Family law attorneys practice in a very specific area of law, dealing specifically with situations that involve domestic relations. These can include marriage and divorce, child custody, alimony and child support, adoptions, surrogacy, child protective proceedings, and paternity matters.
Often, lawyers will specialize in one or two of these areas rather than work in all of them; this lets them become experts in their selected area. For example, a lawyer who handles pre-nuptial agreements and separation agreements is likely to also deal with divorce. A lawyer who deals with child custody issues is likely to also deal with visitation and perhaps even child support.
If you are dealing with legal matters that involve family issues, you may want to consult a family lawyer for advice on the best way to proceed. If you’re not sure how to find a family lawyer, you can reach out to your state bar association, your local bar association, or private lawyer referral services for recommendations. These referral services will give you the names and contact information for lawyers in your area, whom you can reach out to for an initial consultation.
During your initial consultation, you will want to be organized and efficient to make the most of your appointment. You may want to prepare a list of questions before you go to meet the lawyer, so that you don’t forget anything once you’re there.
It is important to specifically ask about the lawyer’s legal fees. You will want to have a good idea of what the expenses will be, and if you can get the attorney’s fees in writing, even better.
Attorneys generally bill according to a couple of possible fee arrangements, such as:
- Hourly Rate: This is the most common fee arrangement. The lawyer will have a typical hourly rate. Whenever they do any work on your case, whether it’s a phone call, writing a letter, or attending a court hearing on your behalf, they will charge you for their time according to that hourly rate;
- Contingency Fee: These types of fees are very rarely used by family law attorneys. In some areas, family lawyers may not be allowed to work on contingency at all. If the attorney works on a contingency basis, they are paid a percentage of the final award in the case. If you do not prevail in the case, then your attorney is not paid at all; and
- Retainer Fee: In some cases, attorneys will charge a fee up front, called a “retainer.” The work they do is then deducted from that retainer fee at the attorney’s hourly rate. If they do more work than is covered by the retainer fee, they will begin billing you by the hour.
If you ask up front what kind of fees the lawyer charges, you know exactly what to expect when it comes to financing your case, and you know what kinds of services that you will be paying for.
Keep in mind that when you are involved in a legal case, you may have to pay for certain costs in addition to the attorney’s fees. For example, there may be associated costs for filing fees, expert witness fees, and other court costs as well as the fees for the attorney’s time and labor.
Once you have found a lawyer that you’re comfortable with, there are several things you can do to help your lawyer do the best possible job for you. You may be dealing with an uncomfortable situation, but keep in mind that your lawyer is there to help you, and they are on your side. By cooperating with your lawyer and following their advice, you can help them get the best possible outcome for your case.
Some tips include:
- Tell The Whole Story: The first thing to do is make sure that your lawyer has as much information about the case as possible. There may be aspects of the situation that you may find embarrassing, but withholding information from your lawyer is not a good idea.
- Hiding information that may be damaging to your case can come back to bite you in the end, as the opposing party might use that same information against you. If your lawyer knows all the facts, even the embarrassing or damaging ones, they can work to mitigate or remediate the damage so that the impact on your case is as minimal as possible.
- Document Everything: Making sure you have clear, organized records of things is one of the most helpful things you can do for your lawyer and your case. Keep records of phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and any other conversations or documents that involve the issues in your case. It helps establish a timeline of events, and can be extremely valuable if you need to prove certain aspects of your case.
- Take a Deep Breath: Family matters can often be emotional. It is important to avoid making rash or snap decisions, whether financial or otherwise, while in the middle of a case. Even if it’s innocent, it may not look like that from the outside. In pending divorce cases, you may be accused of hiding assets from the court, or squandering money from joint accounts in an effort to keep your ex-spouse from getting the money. This puts you in a negative light, and makes your lawyer’s job more difficult.
- Again, no matter how innocent that quick decision to buy a new car might seem, talk it through first before you act. Above all, make sure your lawyer is aware of everything you do that could be related to your case, especially when it comes to money and the children.
If you are dealing with legal matters that involve family issues, you may want to consult a family lawyer for advice on the best way to proceed. Having a qualified family lawyer on your side, whether you’re navigating a divorce proceeding, child custody matters, or trying to adopt a child, can give you peace of mind. Your lawyer can talk you through the details of your situation, guide you through the nuances of the legal system, and represent you in court when necessary.