If you’re not happy with your divorce lawyer, you’re not alone. Divorce lawyers are like undertakers. When you need them you need them. But, no one is ever excited about having to hire them.
For better or for worse, it’s not uncommon to have problems with your divorce lawyer. They’re chronically overworked and usually over-committed. In spite of the fact that they talk for a living, many divorce lawyers are not great interpersonal communicators. They’re simply too busy to hold your hand and stand by your side the whole time you wade through your divorce.
The problem is, you want someone to hold your hand and stand by your side while you’re going through your divorce! You’re freaked out about your future and terrified about your kids. You’re not sure what you’re facing, and you have no idea what your life is going to look like once you’re done.
You want support.
Unfortunately, that’s not what most divorce lawyers do.
Divorce lawyers are paid to protect you. Their job is to think of every single thing that could possibly go wrong in your divorce and try to find a way to make sure that as few of those things happen as possible.
The problem is that while that kind of behavior can hopefully help you minimize some of the legal damage that divorce causes, it usually increases your emotional trauma. It also tends to cost a lot. None of that makes you happy.
So, you become upset with your divorce lawyer. What you’ve got to figure out, though, is whether the problem really lies with your divorce lawyer, or
with some other part of your divorce.
Divorce lawyers can make your divorce more difficult and expensive. But, in fairness to divorce lawyers, sometimes they’re not the real problem in your divorce.
Oftentimes what makes divorce so ugly is not your lawyer, but your spouse, or your spouse’s lawyer. Neither one of those are things you, or your divorce lawyer, can change.
The problem may also be … you. (Sorry! Stay with me here.) If your emotions or your expectations are raging out of control, you’re not likely to be satisfied with your divorce lawyer no matter what s/he does! While being emotional is understandable, if you are the problem in your divorce, changing divorce lawyers won’t fix your problem.
The problem could also be the divorce process in general. Unfortunately, in most places our divorce system is over-burdened, out-dated, and wildly inefficient.
What’s more, divorces in this country happen in court. The courts were not designed to handle family problems. They were designed to handle legal disputes. Period. But because divorcing couples have no choice but to use the legal system to handle their family problems, the courts have been forced to do something they are not particularly good at: resolving disputes that involve kids, relationships, and family dynamics.
The bottom line is that, before you decide to ditch your divorce lawyer, you would be wise to try to figure out whether your lawyer is in fact your problem.
Why You Want to Be Careful Before You Switch Divorce Lawyers
If you’re unhappy with your divorce lawyer, or with the way your divorce case is going, your first inclination is probably going to be to fire your current divorce lawyer and find a new one. But there’s a huge problem with that: Money.
Switching divorce lawyers costs money. If you don’t happen to have a few thousand dollars to pay a new lawyer’s retainer, getting a new lawyer may not be feasible. Plus, the longer your divorce has been going on, the more money a new lawyer is likely to charge you.
You also have to understand that if you change lawyers, you are going to pay duplicate costs for some portion of your work.
A new divorce lawyer is going to have to review all of the same documents your first lawyer already reviewed. S/he may have to re-write some court documents for you. S/he is going to have to spend time analyzing your case, formulating a strategy for moving forward, and then implementing that strategy.
All of that costs money.
Switching lawyers mid-stream can also make your case take longer. While your new lawyer gets up to speed in your case, everything else will likely slow down. Court dates will get continued. Discovery will drag on. Trials may get post-poned. (Of course, if your current lawyer is dragging his/her feet anyway, this might not be an issue!)
Finally, depending upon what’s going on in your divorce, changing lawyers can actually damage the outcome of your case. For example, if you have a firm trial date set, and the judge won’t change that date, you may have go to trial with a lawyer who is less than 100% prepared to proceed. That is never a good idea.
Based on all of this, if you’re having problems with your divorce, you’ve probably got a dilemma. Do you change lawyers and take the time and financial hits that causes? Or, do you stick with your current lawyer and hope for the best?
When you’re facing that kind of dilemma can feel like you are in a no-win situation.
Here’s a simple, three step process you can use to help you figure out your best solution.
3 Steps to Decide if You Need a New Divorce Lawyer
Step #1: Assess the Situation …
The first thing you need to do when you’re not happy with your divorce lawyer is to figure out what the problem is. Is the problem that:
- Your lawyer is not communicating with you, or won’t return your calls?
- Your lawyer is not fighting for you?
- You have discovered that your lawyer is missing court dates?
- You’ve lost confidence in your lawyer?
- Your lawyer is making your divorce worse?
