A divorce lawyer is an attorney that specializes in family law, and has experience in issues of divorce, child custody and visitation, child support, and spousal support. Many individuals embroiled in a family law matter wonder whether they should retain the services of a divorce lawyer, and even whether it is required. While it is not required that any party have an attorney in a family law matter, the complex issues and mountains of paperwork often entice people to consult with an experienced attorney. To explore this concept, consider the following divorce lawyer definition.
Definition of Divorce Lawyer
- noun. A lawyer that specializes in matters of divorce, annulment, child custody, and other family law matters.
What is a Divorce Lawyer
Divorce lawyers are attorneys that specialize in family law. While simple divorces may not call for an experienced lawyer, many situations arise where competent representation is needed. This is especially true when there is a high level of anger and animosity preventing the couple from coming to an agreement on their own, and in cases in which there has been spousal or child abuse, substance abuse, and major property disputes.
A divorce lawyer is able to explain the process, rules, and laws involved in the client’s family law matter, and will make sure all of the necessary documents are completed and filed with the court. The laws governing divorce and other family law matters vary by state, a divorce lawyer should be sought in the jurisdiction where the divorce will be filed.
Duties of a Divorce Lawyer
The duties of a divorce lawyer vary depending on the specifics of the case. In general, however, an attorney is responsible for helping the client throughout the process, from the first meeting, to settling matters after the divorce is finalized. A divorce attorney provides:
- Advice on how to deal with marital property, bank accounts, credit cards, and other marital assets
- Assurance of the progress made concerning disputes, court proceedings, and the stages of the divorce proceeding
- Preparation and court filing of all paperwork involved, such as the summons and complaint, motions, and custody papers, as well as preparation of the final divorce and custody orders
- An intermediary to deal with conflicts during the divorce process, such as custody disputes, and arguments over property
- Representation at all court hearings
Choosing a Divorce Lawyer
Divorce is a highly emotional event in anyone’s life, and for most people, the purpose for hiring an attorney is to have someone who can handle all of the issues from a reasonable perspective. Attorneys are people too, and each has his or her own personality. It is important for anyone looking for help with divorce or another family law matter to engage a lawyer that is right for them. Choosing a divorce lawyer that is a good fit for the client’s personality and legal needs is an important first step to ensuring the process goes smoothly.
Some people feel most comfortable with a lawyer that is the same gender, and some want a lawyer that is very aggressive. When choosing a divorce lawyer, it is important to understand that the personality type, or aggressive nature, of the attorneys involved often control the tone of the entire divorce proceeding. For instance, an attorney who makes it a habit to aggressively pursue gaining every possible advantage for his or her client may keep the animosity level high for the duration. Couples who choose attorneys that encourage compromise often find that their case wraps up more quickly, and with less stress. Ultimately, this is a very personal decision for anyone choosing a divorce lawyer.
Hiring a Non-Family Law Attorney
In small towns and rural areas, it is not uncommon for a small number of general practice lawyers to represent clients in a wide variety of legal matters, including divorce. Often, these attorneys are the most familiar with the procedures, and with the judges likely to hear the matter, providing a unique perspective and expertise.
When hiring a non-family attorney, it is a good idea to ask questions to be sure he is up-to-date on family law matters, and to check for client reviews where available. In some cases, people find it worth their time to travel a short distance to a larger community where an attorney who specializes in family law can be found.
Are There Divorce Lawyers for Men
Many men going through a divorce suffer the same emotions as their spouse, and feel that somehow their rights are not being fully protected. The issues of paying child and spousal support, and of gaining child custody, often leave men wondering if there are divorce lawyers for men. Nearly all family law attorneys represent clients of both gender, though there are some who specialize in representing men in family law proceedings.
