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Guide to Divorce

How do I find a lawyer?
Friends and family members who have been divorced are often a good source of referrals. When discussing lawyers with friends or family members, be sure to ask about the lawyer who represented the other spouse.

What qualities in a matrimonial attorney are important?
As a prerequisite, the attorney must have a demonstrated level of competence in matrimonial law. The attorney need not handle only matrimonial cases, nor need he be well known in the legal community, but he should have handled a sufficient number of cases to be able to conduct yours efficiently and properly. Resist the temptation to use a friend of the family or your business lawyer who has never handled a matrimonial case. Often such lawyers, however well intentioned, must bail out of the case if and when it becomes too complicated, leaving you in the unenviable position of having to find a new lawyer in the middle.

What happens at an initial consultation?
Every attorney has her own style, but most will, at some point in the consultation (preferably sooner rather than later) listen to your rendition of the problems in the marriage and possibly take notes. After hearing your problems and concerns, the attorney might give you a brief overview of the law of your state, explain the different options available to you, what she can hope to accomplish for you. Be wary of any attorney who guarantees results.

What should I ask at the initial consultation?
To the extent the attorney fails to cover these points, you should ask how the divorce procedure works, how long it will take, how available the lawyer is, how many cases he has tried, how many he has handled (many cases settle without ever going to trial), how much it will cost, how charges are determined, whether you are billed for telephone calls, who else will be working on your case, whether you will have to go to court, what happens if you reconcile, what information the lawyer needs from you.

Doesn't my spouse have to pay my fees?
The answer varies according to state law and the judge assigned to your case, but in general, unless your spouse is wealthy and you have limited assets available to you, you should not hire a lawyer assuming your spouse will be responsible for your fees. Even if your spouse can afford to do so, a judge may decide your lawyer "over litigated" the case, and not award her all the fees she seeks from your spouse. The lawyer may still look to you for the balance due.

Should I get a separation or a divorce?
n some jurisdictions, the grounds--or reasons--you must prove to become legally separated (which means you have a judgment of separation signed by a judge) are nearly the same as the grounds needed to obtain a divorce, and so there is no advantage in getting legally separated.

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