Divorce is never a pleasant process, but it does not always have to be war. Once the decision has been made—by you, by your spouse, or by both of you—to file for divorce, you must consider how you want to proceed. This includes deciding whether to hire an attorney to represent you. Having legal representation in a divorce is a very good idea in most divorce cases. You need somebody who understands Missouri’s family laws, has experience in Kansas City’s court system, and can advocate for your rights and interests. Importantly, there is no single "best" divorce lawyer. You should look for the best divorce lawyer for YOU.
No one-size-fits-all formula exists for choosing a divorce lawyer. Every potential client presents a unique situation, with unique needs and goals. Before you make a decision about which lawyer to hire, you need to consider your goals, independent of what your spouse or anyone else might want. You should have an idea of what issues your divorce will present, and how you would like to approach those issues. The lawyer you choose should be a good fit with you, your budget, and your goals for your divorce.
The central issue in a divorce case is, of course, dissolving a marriage between two people. It is rarely that simple, though. Other issues that are often present in divorce cases include:
Just as every client is unique, every divorce case presents unique circumstances. Each case presents a unique set of issues, such as a complex property division or a difficult child custody dispute. The goals of each party can also determine how a case will proceed. Some people want to resolve their divorce as quickly and amicably as possible. Some people want to fight.
Every divorce case is, at the most basic legal level, a lawsuit filed by one spouse against the other. Whether your divorce case ever sees the inside of a courtroom is mostly up to you and your spouse.
Divorce can also be unpredictable. An initially amicable divorce case could turn angry. A divorce case in which both parties came out swinging in the beginning could find a harmonious resolution. You might not know how your divorce case will end, but you can decide how you want it to begin. This will inform your decision on a lawyer.
This is perhaps the most important question for anyone involved in a divorce. After identifying the issues that your divorce is likely to present, you should determine what sort of outcome you want for each issue. Do you want custody of the children? Do you think your spouse will fight you on that? Are there particular assets you want to keep? How do you want debts to get paid? And so on.
Knowing what you want to achieve will help you find the lawyer who is right for you. A good divorce lawyer will help you understand the legal process, and will give you an honest assessment of your goals. Something that seems critically important to you might have very little bearing on the actual divorce proceeding. Your lawyer can make a realistic strategy for achieving your goals in the divorce.
Once you have a plan, your lawyer will advocate for you, both in court and in negotiations with your spouse’s attorney. They will also help you stay focused on the goals you have identified. Divorce is inevitably an emotional process. A good divorce attorney will help you avoid getting derailed by negative emotions, which might otherwise turn an amicable divorce into an ugly one, or make an ugly one even uglier.
Different lawyers have different skill sets. Each lawyer’s skill set makes them ideally suited for certain types of divorce cases. The goals you have identified for your divorce will help you determine which skill set is best for you.
Some divorce lawyers excel at courtroom work, advocating for their clients’ interests through oral arguments, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and opening and closing statements. If a divorce is likely to be contentious, this might be the kind of lawyer you want.
Some divorce lawyers prefer a less-contentious approach to resolving divorce cases, and are in their element in mediation, or negotiation with the other side’s counsel. If you expect that you and your spouse can resolve your divorce amicably, this type of lawyer might be right for you.
Most divorce lawyers fit into both of the above categories to some extent. As we mentioned earlier, divorce cases can change course unpredictably, and divorce lawyers must be prepared to change course with them. This could mean a skilled negotiator going to trial, or a seasoned litigator taking a seat at the conference table. Choosing the right kind of lawyer for your case, however, can help keep your case on the track you would like it to have.
We have dropped a great deal of information on you here, and it can be hard to process all of it while in the midst of preparing for a divorce. Luckily, you are not alone in finding a divorce lawyer. The internet has many resources for finding lawyers, including local bar association websites, attorney websites, and legal directories. Friends and family, or “word of mouth,” should always be your first resource. Ask around for recommendations, or ask about lawyers you are considering.
Family law attorney Mark A. Wortman focuses his practice exclusively on divorce and other family law matters in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100 to schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable legal advocate.