Family law is possibly the most delicate and sensitive field of law. It concerns heartbreak, loss, significant change, and often the lives of children—all deeply emotional issues that cut to the core of what it means to be a human being. Because these topics have such an emotional valence, potential clients often make two dire mistakes: they fly headlong into seeking an attorney, not making the wisest choices in whom they hire, or they bottle their emotions and choose not to seek an attorney at all, often to the detriment of themselves and their loved ones.
As difficult as it may be to act rationally in emotionally charged moments, exploring representation by a family law lawyer requires potential clients to be as informed and dispassionate as possible so that they may reach the healthiest and most positive outcomes to their cases. These are some of the most important questions to ask a family law lawyer before deciding to go forward with that lawyer as your advocate.
“Have You Had a Case Like Mine Before?”
The answer is always a dual yes and no. There is never any one case just like yours because those cases don’t involve you. But an important axiom to take to heart is that we are all as unique as we are mundane. That may raise eyebrows—no one wants to see themselves as merely mundane. But it’s important to realize that among our own personal trials and tribulations are common experiences. Many of the struggles you’re experiencing now are the same struggles others have faced before you, are facing now, and will continue to face as long as people develop relationships with one another. That means you’re not alone. And that means experienced people know how to help you. Every case is unique, but the universality of the human condition means that experienced family law attorneys can apply their expertise without losing sight of your unique and personal experience.
“How Long Have You Practiced Family Law?”
This is always a fair question to ask. When searching for legal representation for something as close to your heart as your family, you don’t want to get caught off guard with a rookie attorney going up against a seasoned veteran. In defense of newly admitted lawyers, no one can begin his or her career with a wealth of experience. However, if you are anticipating a contentious battle, you’re correct to seek an advocate who has fought these battles before and knows what to expect.
“How Responsive and Available Are You?”
Situations in family law can be fluid, and clients will often rely on their attorneys to be readily available in case of new information or emergent developments. But at the same time, most attorneys must juggle multiple cases, and cannot always be available for phone calls or in-person meetings. You owe it to yourself to ascertain when and how you can best contact your lawyer, what kind of response time you can expect on emails and documents, and what kind of team he or she has to field any additional or supplemental duties.
“How Much Do You Bill?”
No one likes to talk about money in sensitive times. But representation isn’t cheap, and you need to make sure you can shoulder the costs of a family lawyer. This includes not only billable hours but court costs. If your means are limited but your case is one that needs to be heard, you may be able to find a lawyer in a smaller practice who can work on a sliding scale or work out a payment plan.
“What Can You Do for Me?”
As you look for an attorney to take your case, you may encounter one who will promise you everything you want and more. But family law is often a matter of give and take, and very rarely does one party get everything they want. If a lawyer’s promises sound too good to be true, they probably are. A skilled and ethical attorney will be honest about your prospects, which may involve telling you uncomfortable truths you don’t wish to hear. Don’t be dissuaded by honest and sober assessments of what your lawyer can do for you in a case.
“Will I Get Full Custody?”
Child custody is a more complicated issue than it may seem. In the state of Illinois, for instance, custody can be legal or physical. Legal custody refers to a parent’s responsibilities for the best interests of his or her child, like where that child will attend school, or what medical care he or she may need. Physical custody is what you may more readily understand: which parent a child will live with. It is possible for separated parents to share joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody, or for parents to split physical custody while only one has legal custody. In some cases, one parent may have sole custody in both senses. Illinois child custody attorneys can further help you understand this issue, which outcome is best for your situation, and how likely you are to attain it.
“Is There Anything Else I Should Have Asked?”
Even in one’s best attempt to remain collected and analytical in pursuing a family law lawyer, you may not get to everything you wanted to get to in your consultation. Don’t be afraid to try to tie up any loose ends before you conclude your first meeting. After all, you probably don’t know the ins and outs of family law yourself. A skilled and highly attentive attorney will be able to answer not only the questions you thought to ask, but also the questions you didn’t think to ask. Beware of a lawyer who cannot offer such a comprehensive approach to building your case and keeping you informed. Most of all, don’t be afraid to ask questions in the first place. An informed and engaged client is an ideal client and coming prepared with questions to ask a family law lawyer is the first step toward advocacy that will secure your safety and well-being in the most challenging personal times.