Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
How do you pick a divorce attorney if you don't know anyone? A lot of people just guess, they'll search online, type in “divorce attorney near me”, and that's the attorney you pick. Well I don't think that's necessarily the best option. I wanna give you some guiding principles in terms of how you can pick a good divorce attorney without having to know anyone in advance. A divorce attorney is one of the most important, if not the most important, decision you make during the divorce process.
Finding a good attorney can be tough, I mean how do you know that that firm that you're going to call is really good? Are there any ways that you can narrow down your search to at least improve your chances of getting a good attorney? The way I think about some of the information in here is I know an attorney, so I'm here in Dallas, and I know an attorney who might be looking for someone in Florida. And I'm going to tell you the same methods that the good attorneys will use to recommend an attorney to someone if they aren't in the right state.
It's actually not that complicated, there's a few things that you can look for that will very easily help you pick a very good, very competent attorney. I'm gonna go through those ... Four issues that I'm gonna go through, and I'm just gonna go through them quickly, and this should be your framework if you don't know what attorney to choose, or if you're looking for a new attorney for any reason.
Here they are, the first one is they should be a member of the AAML. That is the American Academy for Matrimonial Lawyers, AAML. Every family lawyer knows what that is, and if they don't that's a problem. But there's a website, aaml.org. If you find ... The AAML is a group of attorneys, they vote each other in as I understand it, but they all have a minimum level of experience and they are all respected by their peers. So what you can do is you go to the AAML website, you type in your city and state, and they will provide a list of their fellows within them.
Of 1,000 attorneys, maybe 20 actually get into the AAML in a given place, and so most, if not all, but most of the attorneys in that group are very, very good and very respected. So you go the website and you pick one out.
The second thing that you should do is look for board-certified attorneys. Many states, not all states, but many states have a state board that certifies an attorney in a particular practice area. Could be family law, could be personal injury, could be trial law, could be education law, could be estate planning. But if your state has a board certification you should type in “board-certified family lawyer Missouri”, or “board-certified family lawyer California”, or “board-certified family lawyer Virginia”, and the attorneys who pass the board exams, it's always a very rigorous process and only a small percentage of people pass it. I think the number for Texas is less than 3% of attorneys in an area pass the board certification.
There's minimum requirements they have to make in terms of length of time, experience, etc. But if you do that, then those people will also often be very, very good attorneys. So we have number one is the AAML, number two is board certification.
Number three is you should, or can, ask another lawyer. If you know other attorneys, then they can help provide recommendations for you. This method is not foolproof, because everyone has their friends, and you can be steered astray. So if you ask an attorney I would still check number one and number two to make sure they fit those minimum criteria.
Then the fourth thing I want to recommend is reviews and testimonials. Check them out. If your attorney does not have reviews and testimonials, that can be a red flag. You need to see what other people are saying about that attorney. If they don't have any, that may be they're just not very good at their online marketing. But if they have a bunch of negative ones, you should read those negative comments, and conversely if they have lots of positive ones you should see what people like about that attorney. But you should check the reviews.
So the perfect attorney, if I had to find the perfect attorney, I would ask all of my lawyer friends that I have, I'd say, “Hey, can you recommend me a family law attorney?” I would double check to see if they're part of the AAML. If they are they will usually have that badge right on their website. I would check to see if they're board-certified, if they are that's awesome, it's right on their website. I would check their reviews, if they have lots of great reviews then that is perfect, and it's right on their website. And then if I have those four things, you are 95% of the time going to have a very, very good attorney in your corner.
You can still end up with someone who might not be a good fit for you, now that's a separate conversation, and actually in the store if you get the divorce quickstart guide, I have tons of resources on how to manage your attorney, making sure your attorney's doing the right things for you, and other elements of the attorney relationship that I haven't talked about for a while are all available in the store under the quickstart guide, which is the archives for the podcast. It has almost 50 hours of information, and it's one of the best resources available out there in terms of having a wealth of information at your fingertips.
