Facing Divorce? Tips from the Trenches: Divorce Lawyers – What to Look For

By: Manjula Shaw, CFP®, CDFA®

 

“Tips from the Trenches” is a series of articles based on conversations with professionals who advise individuals facing or considering the prospect of divorce. Watch this space for discussions with professionals in Family & Collaborative law, Forensic-Certified Public Accountants, Mediators, Marriage Counselors, Family Court Judges, and Valuation Specialists.  

Manjula Shaw is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and an Asst. Vice President at Tanglewood Legacy Advisors. As a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®), Manjula works with individuals facing late-stage divorce.

The previous segments of the conversation with Amy Allen, a Partner in the family law practice of Gray Reed, can be found here Facing divorce? Tips from the Trenches – Family CFO (family-cfo.com); below is the final segment.

What to Look for: Experience & Qualifications

Interview at least three lawyers who practice family law, specifically divorce settlements, before picking the one who best suits your personality and the needs of your situation. Some attorneys are all business; others do much more handholding. Your personal preference should dictate your choice.

Here are some of the qualifications to consider:

  • Credentials – Texas Board of Legal Specialization certified for Family Law. Board certification can indicate that the lawyer has undergone additional training and a rigorous examination in Family Law. The qualification can demonstrate that the lawyer has more expertise and knowledge in handling a divorce case.

 

  • Support Staff  Family law attorneys are often in court and mediation. Look for attorneys with support staff who can assist you when the attorney is busy. “The client deserves to get answers and know they are being served,” Amy assures.

 

  • Hourly rates  Your cost would include filing and drafting fees and the hourly fees your attorney charges. You should expect that a contentious divorce could mean more billable hours and cost more than an amicable divorce. Resolving related issues would typically mean more hours if minor children are involved.

 

  • The lawyer’s personality  The prospective client needs to be comfortable with the lawyer’s style of operation and disposition. Some lawyers are matter-of-fact, and some may be more nurturing.

 

  • Trust – Trust plays a huge part in the entire process, from discovery to considering the cost of extensions given to the opposing party. “Frankly,” Amy says, “if you don’t trust your lawyer, get a new lawyer.

 

  • Realistic Expectations – Is your attorney making promises they cannot keep? Are they giving you reasonable options for your situation? Are they creative solutions or pie-in-the-sky-type expectations? Find an attorney who will be frank and keep your expectations fair.

Additional Professionals: Certified Financial Planners (CFP®), Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA®), Forensic Certified Public Accountants (CPA)s, and Valuation Specialists.

Give your family law attorney a clear and complete picture of your estate so they can guide you or other professionals you might need. Amy outlined the following example: a couple bought a home with separate property funds. They paid taxes and mortgages from community property funds. Suppose the couple cannot agree on the source of funds or the origin. The couple may need the expertise of a Forensic CPA with technical expertise to trace assets and craft a reimbursement claim.

This claim allows the source of assets to be traced back to the origin. The spouse who contributed the separate property to buy the home could be reimbursed. Similarly, the spouse contributing to the mortgage and taxes could be refunded. The cost versus the benefit needs to be weighed; this type of action may be worth pursuing when a home is valued at several million dollars.

Another situation in which additional professionals might be necessary is when the bulk of the marital estate is not liquid, such as a privately held business. In this case, the company’s valuation needs to be done by a Valuation Specialist.

When assets are tied up in investments and retirement plans, which will have tax consequences, a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) could guide the client through the tax consequences of the division of each type of account.

Navigate Contentious or Harmful Situations

“Safety is the most crucial priority,” says Amy. When the divorce is especially contentious, Amy has experienced clients’ partners tracking them with their cell phones or waiting for them in the garage. She suggests getting creative in serious situations: “Have a friend meet you at a neutral place like a grocery store, and drive with that friend to consult the divorce lawyer.”

Below are some resources for potentially dangerous situations:

 

 

  • Houston Bar Association (HBA), LegalLine: Family law attorneys are available to answer your questions on the second Wednesday of every month. Call the HBA office between 8:00-5:00 pm at 713-759-1133 for more information.

 

  • Speak to professionals: Ask for referrals from professionals like your financial advisor or attorney for resources that may be available for your specific circumstances.

 

If the topics we covered resonate with you and your family situation, or if you have further questions, please contact Manjula Shaw at mshaw@family-cfo.com, or call her at 713-599-4999. 

 

 

 

 

 

PLEASE SEE IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION at www.family-cfo.com/important-disclosure-information/