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  • Writer's pictureOld Town Advocates, P.C.

How to Find The Right Family Law Attorney For You (and your family)

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Since your family is important to you, you should have great trust and confidence in the attorney that guides you through big life changes and family law matters. As a family law attorney for about twenty years now, I have listened to many a client tell me their long torturous journey through one or more previous family law attorneys that were just not the right person or law firm for that client's needs. I hope to share with you their insights, along with my own from the other side of the desk, to help you find your right match the first time.


* Not all lawyers know family law and not all family law attorneys are alike or necessarily in tune with your specific values and goals.


Hopefully this statement feels self-evident to you, but I cannot tell you the number of times an opposing counsel on a case has started by telling me something like; "I don't really do family law, I'm just doing a friend a favor." Sadly, family law, including child custody cases, is still sometimes looked down upon by some practitioners who think they can just step in and complete an adoption or draft a military retirement order or manage a full child custody trial and all the expert witnesses that have valuable insights for the Court without any experience. Find an attorney who actually purposely focuses and has experience in the sort of matter that you are facing. There are many sub-specialties of family law. Additionally find a lawyer who understands and wants to support your particular position in the matter. Attorneys, like all people, come with their own personalities and beliefs and convictions and make sure the lawyer you select can support and truly champion your position in your case.


* Not every family law issue requires a lawyer.


In Virginia, you can start a child support case with the Division of Child Support Enforcement. Look online for your local DCSE and, in most cases, you can even start the process with an online submission.


* Separation and Divorce Matters, even those with a big focus on the issues of the children, also require a knowledge of a body of law the Commonwealth of Virginia terms 'equitable distribution'.


Ask the lawyer how many Equitable Distribution cases they have taken to Court. Ask the attorney what particular Equitable Distribution issues your case includes. Some of these issues may be real estate, retirement savings plans, division of pensions, valuing and resolving on of stock options, and many other possibilities. Your attorney should be able to identify what the equitable distribution issues will be in your case once the two of you have spoken.


* Always keep in mind that a complete resolution of all issues by agreement is always the optimal outcome for families.


Ask your attorney what resources they usually recommend for mediation. Ask your attorney what percentage of family law cases they are able to resolve by agreement. Be open to a resolution by agreement yourself, even if you are hurting and do not see the way to agreement when you first meet with your attorney. Do your best to remain open to that possibility and to an attorney who wants to work toward that option if at all possible for you and your family.


* Listen to your attorney carefully during your first consultation.


Listen for knowledge base. Listen for wording and approach and the general demeanor of your attorney. Ask yourself if that person reflects who you are and can reflect your particular issues and approaches with a Judge or a mediator or a conciliator, real estate settlement attorney or any other professional.The very best attorneys will learn to read you personally and strive to work toward a resolution that is best for you and your children.


* Work with your attorney.


Some of the things you may be asked to do may be painful. You may be asked to answer some discovery questions by a certain date and be tempted to avoid doing that because it is unpleasant. You may be asked to have a home study where a social worker will visit your home and ask invasive questions about your life. Tell your attorney your concerns and keep working with your attorney through the process.


* Come to accept change.


I love pointing out to a shy, dominated and maybe even truly abused spouse, how changed they have become and how they have blossomed into a delightful person through a painful transition time. Even good family law changes - like adopting child - can be stressful, but change will be involved and I hope that everyone reading this eventually reaches a place where they can recognize and rejoice in the changes that came to them through their journey with their family law attorney.


*Ask your friends and people you respect for referrals.


Some of my best referrals have been opposing parties in a past matter who have referred a friend. Personal referrals may help you get directly to a family attorney who meets your particular personal needs.


* Research your attorney by looking at, neutral, peer-reviewed sources. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys has very specific and detailed standards before an attorney can become a Fellow. The Lawyers of Distinction has a rigorous selection process. Martindale- Hubble rates attorneys based on peer reviews and a background check. There are many other reputable organizations. Ask the attorney what organizations have rated them or awarded them distinctions. Be very skeptical of anonymous testimonials, especially when they are posted an the website owned and managed by the attorney.


*

-JLO


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