- You can’t afford to pay your lawyer?
- You think your lawyer is over-charging you?
- Your lawyer won’t send you a bill? (Yes. It happens … probably more often than you would think!)
- Your lawyer is too chummy with the other side?
- You can’t get a straight answer about what’s going on in your divorce?
- Your lawyer is bullying you?
- Your divorce is taking forever to resolve and you’re tired of it?
… And Identify the Cause of the Problem
Some of these “problems” are problems with your lawyer. Others are not. The trick is to identify the cause of the problem so you can start to deal with it.
For example, if your lawyer is not returning your telephone calls, that seems like a problem with your lawyer. But, if your idea of “not returning your telephone calls” means that your lawyer is not getting back to you within an hour of your call, then the problem is NOT your lawyer. The problem is that your expectations are unrealistic.
Lawyers are busy. They are often in court. They can’t always control their schedules. If your lawyer is getting back to you within 24 – 48 hours of receiving your message, that’s reasonable. On the other hand, if your calls go unanswered for a week, that’s not reasonable.
Let’s take another example: your case is taking forever to resolve. This is a particularly tricky problem because getting a new lawyer may actually make your case take longer to resolve!
How do you know if the delay is being caused by your lawyer? First of all ask yourself: “Have I done everything my lawyer asked me to do in a timely manner?” If you took six months to get documents that your lawyer needed in 30 days, it’s not your lawyer who’s dragging out your case!
On the other hand, if your case just keeps getting continued and continued and your lawyer can’t explain why, then maybe the problem IS your lawyer.
Whatever your issue is, Step #1 is to first isolate the real problem and then try to analyze what caused the problem.
Step #2: Start Talking
Once you know what your issues are, and you think that your lawyer is responsible (at least in part) for causing these issues, your next step is to talk to your lawyer! (And, yes! You should have that conversation in-person! In a pinch, a phone call may be kind of okay, too. But, DO NOT try to do this by email! It’s not the same!)
I know that talking to your lawyer can be intimidating, especially if your lawyer is a bully. But many times, what you think is a problem is really a misunderstanding between you and your lawyer. If you can resolve that misunderstanding you may be able to save yourself a lot of time and money.
If your conversation with your lawyer doesn’t help, you will know for sure that you need to get another lawyer. While knowing that may not make you feel good, it will allow you to move forward with a new lawyer quickly with confidence.
But, sometimes, conversations with your lawyer just leave you more confused. If, after talking to your lawyer, you’re still not sure whether your lawyer’s doing a good job or not, go get a second opinion.
Make an appointment with another divorce lawyer in your area and see what s/he says about your situation. If a second lawyer, and maybe a third lawyer, all tell you the same thing, then you would be wise to listen to what they are saying.
Step #3: Make a Business Decision
If, after all that, it’s clear that your lawyer really IS the problem, you’ve still got to weigh the cost of getting a new lawyer against the cost of muddling through with the old one. To make that decision, you’ve got to understand what stage your divorce case is in.
If you have just recently begun your divorce case, changing lawyers shouldn’t cost you a lot in time or money. On the other hand, if your case is almost finished, then changing lawyers may not make sense, even if you truly can’t stand your divorce lawyer.
Deciding whether to change divorce lawyers when you’re somewhere in the middle of your divorce is the hardest.
If you’re not happy with your divorce lawyer, but you’re not sure whether changing lawyers makes sense, the best you can do is to do your best. Analyze all of the information and legal opinions you have. Talk to any other trusted advisers you may have. (You may want to seek advice from your financial adviser on this.) Weigh your options. Listen to your gut. Then make a decision.
Will you decide the right thing? Who knows? The truth is, you may never know. That’s why all you can do is your best. Then (and this is important) get behind your decision and stop playing “what if?”! Second guessing whether you made the right decision will change nothing. It will also make you crazy!
Make your decision. Then go with it and move on. That really IS the best thing you can do.
Thanks so much for the above. In hindsight, I really wished that my lawyer had suggested that I NOT speak to him so often, and, to also attach a “price” to anything in dispute. Divorce is a nightmare in itself…divorcing a Sociopathic cheater adds an entirely new level. Of course, each time I discovered something new, I called my attorney (probably out of shock). My ex filed incomplete or fraudulent documents…more attorney’s fees. I did come out ahead but the lawyer fees were astronomical!
I’m not surprised. At least you came out ahead! (Imagine how much worse it would have been to have all of those attorney’s fees and NOT ended up ahead!)