I know some people who have listened to the podcast more times than I have, and they got it at the quickstart guide. There are questions about fit for your attorney, but if you get an attorney that has lots of good reviews, AAML, board-certified, and recommended from other attorneys, you are going to be most of the time, 95% of the time, in very good hands in terms of negotiating your book ... Or sorry, negotiating your divorce and the future settlement.
Now, there's something that I do want to bring to your attention, and sometimes people ask me, is they say, “Hey, can you recommend an attorney for me in city and state here?” Well, I'm very upfront with people, I have a handful of about 10 attorneys, less than 10 actually, across the whole United States that I've worked with closely for a while that I can truly recommend to you. You just happen to be in one of those areas for me to recommend someone to you, but I still get to recommend an attorney once or twice a week of that handful of people on the list.
That said, in a coaching call one of the things that we will do is we will go through these methods and help you narrow down that list of potential attorneys, or I'll follow up with you after a coaching call to say, “Hey, why don't you call these three firms or two firms, schedule an initial consultation, see what you like the best, and go from there.”
But ultimately I'm going to be doing exactly what I just went through with you. I'm gonna figure out where you live, I'm gonna go to the AAML website, I'm going to see if they're board-certified as well, I'm gonna check their reviews. And if I happen to know a lawyer in that part of the country I'm gonna ask my lawyer friends and say, “Hey, do you know anything about Jane Doe or John Smith?”
But it's not that much more complicated than what I just said. You need to ... There's no guarantee in this process unfortunately. It's tough, and it can be a challenge to find that attorney, and even if you do everything perfectly, it can be off. And you might end up with someone who's not good for you.
But if you follow these four steps, you're in a very good position going forward, and if you're still trying to choose your attorney, or you're still early in the divorce process, or maybe you just want an initial consultation with someone, these are the steps that I would tell my best friend to follow to find someone good for them.
Thank you for listening! Find a transcript of this episode below.
In this episode, I want to discuss do it yourself divorce and specifically whether or not it can work. Do it yourself divorce, just to make sure we're all on the same page, means not having an attorney represent you or your spouse during the divorce process. Basically, the two of you decide to work out all of the issues together yourself and you don't involve lawyers in the process and it actually has a term also called Pro Se divorce. If you ever see the term Pro Se divorce, it's a form or it's the same thing as do it yourself divorce and a lot of people choose this process and actually, I was speaking to several attorneys recently and they said it's becoming a more and more common practice and for good reason. In many cases, depending upon your situation, you might not need an attorney.
So in this episode I want to discuss some of the situations in which do it yourself divorce can work and some little tips to help you navigate that process should you proceed with do it yourself divorce, and also just some other considerations to think about. Now, when you go the do it yourself divorce route, there are three specific benefits that I like for people to keep in mind. Number one is that it is generally a much cheaper process. Look, you can pursue a do it yourself divorce if in the base level for only the court filing fees. I'm gonna talk about that in a little bit about going to the court, but basically, you are saving perhaps many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars by doing the process yourself. Just cheaper. You're not paying hundreds of dollars per hour for lawyers fees.
The second thing, the second benefit is that it's usually a less contentious process. Now, in the context of divorce, almost everything is contentious and let's get that out of the way. But there are degrees of fighting, you're getting divorced for a reason. Things aren't working out. We got it. So when I say a less contentious process, when you go do it yourself divorce route, it means that you and your spouse can have civil conversations, and even though this is a painful process, you can work things out between the two of you in a civilized manner. Yes, there are still emotions involved. Yes, you probably aren't going to be happy about all of this, but you can talk with each other and talk to each other and therefore work things out. Also as part of that is you can split your stuff up in a reasonable way. You're not going to be spending $5,000 trying to determine who gets the blender that's in the house or the food processor or whatever else.
