4 Things to Consider When Choosing a Contested Divorce Lawyer

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Divorce, Family Law

1. Are they experienced in divorce law?

When I started practicing law in 2005, it was common for solo practitioners and small law firms to be “threshold lawyers,” as in, they took any case that came across the threshold of the front door of their office! 

That might mean they handle a little bit of criminal law, probate, termite claims, car wrecks, real estate disputes, small business litigation, debt collection, bankruptcy, and, yes, divorce.  Have you ever heard the expression “jack of all trades but master of none?”  It is really hard to be truly excellent or even proficient in that many areas of law. 

That is why we here at Herlihy Family Law focus our practice exclusively on divorce and other family law matters.

Many decades ago, Alabama was known as a place you could get a so-called quickie divorce.  Your lawyer could type up a very basic agreement and carry it personally to the judge the same day! 

Those days are long over, and divorce is much more complex than it used to be.  Your lawyer must be well-versed in both statutes and case authority that apply to alimony, child support calculation and modification, different types of child custody and its modification, division of retirement plans and other assets, how domestic violence and other types of fault can impact and outcome of your case, and more. 

Your divorce lawyer needs to know how your divorce case may interact with other parts of the legal system, such as criminal law or bankruptcy, if those issues apply to you. 

Not only does your lawyer need to be well-versed in the law, they need to be familiar with the judges that will hear your case so they can make strategic decisions on what evidence to present, what relief you might be able to obtain, and whether it is advisable to settle or try your case.  If your lawyer handles one or two divorces a year, they are not going to be in a good position to do that.


2. What are their communication practices?

Lawyer have an ethical duty to adequately communicate with their clients.  I am currently serving my second term on the Mobile Bar Association’s grievance committee, and I would say that poor communication is involved with the majority of ethics complaints that we see filed against lawyers.


When you have an initial consultation with your possible divorce lawyer, ask these questions:


How will your office send me copies of motions and court orders in my case? 

Believe it or not, some lawyers still mail everything, which means you will not find out about an important development in your case until a week after it happens.  If there is a safety issue or something else emergent going on in your divorce, you need to know as soon as possible. 


Who in their office are you supposed to communicate with and about what? 

If you have questions on how to provide copies of documents or you need to verify when your court date is, those are the types of questions that are handled by paralegals or other support staff.  In the long run, it is going to save you a lot of money if your lawyer is not answering those types of questions themselves.

When it comes to substantive and strategic decisions, such as whether to accept a settlement offer, those are the types of matters you need to discuss with your divorce lawyer.  If you ask to communicate with or meet with your lawyer about something substantive like that, and you are not allowed to schedule a meeting with your lawyer, that is a red flag.


How will your office communicate with me? 

All legal representation is confidential, but divorce cases frequently involve especially sensitive information and confidential records.  You want to make sure that your lawyer is safeguarding all information that is relayed between you and their office. 

At Herlihy Family Law, we send and receive communications and records from you and to you via a secure messaging portal, much like you may have seen at your doctor’s office.  Anytime you need to discuss something more complicated, you can always schedule a call or an in-person appointment. 

We want to make sure your concerns are heard, your information is safe, and you have the access you need to your legal team.


3. Are the billing processes transparent?

You want to make sure that your divorce lawyer’s retainer agreement clearly explains their billing processes to you on the front end.  If there is no written retainer agreement or employment contract, you should be very concerned. 


If your divorce lawyer has you pay them thousands of dollars and never tells you where it is going, or how much more your case might cost, you should be very concerned. 


At Herlihy Family Law, we bill the majority of our cases on an hourly basis.  Every month you will get an itemized bill showing how much of your retainer fee has been used and how much is left.  You know exactly how your money is being sent, so you can ask any questions you might have as you go.  


4) Do they have your best interests in mind?

Your divorce lawyer (hopefully) has knowledge and experience in divorce law that you do not have, so you should certainly give their opinion and advice serious weight and consideration. 

That being said, this is your life!  All final decisions on substantive matters in the case (i.e whether to settle or try your case) are your decisions, and your lawyer should honor that.  If you feel they are pressuring you to do things you do not feel right about, that is not a good sign. 

If they will not answer your questions and just pat you on the head and tell you to let them handle it, that is not a good sign either.  If you and your spouse have a good relationship and you have reached an agreement that is well-informed and fair, but your lawyer tries to force you to take your case to trial so they can charge you more money, that is not a good sign either. 


You need to feel confident that your divorce lawyer is working to promote your best interests and not out of their own agenda or some other motivation.


At Herlihy Family Law we strive to provide all of the above and more with honesty, advocacy, and service to all of our clients.  If you are in need of a divorce consultation, call our office or request a meeting via our website. 

Divorce is one of the toughest life experiences out there, and we are here for you.



Author: Alison Herlihy

Family law attorney Alison Herlihy is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Alison has engaged in the private practice of family law since 2005, focusing primarily on domestic relations, divorce and child support, child custody law, adoption law, juvenile, probate practice, and wills.

Alison Baxter Herlihy earned the prestigious AV Preeminent peer review rating from Martindale-Hubbell, which recognizes attorneys for the highest levels of legal ability and professional ethical standards. Alison is a certified Guardian Ad Litem. In 2015, Alison became a Registered Mediator on the Alabama State Court Mediator Roster, in both general and domestic relations mediation.