Thanks for your advice, I am all most though my settlement , I was trying to do a 50/50 settlement, it has been 12 months.
I have sent a letter to the Legal Services Commissioner in Sydney to complain about the process .
So sorry to hear that. It seems that the divorce process everywhere needs help! Good luck!
My lawyer tells me the sheriffs office is backed up so my soon to be has not been served yet and it’s been almost 2 months. Now she wants me to hire a private person to serve him which cost more money. What should I do?
I guess that depends on whether you want to get your husband served so that you can get divorced or not.
Here’s the deal. If you want to get divorced, you’ve either got to serve your husband with papers, or he has to voluntarily come to court and file his own appearance. Otherwise, your divorce will go nowhere.
I don’t know the situation in your area, but if the sheriff hasn’t served your spouse in 2 months, hiring a special process server probably makes sense. That’s why your lawyer recommended it. Will it cost more money? Yes. But paying your lawyer to go to court for status conferences just to tell the judge that she’s waiting for the sheriff to serve your spouse will cost you more.
I’m at the end of my divorce. My attorney drew up the judgement but added that both parties agreed to waive each breach of fiduciary duty. I asked my attorney what fiduciary duty did I breach? He explained that a husband and wife have a fiduciary duty to each other. My soon to be ex-husband did not pay the mortgage for 1 1/2 years although he was fully employed and the VA loan was in his name only. I was unemployed for the 1 1/2 years. He took advantage of the Covid19 pandemic relief even though we didn’t need it. Without my knowledge, he kept extending the forebearance until the mortgage company sent a warning letter which was addressed to both of us. I explained all of this to my attorney and he’s the one who said my husband breached his fiduciary duties. One year later during our settlement, my attorney agrees with the other attorney that we should split 50/50 and for us to waive the breach. Something is wrong here, and I told my attorney that I want a second opinion before I sign the judgement.
It sounds like getting a second opinion would be a very good idea. I can’t give you legal advice online or outside of the state of Illinois. But you can get a second opinion from a good divorce lawyer in your area.
Thank you for your advice. I am not happy with my lawyer because of the lack of communication. I have just received the second bill from her. She said nothing about how much progress has been made regarding the financial form exchange, etc. Apart from the initial consultation, I haven’t met her at all. Everything is carried out by emails and she charges 36 pounds for reading my email and sending email. Is it normal?
Unfortunately, yes. It may not be right, but, in the legal world, it’s totally normal! (Sorry!)
While most people need legal advice in their divorce, letting lawyers control and drive your divorce can cost you – in more ways than just the money you will spend. That’s why I recommend the people learn as much about divorce as they can themselves.
Knowledge is power. The more you know, and the more involved you can be in your own divorce, the more control you will have over the outcome and the price you pay to get it.
That’s also why I created The Divorce Road Map Program – to give people an option for understanding what they’re going through so that they can take back more control over their divorce, and their life. If you want, you can check it out. (Know, though, that right now it is a U.S. based program. I don’t know how much it will help you if you’re in the UK.)
Obviously, being more proactive in divorce isn’t for everyone. If you’re involved in a high conflict, litigated, divorce you NEED to have a good divorce lawyer by your side, fighting with you in court. But, as you found, lawyers are expensive. They also don’t tend to be the best communicators with their clients. What they do best is fight for you.
I wish I had better news for you. Again, sorry!
Can a former attorney file a judgement against you for a dispute over money that she say I owe her and I do not feel I owe her anymore money when she quit work for me in my divorce and would not communicate the reason why? Two friends was with me to testify for a hearing that we were having for court that day. Now she has turn the judgement to a writbof garnishment for her payment she claim I owe her to deduct it from my settlement money that was ordered in my mediation. I will not sign the final decree that I paid another mediator (judge) to mediate my case.
I’m sorry, but what you’re asking are legal questions. The answers depend upon the law of your state, and the facts and circumstances of your particular case. You’re going to have to ask a lawyer in your area for answers.
My lawyer was hired to represent my in my child custody rights and divorce. I was forced into meditation and did was not able to have any voice in what was heard in the mediation at all. It was not what was best for my son. Yet it was all about money I would pay per month. I have had legal custody of my oldest two children. One is in college and one is headed to college. And with my baby boy my rights were cut down to 40 hours a month. What can I do.
Unfortunately, you’re asking legal questions that I can’t answer online or outside of the state of Illinois. You’ll have to ask a divorce lawyer in your area for answers to those questions.
