Choosing the Right Divorce Attorney

Whether it was expected or a complete surprise, an eminent divorce can leave a person confused, angered, shocked, scared, or sad. One important thing to remember about the grieving process is that it affects both parties. Even if you are the one who is seeking the divorce, you will be affected emotionally unless you had already dealt with the grieving process during the years preceding your decision that a divorce was necessary. Regardless, it is important to understand that this emotional component can be simply overwhelming.

The general rule regarding legal representation in your divorce case is simply this: the earlier in the divorce process that you consult legal counsel, the more effective your legal counsel can be. While you might not be sure as to whether you wish to file for divorce or take other steps to address the conflict in your relationship, an experienced family law attorney can be a considerable resource. While most experienced family law attorneys maintain a low fee for initial consultations, they are also willing to discuss your options with you so that you may make an informed decision. Further, many maintain a list of competent marriage counselors and other community resources to assist you. They can also help you consider whether certain actions will affect you positively or negatively in a future divorce case.

Family law attorneys can have varying degrees of professional competence as well as a broad range of strengths, skills, relevant education and training, and, of course, weaknesses. In choosing an attorney to represent your interests, you should seek out an experienced and concerned attorney who will represent your interests and promote your goals zealously while also making sure that your decisions are being made based on reason rather than emotion. Most importantly, you should seek out an attorney who you are comfortable with and who you trust.

The determination of whether one is comfortable with an attorney and feels that he or she can trust the attorney is obviously a personal, and subjective, one. However, the determination of whether an attorney possesses the optimal amount of experience and knowledge in family law can be assisted by consideration of the following factors.

Has the attorney been certified by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) as a Family Law Specialist?

This is by far the easiest way to learn a great deal of information concerning an attorney’s experience in the field of Family Law. A "yes" to this question means that the Ohio State Bar Association has screened the attorney to ensure that he or she meets the following criteria for certification as a Family Law Specialist:

(i) The attorney has dedicated at least 25% of his or her practice to family law cases.

(ii) The attorney has earned a minimum of 36 hours in advanced family law continuing legal education seminars.

(iii) The attorney has submitted seven individual references from family court judges, magistrates, and established family law practitioners, attesting to their competency in the area of family law.

(iv) The attorney has exhibited a strong detailed knowledge of family law through a written specialty examination.

The Family Law Certification Test was specifically designed by the Ohio State Bar Association’s Family Law Specialty Board to test for advanced and specialized knowledge of divorce, dissolution, annulments, legal separation, antenuptial agreements, separation agreements, division of property, distribution of retirement funds in divorce, COBRA coverage for former spouses, tax issues in divorce, bankruptcy issues in divorce, all issues concerning allocation of custody, visitation and companionship rights, paternity, domestic violence, child support, spousal support, alternative dispute resolution, and legal ethics in family law cases.

How many years has the attorney practiced law?

The Ohio State Bar Association requires that an attorney have at least seven (7) years of experience before it will consider the attorney for certification as a Family Law Specialist. Although experience is not always the best indicator of how well a lawyer will handle your case, it is definitely information that you should obtain in determining which attorney is right for you.

What percentage of the attorney’s practice has been devoted to family law?

Not specializing in Family Law Practice does not mean an attorney is not competent to handle a Family Law case. However, this is an important question to ask so that you get to know the nature of the attorney's practice. It is also notable that the Ohio State Bar Association requires an attorney to dedicate at least 25% of his or her practice, and the majority of continuing legal education study, to the field of Family Law in order to apply for certification as an OSBA Certified Family Law Specialist.

How many contested divorce and custody trials has the attorney handled?

Does the attorney have experience handling complex financial or custody litigation? What is the size of the average marital estate in the cases which the attorney handles? Does he or she have experience in the courtroom? Although a lawyer may otherwise be knowledgeable, he or she may have limited courtroom experience. High-conflict custody cases require special and unique skills as do complex financial or large asset cases.