Ask an Attorney: 6 common questions people have when preparing to get a divorce

Divorce, News

Ask an Attorney is a special section in which Avvo asks some of its top-rated attorneys the most popular questions consumers have for attorneys in their area of practice. Have a question for an attorney? Email it to [email protected].

Attorney Alex Anderson is a divorce and child custody attorney at The Law Firm of Alexander K. Anderson in Rockville, Maryland. He has been an attorney for 10 years. 

Some of his answers may best apply to Maryland law — your state may be different. His answers are intended to be informative about best practices, and not intended to be legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your state about your case specifically.

Q: How do I know when it’s time to hire a divorce attorney?

This is a question I get asked frequently in consultation and the answer is always the sooner the better. There’s an old lawyer adage that says, “It’s always cheaper to hire a lawyer in the first place than it is to hire one to fix things.” 

Everyone’s situation is different, but there’s no harm in at least getting a consultation to get preliminary information as soon as possible. Typically, there’s some kind of catalyst — whether it’s asking for a separation agreement, withdrawing money from a bank account, or even access to a child being withheld — after the information-gathering process and that’s when it’s important to have someone who has a strategic plan in place. 

Q: How do I find the right divorce attorney for me? 

I think when you’re doing your consultations, it’s important to find an attorney who is going to give you all the information, even when it’s not necessarily something you want to hear. You need all the information so that you can make an informed decision about your life, so that’s first and foremost.

You also need someone who’s going to work with you to focus on what it is that you want. Lots of people may want different things in a divorce — such as a house, the cars, a certain amount of money — so it’s important to get an attorney who is going to work with you on a strategy to execute on your goals. It might not always be possible to get everything you want, but you should be able to work together to come up with a plan to try and get you as close to those goals as possible. 

Q: What should I expect out of my relationship with my attorney? 

Communication is number one. You want to have an open line of communication so that we’re getting the information we need for a case and you’re getting answers to you in a timely manner. 

Honesty is another big one. A lot of clients may want the “pit bull lawyer” who is going to go tenaciously for what they want, but the reality is, most people are not going to get everything they want from a divorce because of the way the law is set. So you need to expect a few possibly uncomfortable conversations as your attorney tells you the truths about your particular case.

Q: How can I work with my attorney to ensure I get what I want? 

You need to have an idea of what’s important to you going into the process. Do you want half of everything? Does your house have sentimental value to you and that’s all you care about? You need to hone in on your goals with your attorney and figure out a way to accomplish those and not necessarily focus on “did I win?” 

Q: What can I do to prepare myself for the divorce process? 

Each case is obviously unique, but there are general steps people can take to make the process run more smoothly. But in the early stages, information is key. 

It’s important to start gathering information for your case early, so make sure you have access to things like bank accounts, retirement savings, text messages, and emails. On the flip side, if you have old devices floating around that you may be logged into, you should also start changing your account passwords. 

But it’s important to start the process of preserving those documents so when you do hire an attorney, they can get your case up and running quicker. Having those items already available will also help keep the cost of your attorney down because we won’t have to find those items for you. 

Q: I’m starting the divorce process and I’ve been contacted by my spouse’s attorney. I don’t yet have an attorney, should I respond by myself? 

Absolutely you should consult an attorney before you consider responding. Anything that a party in a divorce case says can be used against them later. It may be that they say something very benign, but it’s almost always got some piece of useful information. 

In most states, attorneys are prohibited from contacting people who are represented by attorneys, and the reason is because we have an unfair advantage in that we know what we’re looking for. If you get contacted by an attorney and you don’t yet have one, that’s the time to get one. Once you hire your attorney, you should report any contact to them and let them handle it for you.