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Chicago Family Law Attorney Talks About Divorce 101

I want a divorce, where do I start?”

That ‘s the question most individuals ask once they’ve made a decision to seek a divorce.  I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions that arise before people have selected a divorce attorney.

Q: What is the most important thing a client should look for when hiring an attorney?

A: The client and attorney must have chemistry.  Chicago divorce lawyers represent people, not businesses. The relationship is highly personal and it often lasts for years. A good divorce lawyer acts both as attorney and counselor. The client and lawyer must feel comfortable with each other, and the client must have confidence in the lawyer.

Q: How does a divorce lawyer charge for his services?

A: Almost all Chicago divorce attorneys charge an hourly fee for their time. In some cases, an attorney may charge a flat fee; however this is generally limited to simple, uncontested cases. Hourly rates vary greatly by locale and the attorneys’ experience and reputation. The minimum time increment a client is charged also varies from attorney-to-attorney; but most minimum increments range from 1/10th of an hour (6 minutes) to 1/4th of an hour (15 minutes).

Q: Do attorneys charge for their time talking on the telephone or communicating with clients via email?

A: Since talking on the telephone or responding to emails takes up the attorneys’ time, most attorneys do charge. Of course, some attorneys only charge for these acts when they are providing a substantive service. For example, if you call your attorney to find out when and where your next court date is and you spend two minutes on the telephone, most attorneys would not charge the time.

Q: Can married couples retain one lawyer for their divorce in order to save money?

A: No, doing so would be a conflict of interest. In Illinois any lawyer who represents both parties is guilty of an ethical violation. However, if one spouse elects to represent himself or herself there can be only one lawyer; so long as the unrepresented party is fully aware that the attorney does not represent him or her.

Q: Is it better for a client to hire a law firm or a solo attorney?

A: It depends, as there are pros and cons to both. However, firms that have attorneys with a broad spectrum of experiences allow clients to benefit from a deep well of knowledge, strength and diversity. Lawyers that practice a team approach can help solve clients’ problems and provide real value and results.

Q: Why do some divorces cost so much money?

A: One of the biggest factors in determining if a case will be expensive is the level of conflict encountered. If people are reasonable and willing to amicably resolve their case, it often can be completed at a reasonable cost. This is true even in cases with complicated issues.

Q: We’ve all heard of those really bitter divorce battles between husbands and wives, like the one portrayed in the movie The War of the Roses. Should clients look for an attorney who takes no prisoners?

A: You’ll want to avoid that type of lawyer. Although the “win at all costs” approach may sound appealing at the beginning of a case when someone wants revenge, in the end it never pays.

Q: Why not?

A: If you’re looking for the court to punish your spouse who wronged you, you’ll be disappointed. Illinois law doesn’t allow wrongdoing as a factor in custody awards or in the division of property.

Although these types of attorneys may satisfy some primal urge of revenge, they won’t effectively and efficiently represent your best interests. If you have children, remember you and your spouse will always be parents and your kids will benefit if you and your ex get along.

This still applies even after your children reach adulthood. You don’t want them feeling torn between two sides. Wouldn’t it be nicer if they could invite both parents to their grandchild’s birthday party, rather than choosing between you and your ex-spouse?

Also, these Rambo-type attorneys rarely take cost effectiveness into consideration. Unnecessary fighting only delays the resolution of your case and adds a lot of cost. Much of the work to be done on a case can and should be looked at in a business like fashion, weighing the costs against the benefits. There are many tasks that may provide some value, but it just doesn’t pay to do all of them. Clients need to prioritize their goals, and the money they spend on a case should be allocated based upon those stated goals.

Q: What if my spouse controls all our money, how can I get the funds to hire a lawyer?

A: In Illinois the assets and income of the marriage are to be used to pay attorney fees. If you cannot access your money, whether they are in your name, your spouse’s name or tilted jointly, your lawyer may be able to file a request for fees with the court. Requests for fees can be made periodically during the case, including at the beginning and conclusion of your case.

Q. Do attorneys accept credit cards?

A. Many attorneys do accept credit cards; but it is up to the individual attorney or firm.

Q. How do I find a lawyer if I cannot afford a lawyer?

A. Most areas have services that provide representation to people who cannot afford a lawyer. A good place to start is local bar associations and law school clinics.

In the third part of this series, I’m answering questions about the legal contract between you and your divorce attorney and providing you with a list of questions you should ask an attorney before you hire him to handle your divorce.

Q. Do I have to sign a contract with my lawyer? What are my rights?

A. Most attorneys will have you sign a contract or letter outlining the major terms of the representation, including hourly rates. In Illinois most divorce attorneys enter into written engagement agreements with their clients. All such agreements must include a Statement of Client’s Rights and Responsibilities.

Q: In closing, what should a client ask a prospective divorce lawyer?

• What documents should I bring to the initial consultation?
• Is there a charge for the initial consultation?
• Will you be the attorney working on my case?
• What percentage of your cases is settled?
• Have you ever tried a case like mine?
• Will I be involved in strategy decisions?
• How long have you practiced law?
• Do you practice law in any areas of law, in addition to Family Law?
• Do I receive copies of all court documents and correspondences?
• What is the best time and way to reach you and communicate with you?
• If I leave a message for you, when may I expect to hear from you?
• How do I reach you in the event of an emergency?
• What is your hourly rate(s), as well as the rates of others working on my case?
• Do you charge a retainer and how much is it?
• Is the retainer refundable if it is not used up?
• Do you have an estimate of court costs and other related expenses of my case?
• How often will I receive a billing statement and will it detail the work done?
• Do you have a written contract setting forth the essential terms of the representation, including hourly rates?
• Lastly, determine if your spouse may be obligated to pay all or a portion of your fees.

After discussing your case, ask the attorney if he or she has: identified any issues, reached an opinion on any of those issues, determined the complexity of the case or developed a strategy to achieve a negotiated settlement.

Michael C. Craven is a well-known divorce lawyer, CPA and a partner of the law firm, Beermann Swerdlove, LLP located in the Chicago area. He is highly respected among other divorce attorneys, judges and his clients. He also holds a Master of Tax Law Degree (LLM). Contact Michael at mccraven@beermannlaw.com or see his divorce lawyers Chicago website at http://www.divorcelawyerschicago.org

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