Hello and thank you for your advice,
I have changed my lawyer already because he made a lots of mistakes on filing court papers, many information that were important he didn’t include and some mistakes that were not supposed to reach the judge were there. It gave me insight that he was “selling” my case. I realized he is too friendly with my husband’ s lawyer.
Now I feel my new lawyer is “victimizing a victim”
Recently my ex broke into my part of the home while I was away and, beside our shared property, he stole my personal laptop and some other items. After calling the police and filing report I emailed my lawyer who never answered. When I called (14 hrs later) he said he didn’t read email. He did while we talked. He promised to contact my husband’s lawyer and get back to me the first thing in the morning. He never did. When I called him he said something he has to do “research”
My question is If I hired an experienced lawyer what are all those research charges on my invoice?
Is that normal?
Imagine you go to doctor and he goes “let me do some research “
I can understand your frustration. Although, I would much have a doctor (or a lawyer) say “let me do some research” than to give me an answer that they just made up and it’s wrong!
Charging for research is totally normal. But, the bigger question is: WHAT was the lawyer researching?
There are some basic things every divorce lawyer should know. If your lawyer is researching those basic things, then your lawyer may not be very experienced. In that case, you might want to look for a different lawyer. On the other hand, it is impossible for any lawyer to know EVERY law. There are just too many laws and rules, and they change far too often, for anyone to absolutely know all of them. So, if the issue you presented the lawyer with was kind of unique or new, it’s very possible the lawyer may have had to do some research about it.
Hope this helps.
Help I really need a good divorce attorney and fast. In a panic Well into a difficult divorce involving assets husband has hidden.
My lawyer was young and the relationship broke down.
May 8 is a return to court date in Lawrence .
My husband has been with Cordell and Cordell and they are vicious Can any one help
Hello, would you say it’s ethical if your lawyer refuse to subpoena a bank account that your ex was hiding or hiding in his new wife’s account or writing a modified marital settlement agreement that benefits your ex. Do you think this is a lawyer that’s working for you, protecting you? Karen
Honestly, I can’t say. There are so many factors that could be involved in your situation that I couldn’t possibly give you an opinion about that.
I liked that you said that one thing to consider when you are using the help of an attorney is making sure to talk to them and discuss the process thoroughly in order to avoid misunderstanding. I have been thinking about hiring an attorney but I have been worried that I wouldn’t understand the process that we could take to win my case. I would be sure to communicate effectively in order to ensure proper understanding.
Hello, What if the JUDGE used to work for the my wife’s lawyer. She was a clerk when he worked in the State Attorney’s office. She showed NO MERCY around my well written prenup and voided it on a technicality allowing everything my wife requested. They are dragging us through the mud with not ONE thing for our side.
Ouch! I wish I could answer your question, but it’s a legal one that I can’t answer online or outside of Illinois. I STRONGLY suggest you get a legal opinion from a good divorce lawyer in your area. (Even if you have a lawyer already, getting a second opinion about what your options are in this circumstance wouldn’t hurt!)
I am getting an uncontested divorxe in which we agree on the assets. I did a phone conference with my lawyer in sept to give him the details for an asset agreement. It is now Dec and my lawyer as not offered this document for signature and when I call or email the office to find out when it will be done, I do not get a return phone call or email. I paid the lawyer the entire retainer fee in May when he filed the divorce complaint. My divorce should have been done already. He has my money and isn’t providing services. What is my recourse here?
It sounds like your lawyer is ignoring you – which is NOT a good thing! At the same time, I’m not sure how often you’ve tried to contact your lawyer. While your lawyer SHOULD have called you back, there is also something to be said for being the “squeaky wheel.” I would email your lawyer and tell him you want to set up a meeting. (It can be via Zoom if necessary.) If your lawyer ignores you after several requests, it’s time to find another lawyer. (And, if you’ve already made several requests, you might just go straight to the next step listed below.)
Before I move on though, please understand that I’m not saying that it’s right that you have to find another lawyer. It’s not. I’m not saying that your current lawyer is acting appropriately. He isn’t. But you have a problem to solve – you want a divorce and you need to get it done. Like it or not, you may need to hire a different lawyer to do that. And, yes, that may cost you more money. (Sorry!) But if your first lawyer took your money and didn’t do the work, he should return to you the money he didn’t earn. If he doesn’t, you can take appropriate action against that lawyer with the state bar. But doing that won’t get you divorced.
So your next step is to hire a different lawyer and get yourself divorced. And, while you’re doing that you can talk to the second lawyer about what your options are with respect to your first lawyer. He will be able to fill you in on what your options are in the state you’re living in.
Hope this helps.