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

  1. How long have you been in practice?
  2. What is your hourly rate?
  3. How often do you bill/invoice, and what is included?
  4. How much is your retainer?
  5. Is there a contract? Can I see a copy?
  6. Is your practice of law focused solely on family law?
  7. Can I reach you on the weekend, if it’s an emergency?

    High-Conflict Questions:

  1.  Have you helped parents in high-conflict custody disputes before?  If so, how?
  2.  What do you see as the major challenge in child custody disputes?
  3. How many custody cases have you worked on that have gone to court (as opposed to being settled)?
  4. Do you typically work with expert witnesses?  If so, which ones?  If not, why not?
  5. How do you stay up to date on emerging trends in high-conflict custody disputes?
  6. 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?  
  7. Have you ever handled a case in which my ex-spouse’s lawyer was the opposing counsel?  If so, what was the outcome?
  8. How many cases, or what percentage of cases, have you worked on that involved child protection and/or domestic abuse services and relevant laws?
  9. 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?
  10. How would you make the Judge aware of my husband/wife’s past domestic violence incidents?   
  11. How would you expose false allegations?
  12. 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?
  13. Do you have experience with this Judge in cases like mine?
  14. How do you deal with an ex-spouse who is hiding money?  Refusal of opposing counsel to answer or comply with discovery?
  15. How do you deal with a combative or uncooperative opposing counsel?
  16. 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?
  17. 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;   
  18. 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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