Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney

By Jeff Franco J.D./M.A./M.B.A.

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The legal procedures for obtaining a divorce in your state can be financially and emotionally draining. However, if you hire a divorce attorney to guide you through the process, asking the right questions at the outset can prepare you for what lies ahead. For most people going through a divorce, the essential questions will relate to alimony, child custody, distribution of marital assets and of course, the financial burden of paying your divorce attorney’s fee.

Attorney Fee Structure

Divorces can put a strain on your financial resources, especially if you decide to hire an attorney to assist you. Therefore, if you have a budget for the amount you can spend on legal fees, it’s important to ask the divorce attorney what the fee structure is during the initial meeting. Some attorneys may offer a flat fee, whereas others charge by the hour. When an attorney charges on an hourly basis, it’s important to inquire further how much time it's estimated the divorce process will take so you can plan accordingly.

Child Custody

Disputes over which spouse will retain custody of children can complicate the divorce process significantly. However, even if you and your spouse reach an agreement on who will receive custody of the children, you still need to sort out visitation schedules, the extent of the noncustodial spouse’s ability to play a role in important decisions that affect the children, geographic limitations on where the custodial spouse can reside with the children and the amount of child support that the noncustodial parent must pay. Since state laws can vary on these issues, it’s imperative that your divorce attorney clearly explain the fundamentals of the law in your state. The information your divorce attorney provides can help you focus your strategies on reasonable goals.

Marital Assets

State courts will allocate marital assets between you and your spouse in accordance with state law if you are unable to reach an agreement with your spouse outside of court. For this reason, you should always disclose all marital assets to your divorce attorney and inquire how the state will allocate those assets. Aside from eliminating surprises throughout the process, knowing how the courts will allocate your assets can allow you to reach a more amicable agreement with your spouse outside of court. Moreover, this can reduce the length of time of your divorce proceedings, which will ultimately reduce the accumulation of legal fees when your divorce attorney charges by the hour.

Continuing Spousal Support

Some states entitle one spouse to receive alimony payments from the other spouse for a limited duration after a divorce. Regardless of whether you are the spouse in need of alimony payments or may be liable for payment, it’s essential that you ask your divorce attorney to clearly explain what factors the courts will consider when ruling on alimony issues. Knowing in advance how the court is likely to rule allows you to have a realistic basis for your negotiation strategy as it relates to alimony. Moreover, it will also help you prepare for the lifestyle adjustments that may lie ahead as a result of your new financial situation.