Choosing a divorce/Family Law attorney is one of the most difficult and important decisions you may ever make. It will likely come at a time when you and your partner have come to an impasse in your relationship and realize that the future health and happiness of your family is at stake. An excellent first step is to schedule a consultation with a qualified divorce and family law firm.
What is a Family Law Attorney?
There are many areas of practice and experience that qualify an attorney for the practice of Family Law. It’s essential that you research to seek out highly qualified legal representation. Most attorneys specializing in Family Law will have a solid background in some or most of the following:
- Child Custody, Relocation Issues, and Child Support
- Post-Secondary Support (payment of your child’s advanced educational costs)
- Paternity/Parentage, Non-Parental Custody
- Prenuptial Agreements
- Property Settlement Agreements
- Domestic partnerships
- Cohabitation Agreements
Other types of attorneys may have the requisite skills to handle your situation, depending on their experience. In the end, it is in your best interests to find one who’s is well versed in the intricacies of Family Law.
A Consultation with a Family Law Attorney
A preliminary consultation is an excellent first step. Laurie Ummel, of Everett’s foremost law firm, Anderson Hunter, suggests that it’s often some of the most valuable time spent informing her attorney-client relationship. It’s an opportunity to discuss the relevant legal and personal matters, and talk about the parameters and the logistics involved in taking next steps. Ummel says, “I try to explain the process. Why we’re doing what we’re doing. I want a potential client to leave feeling better about the situation and knowing they have options.” People are looking for a consultation for different reasons. Some individuals are in the early stages of considering a divorce and are looking for a mediation solution. Others have already tried to file for a divorce on their own, and are feeling utterly overwhelmed and frustrated. Many are looking for the first steps to take and information pertaining to their own unique set of circumstances. This initial consultation is a free service that Ummel offers so that she can give people a realistic look at what they might expect in the future regarding the paperwork that needs to be filed, going to court and what that can mean, and the cost of legal proceedings.
A Divorce is a Lawsuit
Ummel explains, “Fundamentally, what people often don’t consciously realize in marriages is that you’re in a business partnership with your spouse and that business partnership is premised on, ‘Can I trust you to make good decisions for us, and can you trust
me to do the same?’ ”
“Once people start the divorce process, or are thinking about it, the fundamental premise of trust no longer applies. When the partnership has broken down, and one or both parties see that their relationship truly is “irretrievably broken,” a divorce may be the only viable option.” Solid ground rules are often essential. Some couples will require very specific guidelines, whereas others, who are more amicable, may be able to come to agreements on their own. But in either case, accurate information and good advice are critical to making informed decisions.
Dealing with Parenting During Divorce Proceedings
Regarding parenting arrangements, Ummel says, “There are statutes that address parenting schedules. The overarching premise, or guideline, is that whatever the arrangement is, it has to be in children’s best interests. That’s what the court looks at first.” “It doesn’t prioritize one parent over another, it just looks at how the parties have acted and the roles they have assumed in parenting throughout their children’s lives.” The couple seeking a divorce needs to take a very realistic look at how to handle the division of parenting, considering the health, happiness, and well-being of their children. If one parent/guardian has been the primary caretaker, a court will give weight to that fact, because that is how the family has, of their own accord, organized their lives. To the extent possible, maintaining the existing parenting arrangement provides consistency, stability, and continuity for children at a time when their lives (as well as their parents’) are changing in significant ways. Promoting stability for the children is one of the key factors the court will consider when required to make a decision as to a parenting schedule.
Divorce is a Very Emotional Process
Each member of the family may be going through a different emotional stage during a divorce. Some are in denial. Some are angry. Some are experiencing intense grief. A Family Lawyer can certainly alleviate some of the confusion and stress, by providing a solid structure and assistance to move forward with the legal process.
The Cost of Filing for a Divorce
Some, like Ummel, offer a free consultation. For Ummel, this consultation (which usually lasts between 30 minutes and an hour) is the best time to discuss the anticipated costs of divorce filings and proceedings. Clearly the complexity and level of conflict of the situation can weigh heavily on the final cost, so the client needs to bear in mind that all consultations (other than the initial free one) with the law firm are billable. That being said, your future attorney should explain this clearly and with complete transparency.
How Long Will a Divorce Take?
Ummel says, “Washington State has a mandatory 90 day waiting period between filing and finalizing a divorce, but most divorce proceedings, in fact, take a bit longer, sometimes up to a year. Cases with more complexity where parties are not 100% sure about moving forward can take longer than that, but the court can also impose a case schedule to ensure there is progress toward a resolution.”
Using a Full-Service Law Firm for your Divorce
Anderson Hunter is the largest private law firm in Snohomish County, with over 16 attorneys practicing in a wide variety of areas. If during a divorce proceeding an unusual legal situation arises, there are many highly qualified attorneys to assist with unforeseen circumstances or legal issues outside of the purview of the traditional family law, as well as post Decree issues like revising estate plans
What to Look for in a Family Law Attorney
Communication is key! If your attorney is not listening to your concerns, and not offering sound and clear advice (or at least explaining why confusing or negative things are occurring in the process), move on. Of, course, a divorce is often a distressing experience, and you may hear things from your attorney that are unpleasant to hear. Don’t confuse honesty and straight talk with lack of caring.
How to Minimize The Stress of Going Through a Divorce
Be honest with your attorney. They need to hear the truth, as painful as it may be. And keep your expectations reasonable. Lawyers are not therapists, but they do have a lot of experience and can offer useful advice. One such word of wisdom from Ummel: “Take the high-road, Weigh your words and actions carefully. Acting with integrity can go a long way toward making the process bearable.”