Family law is one of the most complicated and difficult-to-navigate legal arenas. Family law generally involves one of the following:
- Divorce. The most common type of family law case. Every marriage’s worst nightmare is death by divorce. Yet according to the CDC, every year, about 18,000 marriages in the Colorado end in exactly this manner—roughly 48%. With divorce comes many other considerations; if there are children, there’s custody and child support to consider. Alimony may be involved, too.
- Paternity. Either parent can request a family court verify their child’s paternity. This permanently, legally establishes who is (or isn’t) that child’s father.
- Child Custody. A vast legal area, custody determines who oversees taking care of a minor. There are differences between legal custody and physical custody, and custody includes provisions on visitation schedules and child support.
- Protection Orders. Victims of domestic violence can petition the court to protect them from their abuser. Domestic violence and divorce are frequently intertwined.
- Name Changes. Children or adults are allowed to change their name for a multitude of reasons through a name change case.
- Parental Termination/Adoption. In serious cases, children can be removed from their parents’ care for reasons such as abandonment, abuse, or neglect. In the reverse, someone can become a child’s legal parent through adoption.
Many types of cases are considered family law, and it can be hard to know which divorce attorney is best for you—which is why when seeking a family law attorney, the most important thing to find is the right attorney for your particular case. Attorneys come from all walks and have differing levels of experience and expertise in family law; your case is unique to you and your family.
For a simplified comparison, it’s like finding a babysitter. The ideal babysitter would have experience watching children the same age as yours. You might also want a candidate within your budget, who has the availability you need, and has recommendations from other parents like yourself. It’s hardly different with a lawyer. You want someone with experience on cases like yours, who isn’t going to break the bank, is able to give your case the time and attention it needs, and comes with the endorsement of previous clients.
At Robinson and Henry, a whole team of family law attorneys work on divorce, custody, alimony, child support, and asset division. Their combined experience is a deep pool of knowledge and resources that’s available to you when preparing your case; moreover, our attorneys are focused entirely on practicing law. They aren’t managing payrolls, answering phones all day, or managing the inevitable business considerations of being on their own. With plenty of support staff, Robinson and Henry’s attorneys are poised to focus their undivided attention on your case.
Finding Good Representation
First and foremost, the success of a family law attorney is based on their integrity. Honesty about the facts of the case as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your position is critical. An attorney who will manage your expectations rationally and plainly should be much preferred over one who might give false hope or expectations. A falsely optimistic attorney will lead you directly into disaster.
Indeed, the best family lawyers are ethical. They don’t advise their clients to do unethical things to gain an edge in a case, and don’t do ethically wrong things themselves. According to the American Bar Association, family law receives more legal ethics complaints than any other legal practice. Family law attorneys are often given charge over their clients’ finances, and have to make hard decisions that affect people’s lives for better and for worse. People of morals and integrity are also the most passionate advocates for their clients, and it’s usually not hard to find someone who will independently advocate for their character and the results it gets.
Second, your attorney should be a good communicator. There’s going to be a lot of information to sift through as your case progresses. There will be deadlines to meet, and important actions you need to complete. Make sure you find someone who translates “legalese” into something you can understand; you probably didn’t go to law school, they did, and they should communicate with you accordingly. Don’t hesitate to expect clear communication from your legal representation at all times.
Third (and oft-overlooked, unfortunately), you need to find someone empathetic. Family law is an especially down-to-earth legal practice area. It deals with and affects the lives of real people. The decisions made can have life-long consequences (and usually do) for multiple individuals—heartbreak, animosity, conflict, suffering, and despair are common emotions in a family law case. A cold, unfeeling attorney whose sole focus is on the tasks of your case is not what you need—a truly skilled lawyer focuses on the people who rely on her to do what’s best for them. She’ll understand what you’re going through, and help you get through the inevitable emotions you must face. Attorneys are people too, and the best family law attorneys take ownership not only of the legal aspects of their clients’ cases, but the human costs as well.
The best family lawyers are also patient. Your family is already going through an emotional and difficult time. It is normal for you to lose control once and a while, considering what you’re facing—your lawyer, on the other hand, should be your counsel. Prudent counsel is calm, collected, and stoic in the face of attack, obstacles, or difficulties. The best family law attorneys you’ll find are compassionate without being hotheaded, and you should be able to rely on him to keep it together if or when you can’t.
Next, you need representation with experience. Family law is fraught with the unknown, because every single case is unique. An attorney can practice family law for 50 years and they won’t have “seen it all,” but a team of attorneys might have that many years or more between them, and are more likely to have seen something similar to your case. Experienced family law attorneys also have invaluable litigation skills. They know what documents and motions to submit and how to prepare them. Believe it or not, many family law cases are decided on by the judge before you even walk into court—and that decision will be based on the paperwork submitted. Make sure you get attorneys who, between them, have plenty of experience with document preparation.
Finally, you should find representation with plenty of support. A family law attorney may have all of the traits listed already, but if they are constantly tied up answering calls, with other clients, and are unable to give you their full time and attention, then your case will suffer. Though your chosen attorney won’t constantly be available to answer your questions, they should have support staff and colleagues available in case of emergency. This is why a firm is often the best choice to represent your interests; lawyers with a firm like Robinson and Henry focus only on practicing law; they don’t deal with the day-to-day running of a solo law firm, and between them, they possess a deep well of experience and availability for your unique case.
Signs of an Unsuitable Family Lawyer/Firm
Nobody can be perfect, but there are some signs to watch out for that indicate your legal representation isn’t right for the job (and thus should be changed). Most offer free consultations, and you should take advantage of this to determine whether a particular attorney or firm is going to be a good fit for you.
The critical problem with many “bad” lawyers is that they have too much going on. Do they answer their phone? If not, do they return your calls in a reasonable time-frame? Having support staff, like receptionists, is a good sign too. Your potential attorney should be able to talk to you when you need them. Not answering e-mails is, similarly, a bad sign that the attorney has too much on their plate.
If your attorney misses a deadline, watch out. If missing a deadline was your fault, it’s understandable (though still not great), but you most likely have obligations and a life outside of your legal case to deal with, in addition to the matters of your family law case. Your attorney, on the other hand, is practicing law as their profession. If they miss a court-appointed deadline, it’s a bad sign that they are overworked, stressed, or otherwise allowing fundamental things to slip through their fingers. Don’t stick with incompetent representation.
Some attorneys will say anything to get you as their client. Be wary of any lawyer who promises you a certain outcome in your case, no matter how likely that outcome seems. It’s unprofessional of them to guarantee you anything, because the outcomes of cases aren’t decided by them.
Strange or incomprehensible billing practices should also raise a red flag for you. Make sure you understand what is expected of you as a client, and carefully read any agreements before signing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. You should be as fully prepared as possible before choosing a family law attorney.
Robinson and Henry is a firm built on the knowledge of what pitfalls to avoid and which practices are best to embody for a successful law firm. Understanding the complex, deep, and sensitive nature of family law, R&H has established a whole team of experienced, skilled, and empathetic attorneys who come poised to handle every case with care and understanding.