Your Choice Matters: The First Divorce Decision You’ll Have to Make

June 20, 2024 O'Connor Family Law Divorce

So, you’ve finally made the hard decision (or not so hard, in some cases) to start divorce proceedings. Where do you start? Choosing the right divorce lawyer is crucial for navigating the legal complexities and emotional challenges of ending a marriage. Here are some things to think about to help you find the best Massachusetts divorce lawyer for you.

Factors in Evaluating and Choosing a Divorce Lawyer

Assess Your Needs: Before you start searching for a divorce lawyer, take some time to assess your situation. Consider factors such as whether your divorce will be contested or uncontested, whether there are children involved, and the complexity of your financial assets. If you think your case may be particularly high-conflict, you may want to look for an experienced high-conflict divorce lawyer who knows what to expect and how to handle delicate situations.

Seek Recommendations: Ask friends, family members, or colleagues who have gone through a divorce for recommendations. Personal referrals can be valuable in finding a lawyer who is experienced, trustworthy, and a potential good fit for your case. They can also help you avoid lawyers who are overpriced, arrogant, or not well-versed in the things you need. But don’t just take the name and run! Ask why they recommend the attorney specifically. What did they like? What would they have changed? How was the communication style? Did the attorney explain everything in a way they understood? Did they have any contested hearings? If so, how did the attorney do arguing? What you shouldn’t do here is ask about the actual result. Even similar cases can have vastly different results. So don’t hire someone just because they say their attorney got them sole legal and physical custody or a really good financial outcome. A particular outcome in a different case will not have any bearing on your case. 

Research Online: Use online resources to research divorce lawyers in Massachusetts. Look for lawyers with specific experience in family law and divorce cases. You do not want a “jack of all trades” representing you in your divorce or custody case. Check their websites, read client testimonials, review any articles or blog posts they may have written on divorce-related topics, and check out their social media. Some attorneys are more knowledgeable or experienced than others and the content that they share with others can help give you a better idea of their background and values.

Check Credentials: Verify the credentials of potential lawyers. The easiest way to verify your potential attorney’s credentials is to look them up on the Mass Board of Bars Overseers Website. Just type the attorney’s first and last name in the designated space on the left side of the website and you can view their status as well as any public disciplines against them and whether or not they have malpractice insurance. You can also check to see if they are members of relevant professional organizations such as the Massachusetts Bar Association or regional or county-based groups.

Consider Experience in Family Law: Look for a lawyer with extensive experience in handling divorce cases, especially ones similar to yours. Family law is a specialized field, and a lawyer who primarily practices in this area will be familiar with the nuances of divorce law in Massachusetts. A family law attorney will understand divorce, alimony, child custody, child support, business valuations, high-net worth issues, property division, and the other aspects of a divorce that will impact your life. An experienced lawyer will have the knowledge and expertise to navigate the legal process effectively and advocate for your best interests. Here at O’Connor Family Law, we believe that the best form of experience is life. That’s why 100% of our attorneys have personal or familial experience with family law cases. Whether they have been through the divorce process themselves, watched close family members go through custody battles, or fought for guardianship, we think that finding an attorney who knows what it is like to walk in your shoes can be extremely valuable.

Evaluate Communication Style: Ask about the divorce lawyer’s communication style during your initial case evaluation. You want to ensure that your concerns will be listened to, that legal concepts will be explained in a clear and understandable manner, and to be kept informed about developments in your case. If you are already hearing the constant use of convoluted legal terms and not able to directly answer your questions in a way that makes sense to you, it may be difficult to feel like they understand your case and you understand their plan moving forward. While the legal system can be confusing, a good lawyer is able to explain the basics of the system in a way that is understandable and not make you feel bad about asking questions. 

Assess Compatibility: Consider whether the firm’s values and overall mission will make you feel comfortable working with them. Divorce can be emotionally challenging, so it’s important to choose a lawyer who is empathetic, supportive, and respectful of your needs. If you don’t feel like your divorce lawyer will advocate for you or truly take the time to listen to what you’re going through, then you may want to seek out a more supportive team. We know that divorce is so much more than a piece of paper. That’s why we have an on-staff Client Support Specialist to help our clients navigate the emotional roller coaster that the divorce process can create.

