5 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer

5 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer
Going through a divorce is one of the most stressful situations anyone can experience. It’s important to ask the right questions and arm yourself with good answers. Who better to ask than a well-seasoned divorce attorney? We visited the law offices of Travis Whitfield in San Jose, and asked him the questions you need the answers to if you’re going through a divorce.

My particular style, given my experience in the court system, is to get in and get the best possible orders that I can for my clients at the beginning of the case. I find that by trying to negotiate or mediate the case up front, you lose valuable time and may be putting your client at the risk of losing assets. I have found the best thing for my clients is to get into court quickly, be aggressive in getting the best orders possible up front, and then to negotiate later off of those orders.

Most of the time when prospective clients come into my office, they don’t know what to ask me at all. If I’m dealing with a client who has young children under the age of 18, what they should be asking first and foremost is about custody and visitation—what their rights are, what kind of visitation schedule, what kind of legal decisions they can or cannot make, traveling with the children…that’s usually the most important. Most of the clients that I meet with are referred to as the “out spouse” which means that they don’t know anything about the finances, and so usually, I am explaining to them what their rights are financially, the access to the bank accounts, the pension accounts, 401K’s, the retirement accounts, etc. They should be asking me questions about what they can expect regarding support and property division. When an inexperienced client
comes in, I try help guide the discussion so they are asking the right questions.

The first thing you would do to get the process started is to file a summons and petition with the court, which means you’re asking the court to dissolve the marriage and to take jurisdiction over things like marital assets, debts and minor children. And you want to do that so you can get orders in place. Usually the next step, if there are young children, would be to get family get court services involved the client can get custody and visitation schedules. If you’re dealing with a support or a property division issue, you might want to file a motion so that you can get in front of the judge as soon as possible.

To get single in California, it takes a minimum of six months from the day you serve the other party. I’ve had some cases where the whole case is finished in two or three months and the client is just waiting for the six months to expire. I’ve had other cases, and these are the outliers, that can go for years. Those usually involve custody and visitation or high net-worth property cases. The rest of them, I usually find between 6 – 18 months would be about the best range in my experience.

Divorce attorneys bill by the hour. The State Bar and the Business and Professions Code do not allow attorneys to take cases on a contingency fee. The State Bar also discourages attorneys from taking flat fee cases. It’s not really fair to the attorney, and it certainly isn’t fair to the client, so we bill on hourly increments. My office bills at an hourly rate down to 1/10 of an hour. How much is it going to cost? For an uncontested case, where you’re dealing with another good attorney on the other side, and it comes down to just dividing assets and debts, you could probably expect to spend between $5,000-$10,000, maybe a little bit more. Now, in a contested case, I hate to say the sky is the limit but, again, where people have young children and 10 years later they’re still fighting over custody, etc., in the end they would have ended up paying six figures. But the usual range is maybe from $5,000 – $20,000.

Law Offices of Travis Whitfield
2055 Junction Ave, Suite 118
San Jose, CA 95131

16 comments on “5 Questions to Ask a Divorce Lawyer

  1. This is some great information, and I appreciate your point that the first thing that should be asked about when meeting with a divorce attorney is custody and visitation. My husband and I are getting a divorce, and we have three kids, all of which are under eighteen. When I meet with an attorney, I’ll definitely make sure to ask about that first thing. Thanks for the great post!

  2. This is some great information about the divorce process. I had no idea that you start with a summons and petition with the court. I have never really known a lot about the process, and hope I never need to. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for the help. I am trying to help a friend know how to choose a divorce attorney. I think that consulting with lawyers would help him a lot. What are the differences in lawyer’s philosophies for handling divorce?

  4. Knowing how long the divorce will take is a good idea. That way, you won’t try and rush along the process. Planning for a long amount of time can hopefully help to keep you patient!

  5. Most people haven’t gone through a divorce multiple times and can be confused when they first go through the divorce process. It’s nice that a divorce lawyer can help explain to you what your rights are financially. Divorces can get messy, but I imagine having a divorce lawyer helps assuage that.

  6. I really loved your advice to ask about the philosophy and style of how the lawyer handles divorce. There are a lot of people that don’t consider how that can impact the process, but it really makes a difference to be on the same page as your lawyer. Do you have any other tips about finding a good divorce lawyer?

  7. Some great tips here for anyone getting started in the process. It is also important to get a feeling of how well you connect with the lawyer on your initial consultation and if you can be completely open and transparent with them. You want someone who understands what your goals are going into this divorce and is willing to fight to achieve that outcome.
    Another important factor is after your consultation with them, reviewing the public registry to find out if they have any history of legal malpractice OR bad reviews online (that seem legitimate)

  8. I was wondering what the process of divorce was, and was interested in that entire process. You mentioned that cases can last for quite a few months, and quite be exhausting. Makes a lot of sense that people would want to work with an attorney, so that they can get professional advice through every stage of what could be a potentially long, grueling case.

  9. One of my best friends is thinking about getting a divorce. It is good to know that on average it takes about six months. That will be a good thing for her to know before hand. Especially when she is trying to figure out her budget for a lawyer.

  10. A friend of mine might be going through divorce, and I wanted to learn more about it so that I could be supportive. You wrote that divorce generally takes around six months from when you initially serve the other party. I’ll have to tell my friend to get an attorney, as this sounds complicated and he’ll need all the support he can get during that six months.

  11. This is some really good information about divorce lawyers. I liked that you talked about how it would be smart to ask the lawyer how long it will take. It is good to know that it could take about six months.

  12. Thanks for the tips for finding a divorce attorney. My best friend is getting a divorce, and I am trying to help him find the right attorney. I like what you said about finding out what the time frame will be like for the divorce. It makes sense that a lawyer would have a good idea of what kind of time your specific case would take.

  13. My husband and I are contemplating getting a divorce, and before we get serious I am wanting to make sure that I have a lawyer on my side. It’s interesting to learn that when it comes to finding one that something I should inquire about what steps are involved in this kind of process. This is something that I will have to keep in mind so that I will be able to get things taken care of properly, and be able to know what option will be the best way for us to go.

  14. I like what you said about asking the divorce lawyer how long the case might last. This would come in handy for someone who is not ready for a long trial. A good friend of mine would like knowing this since she has been asking about something similar.

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