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Questions to ask a divorce lawyer before you agree to hire that attorney
by Amy Wirtz, Esq.
In Ohio, any licensed attorney can file and process the termination of your marriage. How well you are represented depends on your attorney’s domestic relations experience and training as well as their dedication to customer service.

Choosing the right lawyer to handle the termination of your marriage determines how comfortable you will be during what might be the most stressful time in your life. It is not an exact science. But asking the right questions improves your chances of making the best of a difficult process.

As with choosing your doctor, accountant or financial advisor, the individual with the highest credentials may have terrible communication skills and never return your phone calls. Your attorney is your employee. He or she should be ready, willing and able to give you excellent service and knowledgeable advice.

Personal referrals from family and friends are a good way to start. Your needs, preference and style are likely to be different. Research and the right questions will help you choose the attorney right for you.

Interview, discuss costs, then choose

When scheduling your initial appointment, ask if there is a fee for the initial consultation. In Ohio, this can vary from zero to the full hourly rate the attorney charges.

Always ask about fees when scheduling your initial consultation. You don’t want to waste time interviewing an attorney you cannot afford. Ohio does not permit contingent fees in divorce cases nor can the fees be based upon results. Ask if the attorney has a minimum fee.

The cost of your attorney is just one expense. You must also pay court costs, which vary from county to county. Depending on your case, you might also be responsible for appraisal fees for real estate and other assets and accountant and consultant fees for business appraisals. In child custody cases, you could also pay psychologist and guardian ad litem fees.

A good match is more than money

Once you have determined you can afford an attorney, you need to determine if the lawyer’s approach and philosophy matches up with you and your case. Choosing an attorney known for combatively litigating divorces does you little good if you intend to settle through one of the many alternative dispute resolutions processes.

Additionally, you need to ask about their policies regarding client contact. The relationship will be strained if you want to be kept in the loop and your attorney is a “leave it to me” professional. One approach is not necessarily better than other. What matters is what works for you.

Look for an attorney who gives you more choices

If you want to reach a livable agreement with your spouse, it is imperative that the lawyer you are hiring is trained in multiple alternate dispute resolution techniques. Only 1 in 10 divorces goes to trial. It might be the right choice for you. Usually it is the most costly and unproductive way to get divorce.

Why? The closer you come to litigation, the more other people make decisions for you. A lawyer trained in collaboration, mediation and arbitration gives you more choices and more control. That makes it more likely he or she can help you and your spouse get through the inevitable impasses couples confront when ending their marriage.

Questions to ask

Each of the questions listed below is designed to determine if you and a lawyer are compatible.

1. What is your hourly rate and minimum cost per case?

2. In what time increments do you charge a client?

3. Do you take retainers or charge a fee for service?

4. How often do you send itemized bills to clients?

5. What if I run behind on paying my bill?

6. Will I have to pay for my spouse’s legal bills or will he or she have to pay any of your expenses?

7. Will expenses be taken out of the initial retainer or billed directly to me?

8. Will there be legal assistants or paralegals working on my case? What rate do you charge for his or her time? What kind of services do you bill for assistant time? Speaking to me on the phone?

9. Which counties do you usually practice domestic relations law in?

10. What continuing education have you had on family law issues?

11. What is mediation? Do you recommend clients try mediation? Are you a trained mediator?

12. Who is your assistant and how much contact will I have with him or her?

13. What are the various ways clients can contact you?

14. What is your policy on returning phone calls?

15. To which professional organizations do you belong?

16. Have you received the Ohio Specialization in Domestic Relations Law? (This is new in Ohio. There are many good attorneys who have not yet elected to receive this additional crediting. This accreditation only signifies that the lawyer passed a test and attended a certain number of continuing education seminars which only focus on family law and related issues.)

17. Are you a graduate of any advanced trial practice seminars?

18. Will other attorneys be assisting you in my case? If yes, ask how much each attorney will charge and what he or she will be doing.

19. Are you a member of the Center for Principled Family Advocacy or other group that promotes alternatives to litigation? How many cases have you handled through ADR? Have you been successful in resolving the cases outside of court?

20. Are you trained in collaborative law? Why would someone agree to participate in a collaborative process versus going to court?

21. Do you know what principled negotiations are? How does this differ from collaborative law?

22. Do you have counselors and psychologist that you work with?

23. If my spouse will agree to a "process," is there a lawyer you recommend he or she interview?

24. What happens if my spouse and I agree to everything but one issue?

25. How many cases have you handled that have actually gone to trial?

26. How many cases have you handled in front of this Judge__________.

27. Do you have accountants you work with to determine and clarify the taxable consequences of the separation agreement?

Family Law Attorney Amy Wirtz is trained in collaborative approaches to resolving divorce and domestic relations issues. She can be reached at 440.363.1313 and


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