Family Law

What to Expect From a Divorce Lawyer

By Amy Castillo, J.D., University of Minnesota School of Law
No matter how simple or complex your case may be, you can expect certain services from your divorce lawyer.

Developing an Overall Plan

After gathering basic information about you and your spouse, your divorce lawyer should explain the general plan of attack for your case. This discussion will allow your attorney to explain the pros and cons of the overall approach and afford you the opportunity to agree or disagree with the plan. If you agree with some or all aspects of the plan, your lawyer can explain other options and tell you whether they’re suited to your case.

Staying in Contact

Your divorce lawyer should stay in touch with you as the case proceeds, whether through face-to-face meetings, correspondence, or phone calls. In most cases, your lawyer will keep you up-to-date through some combination of these methods. However, when attorneys know their clients are cash-strapped, they may opt for more written correspondence and phone calls, because these are less expensive than face-to-face meetings. Your lawyer should also respond to all of your calls, emails, and letters in a timely fashion and update you about major developments in your case. You should never feel confused or out of the loop.

Your lawyer should also maintain contact with your spouse or your spouse’s attorney, if your spouse is represented by counsel.

Attempting to Settle

The reality is that the vast majority of divorce cases settle out of court, without that hassle of an expensive trial. Your lawyer should be working diligently with the other side to try and fashion a settlement that meets everyone’s needs, so you can avoid a financially and emotionally costly trial.

Advising You About Expenses

Divorce lawyers should keep their clients informed about the cost of the case with regular billing statements. Lawyers should also advise their clients about the cost of the case relative to the strategy being used. You may find that you’re unwilling to pay for one course of action that’s comparatively expensive, but you’re happy to pay for something less expensive that will achieve a similar result.

Pursuing Discovery

Discovery is the method by which divorce lawyers obtain information about your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Each state has an extensive set of rules that govern discovery by stating what lawyers can ask for and do in their attempt to gather information. Lawyers can serve discovery by sending interrogatories (written requests for information) to the other side or by subpoenaing them for depositions. This is known as formal discovery.

Good lawyers will frequently try to reduce your costs by pursuing informal discovery, meaning that they will pick up the phone or send a letter to the other side and just request the information.

Telling You the Hard Truth

There’s no such thing as an ideal world. The painful reality is that in a divorce case, no one gets everything they want. Sacrifices have to be made. You should expect your lawyer to prepare you for this by explaining the cold, hard facts to you. Perhaps you’d like to have your children full-time, but your spouse can’t pay for both child support and alimony. Or perhaps you want to keep your pension and also take one-half of your spouse’s retirement plan, but the law doesn’t permit it. A good lawyer will explain relevant divorce laws and how they apply to your case, so you can have realistic expectations: This will help you understand that if you go to court, a judge must follow certain rules and can't just give you everything you want.

Preparing for Trial

Going to trial is the worst case scenario in a divorce. But it’s always a possibility, especially if the other side is stubborn or won’t cooperate in settlement efforts. Your lawyer should proceed with your case according to the overall plan and be prepared for trial, just in case.

A divorce lawyer shouldn’t be caught off guard if the other side wants to battle it out in court. Similarly, your attorney shouldn’t be afraid to demand a trial if the other side is being unreasonable. You can also expect your lawyer to explain courtroom procedures.

If you must go to trial, the attorneys will hopefully be able to work together to narrow the issues, so that the judge doesn’t have to decide your entire divorce case. For example, perhaps you'll end up going to trial to determine how to divide your property, but you were able to settle all other issues, including alimony and child custody.

If you have specific questions about your case, you should contact a local divorce attorney.

Have a divorce question?
Get answers from local attorneys.
It's free and easy.
Ask a Lawyer

Get Professional Help

Find a Divorce lawyer
Practice Area:
Zip Code:
How It Works
  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Connect with local attorneys

Talk to a Divorce attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you