I have an ongoing, complicated divorce or custody case. What should I do?

Posted on Sep 18, 2020 by Katie Carter

Divorce and custody cases can be pretty complicated. Though these things can take shape in all sorts of different ways, generally speaking, when we meet with someone who already has a case going on and who is either checking up on the decisions her lawyer is making or is ready to fire her first (or second, or third) lawyer, things are on the more complicated end of the spectrum already.

It’s automatically harder to get involved in a case that’s already in progress than it is to start in on one from the beginning.

There’s no question that, when we see a case that is already in progress, things tend to be a bit more difficult. There are often procedural issues involved — most often, motions to withdraw and orders of substitution — but these cases often tend to be the most difficult.

In complicated divorce and custody cases, things don’t fit the common mold. Unusual things happen. There are more court appearances, and those court appearances last longer, sometimes going into multiple days.

All of this can create a perfect storm, and leave a client doubting a particular attorney’s skill level. As the case builds momentum and more and more things happen, the client can sometimes start to wonder whether it is the attorney allowing things to progress to such a degree.

While attorneys are often accused of promoting conflict in order to pad their billable hours, in my experience, that’s not often the case. Still, this is a feeling that persists (and, of course, understandably — as those attorney’s fees escalate, it’s easy to think that your attorney is sending their kids to college at your expense), and it’s often something that causes people to seek second opinions, or fire their former counsel and retain new counsel.

If you don’t trust your attorney’s advice, you SHOULD seek a second opinion!

Hey, it happens. All sorts of things happen, in fact, in divorce and custody cases. You can imagine why. Sure, a personal injury case is important, especially in the case of catastrophic injury. But it’s just not the same — it’s not you, sitting across a courtroom, from someone you used to love. It’s not you facing irrational, unfair, or damaging allegations that might impact your ability to parent your own children. It’s not seeing everything you ever worked for, every dollar you ever made, painstakingly divided in a way that you may feel is not fair given the power dynamics at play in your marriage.

Even worse, there’s often physical, emotional, or sexual abuse involved — either of you, the spouse, or of your children.

So, yeah, tensions are running high. These are high stakes cases, and it’s not easy to just sit back and trust an attorney. Especially when your feelings are that something is amiss, or that a better attorney would be able to protect you from the tricks your ex is pulling.

While that may or may not be the case, you want to feel as confident as possible in the attorney you’ve chosen and the path your case has taken. I completely understand! If you ever feel that your attorney isn’t advocating effectively for you, or if you’re wondering whether your case would be more adeptly handled by someone else, it’s worth asking questions!

I’m not that confident in my current attorney.  What should I do to prepare to talk to someone else to get their take on my case?

If you’re going to ask questions, though, I’d want to be sure that I was as prepared as possible before I had an appointment with a new attorney. If I had a complicated divorce or custody case, here’s what I’d do before I met with a new attorney:

1. Create a comprehensive narrative of the case.

In some of the crazier cases, it can be hard to see what has happened. A client will come in and say all sorts of bizarre things: “My husband told CPS I was dead, so he got custody!”

That’s the kind of thing that makes an attorney say, “huh?” So, if you’re going to say something like that, bring paperwork to back it up.

Create a timeline of the case and a brief summary of events. Make it detailed enough for the attorney to understand, preferably at a glance. Don’t include so much information that reading it will take up your entire appointment.

Brevity is good — but specificity is important, too.

2. Include relevant exhibits.

If your case is already in court or there are petitions pending, include those petitions. Include them, all of them, and put them in order. You can also reference them in your narrative.

Numbered and organized, please — not a jumbled mess. Remember, we only have an hour in most appointments, and you want to get to advice, too.

Don’t write on the exhibits. I see these things often — with highlights, notes in the margin, or scathing commentary added. It’ll just distract. We just need to see what happened.

3. Bring a list of questions.

It’s easy to forget things in the moment, but it’s a good idea to have a list of questions prepared, so you don’t forget any of the things you want to ask.

4. Be clear what you’re expecting.

Are you there for a second opinion? Are you looking for new representation? I have had several such appointments where I’ve given my opinion on the documents I’ve seen and sent the woman on her way, thinking that’s all she wanted — only to get a call later saying she was upset that I didn’t give a retainer agreement!

Be clear with the attorney; tell her what you’re looking for. If you just want advice, that’s totally fine! If you want another opinion, or want to review something specific, definitely mention that. If you’re looking for a new attorney, that’s fine, too — but you’ll have to be clear.

5. Attend Custody Bootcamp or our divorce seminar.

A great way to check up on your attorney is by attending these seminars! For more information, visit our website, or give us a call at 757-425-5200 to discuss.

For more information, or to request a free copy of our book or schedule a consultation, give our office a call, or visit our website!