Then the third benefit is, or I'll just say the third, this isn't necessarily a benefit, but the third thing to keep in mind is that almost anyone who's against do it yourself divorce is an attorney and there's a reason for that is because the attorneys do not get their fees as part of the process. So, there are downsides to do it yourself divorce, and I'm going to get into those in a little bit, but most of the time it can work if you think it can work and you fit the right conditions. Now, what are those conditions for do it yourself divorce? There are some things that really should be in place, otherwise you're going to run into trouble and the money you save is not going to be worth the effort of doing this yourself, and it's probably a better, probably would've been a better solution to pursue another divorce methods.
So, I like to keep things simple. I'm going to keep it a list of three things, three conditions that you should have before pursuing do it yourself divorce. The first one is both of you should have a very clear understanding of all of your assets and your debts. Or to put it another way, you both need to have a clear picture of everything that you own and that you owe. You need to know, if you have a house, how much is the house is worth and be able to agree upon that. If you have a mortgage, if you have credit cards, if you have a 401k or a pension plan or other retirement accounts, if you have cars, if you have other assets around, you need to know what those things are and both of you need to be on the same page regarding them. If you're not, do it yourself divorce is probably not the best option for you.
The second thing is you cannot have complex custody issues. Complex custody issues are a challenge to say the least. An attorney I work very closely with who will probably be on the podcast in the coming months, specializes in complex custody cases and just from knowing her and the types of issues she deals with and the book that she just wrote on the subject, it is one of the toughest things that you can deal with as part of the divorce process, and if you have a complex custody issue, do it yourself divorce is not for you. Now, the third condition that you need to have is the ability to negotiate a reasonable agreement with your soon to be ex-spouse. Now, I didn't say you have to like your soon to be ex-spouse, but you have to both be in a position to understand and agree to something that's fair.
Now, there is no divorce agreement in the history of divorce agreements that's perfect, right? Almost never do I see two people smiling at the end of the divorce settlement and saying, "I got everything I wanted, I'm ready to go," and if that does happen, there's probably an issue and someone got cheated. Most of the time, this has to be some sort of an agreement where neither one of you are perfectly happy, but you can live with the results of the process and if one of you is trying to "win" in the divorce process or trying to punish the other spouse or has some other issues that prevent you from negotiating something reasonable, then do it yourself divorce is not for you and you should most likely pursue other methods.
So let's say you have those three things, look, you have, you understand what you own and what you owe, and the other thing I meant to say about that one is that if you have complicated assets, do it yourself divorce is usually not the right idea. Second is you don't have complex custody issues, and third is you think you and your spouse can work out something reasonable. So what do you do if you're going to pursue a do it yourself divorce? Well, what I recommend is you write up your agreement. You put it all on paper. I've seen spouses negotiate it and sit down around the kitchen table and come up with an agreement. I've seen spouses do it by email. I have a number of people that I've worked with over the years who will email each other back and forth some detailed agreements.
I know spouses who do it in any number of methods and ways, but whatever it is, you need to put it on paper and you need to work out, you say, "Hey, here's what we're going to do." I like to do things big to small, so if your biggest asset for most people is a house, second big asset is a retirement account, but if that, let's just assume for a moment your house is the biggest thing, you'd say, "All right, here's what we're going to do about the house. We're going to put it up for sale. We're going to split the proceeds 50-50," or whatever you think is right or one is going to keep the house or whatever else, and then when you come to agreement about the house, you move on to the next asset and the next asset then the next asset, and or maybe if you have debts to consider, then you go through down the line on the debts. But the point is is you negotiate something reasonable and you go through each thing and you put these items on paper and you come up with what you want your agreement to be.
Now it doesn't stop there. Next thing you have to do is you have to figure out how you're going to actually file the paperwork. One complexity about the divorce process that's really challenging is that every county has a different divorce procedure in the United States. I'm going to give you an example. I'm based in Dallas, but I travel very frequently. Dallas, where I am in the city of Dallas, there is about four to five counties within a 20-minute drive of where I live. Each one of those counties handles divorce totally differently, even though they're all in the city of Dallas or the Dallas metroplex, each county has different rules, different procedures, different judges, different processes, so that's one issue.
