Chalk heads with question marks

Questions For Your Attorney About Divorce

Last week I discussed questions to help you decide which attorney to hire. This week, I wanted to suggest some questions to ask to help you be better informed about the divorce process itself and to help you make decisions about the divorce.

Basic Questions

Some basic questions include:

  • What might it cost to get divorced, and
  • How long it might take through the local courts

The courts in different areas can run longer or shorter than courts in other areas, so you need to know what is typical in your area. In particular, you need to know how long it takes to get to trial, if a trial ends up being needed.

With costs, be aware that this can vary significantly from attorney to attorney depending on how they operate. Some attorneys are better than others at scaling their costs to what you can afford. Some see it as their responsibility to do the best job they can for you even if it means higher costs, while others see it as their responsibility to do the best job they can for what you can afford.

You might also ask the attorney to what degree would they check with you before taking specific actions which you will be expected to pay for.

What factors are considered by the courts?

Most attorneys resolve litigated cases by referencing what they think a court is likely to do in your situation.

You may have your own ideas about what you think is fair or what the court should do, but often the factors used by the court to decide the issues are different. To understand what you may be looking at, you need to understand how the court approaches the issues.

For instance, in Washington, property is not simply divided 50/50. The court has to look at whether property is community or separate, what the incomes of the party are, what the overall financial position of each party will be after the divorce, etc. There are also a number of factors that go into decisions about support and parenting.

You need to understand what those factors are and how they may affect your case, so be sure to ask your attorney about them.

What is the range of potential outcomes?

Many people ask their attorney what they think is the most likely result. This may get you a good guess of what could happen, but a much better question is: what is the most likely range of outcomes.

Things rarely turn out exactly as expected. There is just too much variability in the system. If you have only asked about the most likely outcome, you will be fixed on expecting that and will disappointed when it turns out differently.

If you understand what the likely range of outcomes is, and the factors that may influence the outcome, you will be much better prepared to make decisions as you proceed through the divorce process, and better prepared for the final result.

For instance, it is one thing to hear that the most likely spousal support amount is $4000, and another to hear that anything between a low of $2000 and a high of $7000 could be considered normal.

What process options are there for reaching agreement?

Very few divorce cases actually go to trial. Generally, the attorneys are able to settle the case prior to trial.

The usual method is for the attorneys to talk to each other, and perhaps bring in an evaluative mediator to give a third party perspective on what a court might do. However, you might also want to discuss options like you and your spouse talking to each other or working with a facilitative mediator yourselves. You could discuss using a Collaborative process with attorneys trained in that process.

You may want to discuss your attorney’s negotiation style – is he or she someone who tries to beat up on the other side to get them to back down, or do they work with the other attorney to problem solve solutions that both sides can be comfortable with? Your choice of approaches might depend both on your current relationship with your spouse as well as whether a future relationship with your spouse is important to you (and if you are going to try to co-parent with them).

What are the pros and cons of having a court make decisions for you?

Certainly having a court make decisions offers finality, but it also reduces your say in the final result. You are putting your future in someone else’s hands.

If you have particular goals in mind for your future, you should discuss those with your attorney and ask whether court is the best way to achieve those goals, or if a different negotiation strategy might be more successful in achieving what you really need.