds dramatic? It is not. This idea of destroying someone is a game for some of these soulless ghouls; they give the law community a bad name but they give their wealthy clients something to talk about as they sip their wine alone in their home isolated from others. Do a scan of and see if you can find some information about your potential lawyer and the types of clients they represent in court - this will tell you A LOT!

Some people hire an aggressive litigation lawyer because they want revenge, but others don't have choice. We always encourage our clients to consider mediation/collaborative law, but it takes two to negotiate. If you are dealing with an unreasonable ex, you might need to resolve your issues in court.

2. What is your approach to working with clients?

A lawyer provides a service to you. Remember this: you are the boss. You pay them your hard-earned money so they provide legal advice and mitigate the risk that you make a lethal error in paperwork - you expect them to do things correctly. Your lawyer should have your best interests in mind. Outside of the expected deliverables such as a final settlement, you want to know how you can arrive at the solution in a cost-effective way.

Explore ways to save time and money if this is a concern. Some lawyers offer unbundled services and can give you advice when needed. If you are organized and able to express yourself in writing, you might be able to do some of the work yourself and have your lawyer review documents, or at least get evidence organized for them. A good divorce coach can help you prepare for meetings which will save you lots and lots of dough.

3. What are your fees?

Over the past several years, thanks in part to the internet and freely available information, lawyers offer different types of fee structures. Gone are the days when you decide to separate, you pay a retainer and lawyer up! (Side note: If you are a victim of abuse, an immigrant or a stay-at-home parent, you should really consult with experts sooner than later to ensure you are safe, have a roof over your head and enough money to survive).

The overwhelming majority of our clients are conscious about their money and do not want to fall into the never-ending cycle of fees with a lawyer. A dollar to the lawyer is more for their retirement and less for yours. As divorce coaches we help clients to plan their divorce like you would anything else that involves a budget: a vacation, your wedding or a home renovation. If your lawyer cannot provide you with a basic plan to a settlement then you gotta ask yourself what their motives are. That said: things change, your ex may escalate the conflict and you have no choice but to defend yourself and your children and you will need a lawyer for that.

They say divorce is expensive because it is worth it. Think of the alternative of staying in an unhappy marriage. Every time you get that legal bill tell yourself you are grateful to be free from their control. Nobody takes their money to the grave but be smart with how you spend your divorce budget. If you do it right, you will be back on track with your life plans, I promise you that.

4. How would your previous clients and lawyers describe working with you?

Be ready for a multitude of answers here. If you are looking for a shark, you will feel their energy. They will be proud of the fact they can destroy your ex or get you more money. We know them, they are not liked by judges or respected by other lawyers.

If you are like our clients, you are looking for a lawyer that gets you to a settlement by satisfying your needs while balancing your exes wants. We like to find our clients lawyers who turn the separation from adversarial to a partnership. You were married to this person, you may have children, so pick your lawyer carefully. You will see many hacks out there doing exactly what their clients tell them so they can keep getting paid.

5. What are you looking for in a client?

Take this response with a grain of salt because the 30 minute consultation is a sales pitch so the lawyer will tell you what you want to hear. This is your divorce, not your lawyer’s, so get a sense of the types of clients they represent. We do not work with anybody and have turned down clients that were not a good fit. We are all about the children, for example. Sure, as a divorce professional, our obligation is to support and represent you, the client, but the relationship is a two-way street. Be objective in what you are told, look for reviews or ask for references. Divorce coaches are a good way to get an impartial reference as they do not get a commission from referrals (unless they work for a law firm obviously).

If you do not hear that the lawyer mentions words like: best interest of the children, settlement or amicable you could be hiring a lawyer that is going to extract the most dollars from you.

This blog might scare you away from lawyers but that is not the intent. The intent is to steer you away from the soul-sucking lawyers that want you paying as much money as possible today and into the future. Divorce Coaching is a forward-focused process and we hope that in our lifetime, more lawyers will motivate their clients to focus on starting their new lives and help them settle their matters amicably, even though that goes against the billable hours framework.

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