Top Ten Questions to Ask Prospective Divorce Attorneys

Most people don't know where to begin when confronting divorce. Often times, it is not news that can be shared yet with family or friends. Here are some helpful questions to consider when searching for an attorney.

DO YOU OFFER A FREE CONSULTATION OR DO I HAVE TO PAY YOU TO DETERMINE IF I WANT YOU TO REPRESENT ME?

Some firms offer free initial consultations. Others do not. Working with an attorney in connection with a divorce involves more intimate issues than with most other matters. So, it is important to sit down with an attorney and ask him or her questions, get a sense for who the attorney is and understand more about the divorce process. That initial meeting should not cost hundreds of dollars. If an attorney cannot spare some time - without cost - just to allow you to meet with him or her - that should send a message about the attorney's priorities.

Decker & Finchler offers a free consultation for new divorce matters.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PRACTICING LAW? HOW LONG HAVE YOU HANDLED FAMILY LAW MATTERS?

There is no substitute for experience, period.

WHAT IS YOUR RETAINER?

Divorce attorneys require advance payment of fees known as retainers. They deposit retainers into their trust accounts and charge for their time against those retainers. For example, if an attorney requires a retainer of $5,000, and charges $250 per hour, then the first 20 hours of time will be charged against the retainer. Thereafter, the attorney may ask for a second retainer or may permit the client to pay additional fees as they are incurred.

WHAT IS YOUR HOURLY RATE AND WILL IT INCREASE DURING MY CASE?

Attorneys in northern New Jersey charge hourly rates of $200 to over $500 per hour, depending on many factors, including their overhead and experience. There is a common myth that you get what you pay for. The fact is - some attorneys charge $400 per hour or more because the market permits such rates.

The prevailing hourly rate for family law matters at Decker & Finchler is $250. When a client signs a legal services agreement, the rate in effect at the start of the case will be the rate in effect at the end of the case.

WILL YOU CHARGE FOR PARALEGAL TIME IN ADDITION TO ATTORNEY TIME?

Some attorneys charge clients for paralegal time at an hourly rate that is lower than the attorney's rate. Those charges quickly add up. You need to ask yourself - why does this firm insist on charging me for every minute spent by its employees?

Decker & Finchler does not pass on the cost of maintaining a paraprofessional staff to its clients. Only attorney time is charged.

ARE YOU A QUALIFIED DIVORCE MEDIATOR AND DO YOU BELIEVE MEDIATION MIGHT BE HELPFUL?

Todd M. Finchler is a qualified divorce mediator and has mediated hundreds of divorce and post-divorce matters as a mediator and as an attorney. Mediation is often times a less expensive and less stressful means of resolving a dispute.

WHAT TYPES OF DOCUMENTS SHOULD I START TO GATHER IN ANTICIPATION OF A DIVORCE?

It is a good idea to have access to three years of tax returns and year-end income statements (e.g., W-2, 1099). Clients are advised to have copies of recent statements reflective of assets and liabilities. These documents are not needed for the initial attorney interview, but will be needed shortly after representation commences.

MY SPOUSE SAID HE OR SHE WOULD FIGHT ME TOOTH AND NAIL. IS THERE A WAY TO RESOLVE MY MATTER OUTSIDE OF COURT?

Court statistics show that about 99% of all divorce cases are resolved by the parties directly - and not decided by judges. The emotional statements made by spouses in anticipation of divorce often yield to more temperate, reasonable statements once they realize how expensive divorce litigation can be.

I WANT TO LEAVE THE HOUSE - WILL THAT AFFECT MY INTEREST IN IT?

This is one of the more common myths - i.e., a spouse who leaves the house will have less of an interest in it. Moving out of a house does not mean your interest in the house is decreased. Most attorneys and judges would agree that it is important to maintain the financial status quo (i.e., continue to pay the same expenses as before) when a divorce is contemplated. The courts care more that the parties continued the same financial arrangement than who lives where.

DOES FAULT AFFECT ALIMONY OR THE DIVISION OF ASSETS?

In nearly every instance, the answer is no. If fault were to be a factor with financial issues, parties would spend all of their time dredging up evidence as to which party was the worse spouse instead of focusing on resolving their issues. The alimony and equitable distribution statutes do not list fault as a factor. Therefore, with very few exceptions which rarely arise, fault will not be a factor.

Should you have any questions about the divorce process, feel free to call Todd M. Finchler to set up a time to meet at no cost.

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