Thursday, January 08, 2004


To begin I decided to type divorce and custody in Google and see what site popped up first. The first listing was DivorceSource which I remember attempting to use several times. I am going to try to tell you what I found helpful in this site and what (in my opinion) you should avoid.

To start, when this custody battle began, the divorce had been finalized for over a year. This is just to say that we never needed help with the divorce so quite possibly someone facing a divorce and custody case simultaneously might find this site more useful.

In my opinion, this site is designed to get you to pay for information. There are some free resources but they are in no way comprehensive. You can use this site to help you find information elsewhere. For instance, if you see a particular book of interest, go find it at your public library. The available forms on the site can also be located at a library where you can make photocopies to utilize for personal use. Bookstores also stock do-it-yourself legal books and forms. If you are looking for a lawyer referral there are far better places to start. If you know anyone in your area who has gone through a similar process ask about their attorney and their spouse's attorney. Ask as many people as you can and see if the same name pops up repeatedly. If this is not possible, the American Bar Association has an area on their website for public information. You can access lawyer locater, legal aid and research through their website. This is a free service to locate a lawyer in good standing with the bar and in your area. Link to the ABA

In my county there is a local chapter of the ABA and they also offer a lawyer referral program. If you receive a referral through this chapter you are allowed a free 1/2 hour introductory visit. You can utilize this service for as many attorneys as you are referred. This is a good way to get a feel for an attorney before you have to start paying them. You want to hire someone you feel comfortable with in personality, methodology and knowledge of family law. Try to look in your phone book for your local chapter of the ABA or search online (I prefer Google) using your county, state and the terms bar association. Each state also has their own bar association so if you are unable to find one for your county, start with the state.

Your local chapter of the bar association should also be able to provide information on legal aid if you are unable to afford an attorney. Know, however, that the requirements of legal aid are very strict and only a limited number of people qualify for assistance. Most likely you will have to hire your own attorney. This will not be cheap. If you look for a cheap attorney you will get what you pay for. I know this process can be astronomically expensive, believe me, but you have to weigh the costs.

Many attorney's will require a retainer fee upfront and this may be several thousand dollars. Be prepared to hear this. What they are effectively telling you is that custody cases in particular have a tendency to draw out for extremely long periods of time. They need to know up front that you have the capacity to pay for the long haul if necessary. Your retainer will be placed in an account through which the attorney will effectively pay himself. You should be sent copies of the bills indicating for what and how much that attorney is billing you. After the retainer runs out, your attorney will either begin to bill you directly or ask that you provide another lump sum as a retainer. If you are billed directly, request that you be billed frequently so you can pay in smaller sums and so your bill never adds up to something you find unmanageable. If there is any money left over from your retainer after your case is finalized, your attorney should give that money back to you. In my area the average cost for an attorney is between $150 - $200 an hour.

Even with an expensive attorney there are ways to keep your costs down. To do this you will have to try and do as much of the legwork as possible for your attorney. If you can, until you go to court, utilize the attorney to do only the legal things that you are unable to do. Do your own research and have your own objectives in your mind. Obviously you need to discuss with your attorney to make sure you are on the correct path, but try to take as much initiative as possible. Don't call your attorney with every question that comes to mind, try and research the answer yourself. Ask your attorney what you should or could be doing to help your case.

The attorney's listed on DivorceSource have most likely paid to be listed on the web site. As a general rule (and I am sure this is not always the case) truly effective attorneys do not have to advertise. Use word of mouth and the bar association for help, do not hire the first attorney you see with a commercial or a full page ad in the phone book.

As for the rest of DivorceSource, I pretty much never used the site. Although it appears you can access state specific information, it is very generalized and almost always leads you to a link to pay for more complete info. I would say the little free information can be accessed elsewhere and in a much more comprehensive form. And I personally have never been fond of reading through pages of bulletin board postings to try and find something useful. You can access some case law, but there are much easier ways to do this as well. I'll talk about this site on a later post but try lexisone if you are looking for case law. You have to register but it is free.

If you have a different experience with DivorceSource or have at least found it useful in some specific capacity, please let me know and I will gladly post that information. To see for yourself link to DivorceSource


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