Consider Cost: Discuss fees and billing practices upfront to ensure that you understand the financial aspect of hiring the lawyer. It is impossible for anyone to be able to say exactly how much your case will cost overall, but they should be able to tell you the average amount a typical divorce case costs. We have found that our average cost of cases that remain under $20,000 average about $8,500 in total. This is a minimally contested case. Once you get into emergency hearings, extensive discovery issues, high-conflict cases, or trials, the costs can start to skyrocket quickly. Our most expensive divorce case was over $300,000, which included a seven day trial. Choose a lawyer whose fees are transparent. It’s also important to be realistic about your ability to finance your divorce. Often, people are able to withdraw from their retirement, put legal fees on credit cards, or get assistance from family and friends. But you definitely do not want to go in guns blazing if you do not have the resources to actually make it through to a trial.

Know the Back-Up Plan: Lawyers are people, too, and sometimes life happens. You should ask what your potential lawyer’s back-up plan would be if an emergency were to occur and your lawyer was unable to be present at a court hearing. This is one reason that working with a law firm versus a solo practitioner can be helpful. Firms usually have built-in protection when it comes to last-minute emergencies because they have a team of experienced and local lawyers that they can call on to step in for your lawyer. If you are working with a lawyer who does not have the backing of a firm, it is important to know what to expect in the (hopefully unlikely) event that they are unable to provide you with the support that you need.

Trust Your Instincts: Ultimately, trust your instincts when choosing a divorce lawyer. Select a lawyer or firm who instills confidence, demonstrates professionalism, and genuinely cares about helping you achieve a favorable outcome in your divorce case.

Questions You Should Ask During the Intake Process

When you’ve identified several lawyers or teams that you think might meet your needs, you should prepare a list of questions to ask during your initial meetings with the lawyer or their intake team. Inquire about their experience, approach to handling divorce cases, communication style, and potential outcomes for your case.

These are the basic types of questions you should ask during the interview and consultation. Naturally, you need to ask many more based on your situation but do not fail to ask these:

  1. How long have you been practicing divorce law in this area?
  2. How many cases like mine have you actually taken to trial?
  3. What type of fees do you charge for your services?
  4. What do you need from me in order to minimize costs and make the process run more smoothly?
  5. Would you say you’re a better negotiator or litigator? (Pro Tip: a great divorce attorney needs to great at both!)
  6. Do the attorneys in your team have any training in mediation?
  7. How will you be communicating with me – Zoom, e-mail, or meetings in your office?
  8. What happens if there is an emergency on a court date and you are unable to attend my hearing? Do you have a team of lawyers that you can call to step in? Are they kept up-to-date on my case in preparation for such unforeseen events?

Generally, you are better off hiring an attorney with dedicated experience, a thoughtful process for handling the negotiation process, a price range you are comfortable with, and a willingness to take a case to trial if it becomes necessary. 

Understand Your Lawyer’s Role in Your Divorce 

It’s very important that you understand the role that you want your lawyer to play in your divorce proceedings. You might simply want a professional to record your wishes in the right format and handle all the details for you, such as filing and serving paperwork. This can be common in collaborative divorces where there are few or no disagreements to hash out. In other situations, you might want your lawyer to take a much more active role in the divorce, negotiating on your behalf with your spouse’s lawyer regarding the terms of the divorce or even taking the case to trial should an agreement be unreachable.

Whatever role your attorney takes, know that you have a role as well. You need to be available to answer questions, provide documents and background information, and make decisions when your lawyer lays out appropriate options for consideration. At the end of the day, you are the one in the driver’s seat and your attorney should make you feel the respect and care that comes with that role.

Contact a Hanover or Westborough Family Law Lawyer

When a divorce arises in a family, there are so many things to think about. Who moves out? Who takes custody of the kids? Can we even afford to do this? It’s overwhelming. We know, because we’ve either been there or seen it in the lives of our family and friends. 

At O’Connor Family Law, our team of family lawyers has years of combined expertise in divorce, spousal support, child custody, child support, division of assets, and other areas related to divorce. We’re here to help you create a better life for yourself and your family as you find your path forward. That’s what matters. That’s the O’Connor Family Law difference. Contact us at 774-314-4725 to schedule your free case evaluation with a member of our team.

About the Author

Divorce Attorney Theresa Robinson is a Massachusetts family law lawyer with a deep care and compassion for her clients. She knows that the smoothest divorce process comes from a careful balance of understanding and empathy throughout the negotiation process as well as the ability to stand her ground and fight for what is right when necessary. Theresa is proud to protect the rights of families throughout Massachusetts and loves finding win-win situations that make everybody happy at the end.