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Top divorce attorneys

July 7, 2009  

Divorce attorney

Divorce attorney

Before you hire a family divorce attorney to represent you in your divorce, you need to learn this important truth: you and your divorce lawyer will become partners, for better or for worse, during and perhaps for years after the divorce process. And how well your partnership works can have an enormous affect upon the process and outcome of your divorce — and how much you’ll have to spend in legal fees along the way.

So you must make every effort to hire the right divorce lawyer from the outset. ” If you pick the wrong divorce attorney, your future, your assets and your children could be in jeopardy, ” says Forrest Bayard, a family-law attorney in private practice in Chicago. ” You should examine your goals and attitudes before going to see a family lawyer, ” he continues. Do you want to be generous, or nail your ex to the wall?

Do you want a amicable or an adversarial divorce? ” Look to your future. Determine what you want for yourself, your kids, and your ex in six months, one year, and five years, ” advises Bayard. ” Then choose a divorce lawyer who will support you in realizing that future. ” Family-law attorneys have different styles and biases, he notes, so you should look for one who’s ” compatible ” with you: who understands and respects your thoughts and feelings — and who will support you to be the best you can be in realizing your goals. ”

Finding a lawyer

Start by asking for advice, information, and recommendations from close friends or family members (your friends and your
family — not your spouse’s) who have been through divorce themselves. If you can’t get any personal recommendations,
there are professional organizations that offer family-lawyer referral services.
After your initial conversation with a divorce lawyer, you should be able to answer these questions: ” Does this divorce
lawyer listen to me when I talk? Is the family lawyer interested in what my goals are, or only with his or her own goals? ”

Look for someone who:
• Practices divorce law or family law.
• Has a lot of experience.
• Is a skilled negotiator.
• Is firm, but reasonable.
• Is compatible with you and your goals.
• Is totally candid.
• Is not in conflict with your best interest.

Don’t share a divorce lawyer with your spouse; don’t hire your spouse’s best friend (even if she’s a friend of yours, too),
business partner, or any member of your spouse’s family to represent you — even if you’re on good terms with them.
Aside from the obvious conflict of interest involved, you’ll have created enemies — and probably a whole new family feud —
before your divorce settles.

Your choice will be partially dictated by your spouse’s choice: if the divorce is relatively easy and friendly, you can
probably agree on what kind of representation you need. If the divorce is very bitter; if there’s money, assets, or children
at stake; or if your spouse is just plain ” out to get you, ” consider hiring a well-respected individual or family-law firm.
As in any profession, there are good divorce lawyers and bad divorce lawyers. It’s up to you to do your homework — and
to ask the right questions — to determine which group your divorce attorney falls into.

Sometimes, despite their best efforts, people end up choosing the wrong family lawyers. ” Normally, a client will gravitate
to the lawyer who will fulfill his or her needs — whether that be for a tough litigator or low-key negotiator, ” observes David
Wildstein, who heads the matrimonial practice at Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. If it’s clear that you’ve chosen the wrong
family lawyer, he says, don’t compound the problem by sticking with them to the bitter end. ” You’ll either prolong the
process unnecessarily, or end up with an unacceptable settlement, ” says Wildstein.

What your lawyer needs to know

Once you’ve chosen a lawyer, you’ll need to provide information and direction to him or her. When your family attorney
requests information, respond as quickly, completely, and concisely as you can — don’t waste your own and your lawyer’s
time by writing a 24-page document when all that was required was a ” yes ” or ” no ” answer.
Of course, every case is unique, but the following checklist will give you an idea of what information your divorce lawyer
will need. You need to disclose:

• Why you are seeking a divorce. What caused your breakup? Are you sure you want to end the marriage, or is the
visit to a lawyer meant to be a wake-up call to your spouse? ” The client needs to be sure that he or she actually
wants a divorce, ” says Wildstein. ” If he or she’s secretly hoping for reconciliation, then the client and family
lawyer are working towards different goals. ”
• Personal data about you, your spouse, and your children (if any). Write down your names (maiden name, too, if
applicable); your home and work addresses and telephone numbers; your ages and places of birth; your Social
Security Numbers; your states of health — both mental and physical; your Green Card(s) and immigration papers
(if applicable).
• Facts about your marriage. When and where did you get married? Did you sign a prenuptial agreement? If so,
bring a copy of the agreement with you. Have either of you been married before? Provide details of your previous
• Whether there will be issues involving your children — such as custody or access.
• Financial information. What assets and debts did each of you bring into the marriage? What are your incomes and
what are your expenses — jointly and individually? What are the names and addresses of your employers? How
much money do both of you have invested: in the bank, the stock market, etc.? Has either of you invested in
insurance, a pension plan, a Pension and Profit Savings Plan? What property do you own (a house, car, boat,
income property, etc.)? Was the property purchased before or after the marriage? Do you have a mortgage, and
how much is still owed? Prior to seeing your lawyer, create a budget detailing how much you spend every month
on items such as housing, food, clothing, personal grooming, gifts, vacations, etc. If you have children, and expect
to be their primary caretaker, make sure you factor their costs into your budget.
• Legal documents. Bring copies of prior or pending lawsuits, bankruptcy suits, judgments, and garnishments.
• Your divorce goals. Be very specific about your goals in terms of realizing your future and have your short-term
goals for property, other assets, custody, visitation, and support be consistent with that future.


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