When choosing a divorce lawyer, it is very important to hire someone the client is comfortable talking with. There is a great deal of personal information that needs to be communicated to family law attorneys in order for them to be able to effectively represent their clients. A consultation prior to hiring an attorney is a must, as this gives both the attorney and the client a chance to see if they are likely to be able to work together. Many attorneys, including divorce lawyers, offer free consultations for this purpose. When attending such a meeting, it is a good idea to write down the major issues, and be prepared to answer a few questions about the divorce.
The Cost of a Divorce Lawyer
Hiring an attorney can be hard on the bank account, and the cost of a divorce lawyer is no exception. Divorce lawyers charge by the hour for all of the work they do, as well as the work their assistants do. During the consultation, the attorney should inform the client of his hourly rate, and explain that this amount is normally billed in increments of 10 minutes. Most attorneys require the client to put up a “retainer,” which is essentially a deposit into their attorney-services account, to cover the attorney’s work as it happens.
Retainer amounts vary, usually between $500 and $5,000. The attorney will keep track of all work, from reading through documents provided by the client, to every phone call he makes, as well as costs, such as court filing fees, process serving fees, and photocopies. He must then provide the client with a detailed bill each month to show where the client’s money is going. Once the retainer is used up, the attorney generally asks for another deposit.
Many people find it difficult to come up with what seems like a large sum of money, and question why they cannot simply pay as the work proceeds. There is a simple answer to this question: when people have a great need for their attorney, they are diligent in paying their legal bills. Once their case is finished, however, and they no longer need the attorney’s services, those bills get put on the back burner, as other expenses take the stage. Attorneys who agree to bill their clients in arrears often never collect their full fees.
Just how much a family law matter will cost in total depends on several of factors. The first factor is how many issues need to be settled, and the second factor is the level of contention between the parties. A couple with no children usually has fewer issues to settle than a couple fighting over custody. Couples who fight to the bitter end over every lamp and television set often spend more attorneys fees than those who can work together to divide the marital property. While it is possible to get divorced for a few hundred dollars, it is also possible to run up the cost of a divorce lawyer into the tens of thousands of dollars range.
Stephanie and Bob are embroiled in an ugly divorce. Stephanie claims that Bob was abusive, and that their two children would be in danger if put in his care. Bob is angry, insisting that Stephanie had an affair. Both of them want ownership of the family home, all of its furnishings, and their two cars. Stephanie is adamant that Bob be allowed only supervised visitation with the children every other week, and is requesting both child support and alimony.
Both Stephanie and Bob have hired divorce lawyers, who are trying to help them come to some reasonable agreement about splitting the marital property. The child custody issue is in the court’s hands, as the family attends court-ordered mediation to determine whether there really has been abuse, or whether the parents are just angry.
In the meantime, each time Bob has weekend visitation, he fails to return the children to their mother on time, necessitating phone calls between the attorneys to settle the matter, as well as for additional documents to be filed with the court, and an extra hearing. Both parties have sold or “misplaced” valuable property, which goes against the rule that neither may sell or get rid of any joint property before the divorce is finalized, again making it necessary for the attorneys to come to some agreement.
In such a highly contentious case, the legal fees pile up for every phone call made by each party to his or her attorney, for each phone call between attorneys, and for every minute the parties sit with their attorneys refusing to compromise. Fees for completing and filing additional court documents, as well as for attorney representation at extra hearings, add up quickly. In these situations, it is not uncommon for legal fees to reach thousands of dollars each month, and for the divorce to drag on for many months, or even years.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Child Custody – The care, control, and maintenance of a child, often awarded by the court.
- Child Support – Court-ordered payments made by one parent to the other for the support of the couple’s minor children.
- Civil Law – The body of law dealing with private matters between individuals and corporations and other entities.
- Family Law – The area of law dealing with family matters and domestic relations, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, child abuse, child support, and adoption.
- Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
- Retainer – A fee paid in advance to retain or secure a lawyer’s services.
- Spousal Support – An allowance paid to an individual by their former spouse after they divorce or separate; also known as “alimony.”