How to Interview a Potential Lawyer to Represent You in a High-Conflict Divorce Case
by Colleen Honquest
When professionals don’t understand high-conflict personalities, cases are prolonged, resolutions do not truly address problems, and lawyers and divorce professionals become distracted by their dramas. Hopefully, as more divorce professionals understand high-conflict personality disorders, the legal system will provide the structure to focus the high-conflict person on learning self-management skills rather than letting them tie up the courts with long, drawn out divorce cases. However, for now, our courts have a mental health problem and the high-conflict cases are clogging up the system and costing legions of clients (and society) millions of dollars. If you are going into a divorce with a high-conflict individual, you will want to make sure that your lawyer understands the specifics of what they will be dealing with in your case.
High-conflict cases can get very expensive very quickly so you need to do due diligence to hire the right lawyer for your case. While most divorce cases are settled out-of-court in less than two years, high-conflict cases typically last two to five years and can involve scores of filings, endless delays, tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and a high rate of attorney turnover. Worst of all, children become collateral damage and often wind up developing a wide range of mental-health issues. Here are some questions that you can ask your lawyer in an initial interview.
Standard Interview Questions
- How long have you been in practice?
- What is your hourly rate?
- How often do you bill/invoice, and what is included?
- How much is your retainer?
- Is there a contract? Can I see a copy?
- Is your practice of law focused solely on family law?
- Can I reach you on the weekend, if it’s an emergency?
- Have you helped parents in high-conflict custody disputes before? If so, how?
- What do you see as the major challenge in child custody disputes?
- How many custody cases have you worked on that have gone to court (as opposed to being settled)?
- Do you typically work with expert witnesses? If so, which ones? If not, why not?
- How do you stay up to date on emerging trends in high-conflict custody disputes?
- Are you willing to work aggressively advocate for my rights, even if that entails cross-examining a psychologist or GAL with whom you have worked before?
- Have you ever handled a case in which my ex-spouse’s lawyer was the opposing counsel? If so, what was the outcome?
- How many cases, or what percentage of cases, have you worked on that involved child protection and/or domestic abuse services and relevant laws?
- Based on the details that I have shared with you regarding my case, how do you think that you can help me and what do you think the major obstacles will be?
- How would you make the Judge aware of my husband/wife’s past domestic violence incidents?
- How would you expose false allegations?
- How would you deal with a GAL who appears to be biased against me? Have you had to deal with a situation like this before?
- Do you have experience with this Judge in cases like mine?
- How do you deal with an ex-spouse who is hiding money? Refusal of opposing counsel to answer or comply with discovery?
- How do you deal with a combative or uncooperative opposing counsel?
- Do you have a junior partner or paralegal who will be working on my case? Are they experienced in high-conflict divorce cases? Will I be communicating with them? What is their hourly rate?
- Are you available if I need to reach you in an emergent situation? For example, if my ex-wife refuses to return the children to me or my ex-wife calls the police on me;
- Can I get names and phone numbers of one or two of your former clients who had cases similar to mine? (Ideally, same gender as you)
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