Divorce can be a frightening experience and taking that first step is sometimes difficult. First, find a law firm that handles divorces as a regular part of its law practice. The best recommendations come from people who have knowledge of a lawyer’s experience and reputation. Take your time in choosing a lawyer that is right for your case. This is one of the most important decisions you will make with respect to your divorce. Find an attorney you are comfortable discussing your case with as the attorney will likely learn more about your life than is known or shared with even close friends and family. Having a comfort level that this is a person you can speak with freely, who understands your situation, and who will completely represent you is important. State bar associations often have a list of attorneys who have been certified as specialists in family law if you need to obtain names of potential lawyers in the area of family law.

Even if you are not ready to file for divorce, you may find it helpful to call and schedule an appointment with a lawyer to obtain basic information about protecting yourself and your children. Many times these initial consultations are to simply explore the process so you know what to expect, especially if you believe your spouse is planning on filing for divorce.

Ask what documents you should bring to your initial consultation. Write down specific questions to ask the attorney. By making a list of your questions to bring to your first meeting you will avoid leaving the office and forgetting to ask one of your questions. In addition to specific questions unique to your circumstances, your questions should include: the attorneys’ approach to dividing assets, whether your case will involve a claim for spousal support, what you can expect in terms of a time-line, the attorneys’ form of communication with clients, the amount of retainer required to start the case, whether the attorney has the time necessary to devote to your case.

Below is a list of questions you may wish to ask your attorney:

  1. What is your particular experience in family law, and in handling this type of situation in particular?
  2. Do you work evenings and weekends? If something occurs of importance over the weekend, what if your policy for addressing those issues?
  3. Will you personally be handling my case or will other lawyers or paralegals be assisting?
  4. What is the best way to communicate with you? (Telephone? E-mail?) How do you charge for each?
  5. Do you have a policy on how long before you return a telephone call?
  6. How many times do you expect that we will need to meet in person? Under what circumstances will we need to meet in person?
  7. What is the specific divorce process and how long do you expect it to take?
  8. What is likely cost? (This will be a difficult question for your lawyer to answer. Be wary if you are given a specific cost since so many variables exist which are unknown at the initial consultation. However, the lawyer may be able to give you an idea of what similar cases have cost, or the potential range of costs depending on whether the action is contested, settled, or litigated).
  9. Will there be a need to hire other individuals to assist with the divorce such as financial planners, valuation experts, forensic accountants, vocational evaluators? If so, what are the likely expenses for these individuals?
  10. If I do not have access to obtain all the financial information, how will the information be obtained?
  11. Based upon the situation that I have explained, what do you see as the most challenging aspects of my case? How do you believe these challenges should be handled? What is the likely outcome?
  12. Is this a potential case that may be good for mediation or some other dispute resolution process? Why or why not?
  13. Are there any steps now that I should take to protect myself financially?
  14. What are the first steps you would take if I were to retain you?

The lawyer you are considering may not have answers to every question, and rarely can they predict so early in the case what the likely outcome will be. The point of asking the questions though is not to necessarily obtain precise answers, but to find out if the lawyer you are consulting with is someone you feel will be able to represent your best interests in a way that is satisfactory to you.

About the Authors:
Marlene Pontrelli is a Member in our Phoenix office. Marlene is a certified specialist in family law. Her practice focuses on all aspects of family law including dissolution, post-dissolution, paternity, child custody and child support matters. She is admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She is a member of the State Bar’s Family Law Practice and Procedure Committee and is a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family law. She has extensive trial and appellate experience including appearing before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Arizona Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Ms. Pontrelli has written several books, including as a co-author of the Divorce in Arizona book. She is a frequent lecturer in the area of family law and has conducted workshops throughout the country. Ms. Pontrelli is also an adjunct professor at The Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University, where she teaches the family law class.  Marlene may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5081.

Bob Schwartz is a Member in our Phoenix office. Bob has been practicing law for over 40 years, specializing in family law. He is a member of the American, Arizona and Maricopa County Bar Associations. He is admitted to practice in the federal courts of New York, Arizona, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Schwartz is a fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and past president of the Arizona chapter. He serves as a judge pro tem for the Superior Court of Maricopa County in family court matters. He is a certified family law specialist by the State Bar of Arizona; is a frequent lecturer on family law and related matters; and, former member of the State Bar Family Law Advisory Commission. Mr. Schwartz has tried numerous complex business valuation cases as well as complex custody cases. He has testified as an expert in family law matters. Bob co-authored the Divorce in Arizona book. He may be reached in our Phoenix office at 602-285-5020.