attorney meeting with couple to sign child custody papers two children are holding stuffed animalsWhen parents go through a divorce or find themselves needing to change an earlier child custody order, the legal process can be daunting. Knowing that it doesn’t only affect the adults involved can make the choice of which attorney to hire to represent you all the more critical to get right from the start. Here are a few of my best tips on how to pick the right child custody lawyer for your case and your situation.

 

Decide What Kind of Representation You Need

 The first step is to decide what kind of representation you need. Do you need someone who is aggressive and will fight for every inch, no matter the cost? Or do you just need someone who will help you come to an agreement with your spouse while managing costs wherever possible? Once you know what kind of lawyer you need, you can start narrowing down your options by interviewing lawyers who practice family law in your area and asking them how they approach their cases in general.

You will also want to explain from the beginning what your budget for litigation will be. If the attorney is not receptive to your budgetary concerns, do not hire that attorney! Even the most expensive and experienced attorneys in town will offer solutions for cost-effectiveness if their firm regularly works with clients from all walks of life. For example, if your budget won’t allow you to hire the most experienced lawyer in the office, he may suggest you work with a newer associate who has a lower hourly rate, but your case may still be able to benefit from his oversight.

 

Look for an Attorney Who Practices Exclusively in Family Court

 When it comes to child custody, you want a lawyer who specializes in this area of law. This way, you know that they have the experience and knowledge necessary to get the best result possible. Hiring a general practitioner for a child custody case could literally sink your case before it even begins. Child custody cases require a very specific set of skills in the litigators who are handling them and often require after-hours advice to be given to the parents going through them.

Attorneys who handle these cases regularly spend many hours each year educating themselves on the newest nuances of family law in their state and have developed great working relationships with other attorneys in their field, as well as therapists and other child development professionals who often become involved in these cases. When you hire the attorney to handle your case, you want someone who knows all the ins and outs of this area of the law, not someone who will have to spend hours looking up answers to your questions or who won’t know what to do when emergencies arise.

 

Ask for Recommendations

 Another good way to find a great child custody lawyer is to ask for recommendations from friends or family members who have gone through a divorce or previous child custody case. If they had a good experience with their lawyer, chances are you will too. Be careful not to expect the same exact results they may have gotten, however. Every single case is different from the next. What you want to ask are things like, “What was it like communicating with their office and staff?” and “Did you feel like you got value for the money you paid them?” and “Did they make sure you understood what was happening at every step of your case?” and “Did you feel they were fully prepared to represent your case accurately from start to finish?”

 

Schedule Consultations

 Once you have a few names of potential lawyers, the next step is to schedule consultations with each one. This gives you a chance to meet with them in person and get a feel for whether or not they would be the right fit for your case. Be sure to bring along any pertinent paperwork so that they can get an idea of what your case entails.

A word of caution here. Most experienced family court attorneys will not offer free consultations, but the price you will pay for each one will be a worthwhile investment. First of all, once you meet with a family court attorney, they are conflicted out of meeting with or representing the other side of your case. That’s one reason for charging a consultation fee; since attorneys bill for their time, most can’t afford to give free consultations all day, only never to be hired to handle the underlying case. Second, during each of these consultations, you will get an opportunity to meet the attorney but also get a feeling for how their office runs to be able to make a more educated decision about which firm you want to handle what matters most to you – the custody of your children.

 

Check Their Credentials or References

 Finally, once you have met with all the lawyers on your list, it’s time to check their credentials and references. Is the attorney board certified in family law? Does he belong to any exclusive organizations? Has he held any leadership positions in family law-related organizations? The best family law attorneys in the country are Fellows in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and/or are a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

Checking the attorney’s references is also an important step, as it will give you an idea of what other clients have thought of their services. This step may be hard to do because of client confidentiality, but many times attorneys will list public testimonials on their web pages of previous or current clients who have offered reviews or ratings of the attorney and his staff. Check these out whenever they are available. Another word of caution, however. If you only use public review sites like Google or Yelp, be aware that it can be easy for people who have never been clients to post negative reviews as “revenge” against the attorney they blame for their bad outcomes.

If, after reviewing relevant sources for feedback and ratings, everything checks out to your satisfaction, then congratulations! You may have found just the right child custody lawyer for your case! You should inform them of your decision and request a retainer agreement if they haven’t already provided you with one and pay your retainer to your office to secure their services.

 

Final Thoughts

 Going through a divorce is tough enough as it is, but when children are involved, it will be even harder on your emotions, and your stress level will likely be high throughout. Having the right attorney representing you won’t completely erase the difficulties ahead, but it will go a long way to making your experience better and will increase the likelihood that the end result will be something you can live with. By following the tips above, you can rest assured knowing that your and your children’s futures are in good hands.

 

If you and your spouse are considering divorce or your previous child custody order is no longer working, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, you may make decisions that will negatively impact you and your children’s future.

 

Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and he is a Board-Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. If you or someone you know is facing a divorce, separation, child custody, visitation, or other family law case, contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule a consultation.

 

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