Another issue that's involved is they have different paperwork and so you need to understand what county you're going to file in and how to do that. Now, one, there's a few solutions that are out there in terms of figuring out the right paperwork to get. One thing you can do if you really want to keep costs to a minimum is drive to your county courthouse. If you go to your county courthouse, you go to one of the clerks at the windows and you can ask them, "What divorce paperwork do I need?" and they can point you in the right direction. Some counties actually have it on their county website, but you need to make sure you get your appropriate county's paperwork because even though the laws might apply on a statewide basis, the exact procedures occur county by county.
Second thing you need to or so one method I said is is going to the clerk. Another method potentially is going online. Now, aside from going to the court's website, you can also use one of the online divorce services. There are many do it yourself divorce services that guarantee that they'll provide you the right paperwork and it'll be filled out correctly and whatever else, and usually those services go anywhere from I've seen $150 upwards to about a thousand dollars and, if you get a reputable one, there's a lot of questionable ones out there, but if you get a reputable one, they can help you in that process and through that process.
Now, another thing you can do is either work with a paralegal or an attorney on an uncontested divorce package. Many attorneys in just about any city have an uncontested divorce pack, uncontested divorce package where it is usually a fixed fee package that you pay and they guarantee that the paperwork works or will be handled appropriately for you. So it's usually between a thousand and $3,000 depending upon where you are, but you get to guarantee that everything you've done is ... That everything that you've done and submitted is correct. Here's why this might be a good option. You might have all the paperwork, you might go to the court, you might have everything correct, you might submit it in the right way, but guess what? Unfortunately, this is a complicated process and papers can get rejected for oftentimes some of the silliest, smallest reasons.
Court paperwork, I've almost never ... I'm sure there's a state somewhere that's good, but I haven't found it yet. Almost no court paperwork is easy to navigate. It is complicated. I haven't talked about this example in a while, but the state of New York where I have lots of clients, New York, California, Texas are my three biggest but all across the country, lots of clients. But in New York, the New York paperwork is so difficult to complete. Even just the basic paperwork, I hate looking at it. It's necessary, but it is not very user-friendly. The point being is if you have a little bit of money saved aside, it can be cost efficient just to say, "Hey, we want an uncontested divorce, here's everything we've already agreed to. Can you just check over it and fill out the paperwork for us, please, attorney," and you can do that for a fixed fee.
So it's okay if you're going through a do it yourself divorce to get limited help. So that's the other thing I would say is so those are the options for filing the paperwork but just my last tips for those considering do it yourself divorce is consider getting some additional help, what I call as the sanity check. One of the most common things or the biggest things I recommend is maybe once you've come up with a full agreement and you got everything down, it can be worth having an attorney or an associate or a paralegal or me, via a coaching session say, "Hey, this is everything that we've agreed to. I think it looks good. Why don't you read over it? Give it a check and let me know what you think," and oftentimes you might see something. Someone who looks at these, hopefully for you, this is the only time you have to deal with this, but someone who sees hundreds or thousands of divorces can say, "Hey, you're missing one, two and three," or "Hey, it might be better if you consider this thing for a tax purpose," or "Hey, you're going to both end up in the same position, but maybe we should split stuff in this manner instead of the way you propose."
It can be pretty quick for someone who looks at these things all the time to figure out what the best options are. So I might say for some people, and I tell people all the time, go sit down for an hour with someone or 30 minutes with someone just to get a second opinion just to make sure that everything is okay. It doesn't mean that what you've done is bad, but sometimes it can be helpful just to have that other set of eyes. Look, do it yourself divorce, if the issues at hand are not too complicated, I'm a big proponent of it. I mean, I think you should by all means save money in your divorce. It's not for everyone and it won't work in every situation, but if you are in a position where you think it can work for you, definitely start by pursuing that path.
It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to. There's options you can pursue the do it yourself divorce path and then, looks like things aren't working out the way you would have wanted them to and therefore you switch up and you do both get attorneys. But if you think you can start with the do it yourself divorce and resolve things that way, by all means, check it out because it could be a good solution for your situation.