Questions to ask the attorney you interview re:
divorce or custody
Have you or any
members of your firm ever represented my partner or
anyone associated with my partner?
Questions about Type and Number of Cases
Do you handle
divorce or custody cases?
of these cases have you handled?
of them were contested?
of them went to trial?
Did any of
the cases involve expert witnesses?
were before the judge(s) who will hear my case?
of decisions does this judge usually make?
Questions about Appeals
Have you ever
appealed a case, and if so, what were the issue(s)
of these appealed cases did you win? (Remember that
even excellent attorneys lose cases)
Questions About Attorney Fees and Costs
What are your
fees? What work do these fees cover? Is this an
hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?
an additional charge for appearing in court?
ever charge less for people who do not have much
charge a retainer? How much? What does it cover? Do
you refund all or part of the retainer if my case
ends up being dropped or not taking much time?
(Attorneys should be willing to refund any part of
the retainer not spent.)
other expenses which I may have to pay? What are
they and how much are they likely to be?
Questions About Staff
Will you be
the only person working on my case? What will other
How will I
be charged for their work? Will I be charged for
speaking to your secretary? Your receptionist?
ways that I can assist you so as to keep down my
willing to work out a payment plan with me?
Questions About Documentation
Will you send
me a copy of letters, documents, and court papers
that you file or receive regarding my case?
charge extra if the case gets more complicated or we
have to go back to court?
require that I have paid everything that I owe you
before you will go to court with me or finish my
case? (Many attorneys do this. They may
also refuse to return your original papers or copies
of your file, and in some states this may be legal.
Therefore you should insist on getting a copy of any
paper filed with the court or given or received from
another party or otherwise relevant to your case. Be
sure to keep all of them in a safe place, in case
you ever need them.)
you put our agreement about fees and what work you
will perform in writing?
Questions About Cases Involving Domestic Violence
experience have you had with cases involving
party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or
generally believe women who tell you that they have
Do you go
to court with women wanting to obtain orders of
protection against their abusers?
sympathetic to battered women are the judges who
will hear my case?
the laws of this state regarding which parent should
be given custody when one parent has abused the
other parent? Does the judge(s) who will probably
hear my case follow these laws?
you think about joint custody awards in cases
involving domestic violence?
you think about mediation in cases where there has
been domestic violence?
expert witnesses likely to be involved understand
the need to protect battered women and children?
of custody and visitation arrangements do they
usually recommend in cases involving domestic
judges usually follow their recommendations?
have a working relationship with the local battered
womenís program? With whom have you worked?
have a working relationship with any batterer
intervention programs? Which one(s)?
helpful is the local prosecutor in handling domestic
Questions About Contested Custody Cases
usually believe mothers who tell you that their
child(ren)ís father has physically or sexually
How do you
handle cases where parental alienation syndrome is
How do the
custody evaluators that you work with feel about
cases where the father has abused the child(ren)? Do
they usually believe a motherís statements about the
abuse? What kind of custody and visitation
recommendations do they usually make?
the judge(s) who will probably decide my case feel
about cases where the childís father has abused the
child(ren)? Do they believe mothers who have made
reports about the fatherís physical abuse of the
child? About a parent's sexual abuse of the child?
someone be appointed for the children, and how will
that person feel about a parent's physical abuse of
the child? About a parent's sexual abuse of the
child? Will it matter if the child protective
service agency has substantiated the abuse? If a
parent was convicted or pled guilty to the abuse in
a criminal case?
you do to protect children in cases when you know
that their parent is abusing them?
willing to stand up for my case, even if it angers
the judge? If none of the abuse allegations have
been made public yet, what do you recommend about
whether to raise them and how, and how to keep my
If you find that you are in an intolerable marriage
and need to extricate yourself from an abusive
relationship, it is important that you know the
divorce and separation laws in your state, and have
a sense of what to expect, and if you have children,
what you might encounter in custody arrangements.
Here are some web sites to find out the divorce laws
in your state and other information you will need.
A good place to start. What are the laws in your
state? And what is the difference between a legal
separation and divorce? What is customary in
custody? Youíll get answers here!
A very comprehensive resource with information for
each state designed to help you find answers to your
More divorce information
A useful site to find lawyers, experts and
LOW INCOME DIVORCE HELP
This is about legal help for the poor. For example,
to be eligible a household of one must have an
adjusted gross income less than $9,338 and a
household of four an adjusted gross income less than
$18,938. Here you will find a state by state
directory of PRO BONO groups--groups of attorneys
who take on cases for free.
SAFETY IN COURT
Verbal abusers as much as batterers can be extremely
traumatizing. In many cases being in the same room
Ask your attorney if you can meet before court so
that you will not be alone with the abuser. Or wait
near a security guard or a bailiff and ask your
attorney to be with you as much as possible. Be
aware that abusers repeatedly harass, or emotionally
coerce victims in court.
Tell your attorney you want to sit some distance
from the verbal abuser or batterer while you wait
for the case to be called. Ask your attorney before
court to sit between you and your abuser or
Batterers and verbal abusers control and threaten
their former victims with body language. Do not
permit the batterer or verbal abuser to speak to you
and ask your attorney to help you keep this from
occurring by, for instance, discussing any
settlement negotiations with the batterer (or the
batterer's lawyer if represented by counsel) and
then reporting back to you.
Attorneys Please Note the
Take the same precautions with the abuser's family
members in abuse cases as you do for the victim, it
is not uncommon for the abuser's family members to
assault or verbally abuse the victim in court.
Safeguard children. Make certain that your client
is safe when exiting the courthouse. Abusers often
stalk victims to discover where they live, or to
punish them for taking legal action.
If the verbal abuser is also a batterer:
Assess for lethality. Your client has an increased
risk of being severely assaulted or killed by the
batterer if the batterer possesses weapons, abuses
drugs or alcohol, stalks your client, or has
threatened homicide or suicide.
Advise your client to stay at a shelter, or with
friends or relatives, if your client fears that the
batterer will assault or kill her. When your client
has children, make certain that you have examined
existing court orders and statutes to determine how
flight may affect a custody case.
Under certain circumstances, it may be necessary for
a client to disappear completely. Assist your client
to change names and social security numbers if
Be aware of your safety. Most batterers seek to
control their former or current partners, rather
than their lawyers, and many batterers appear to be
well-behaved in court. Nevertheless, some lawyers
representing victims of domestic violence have been
threatened by batterers or their family members Take
precautions if a problem arises.