Six Things Your Family Lawyer Wants You to Know

Parenting sometimes requires a court order and a family lawyer.

This isn’t something anyone ever imagines when they first think about having a baby, or when they first get married — but it’s real life. 

I’ve been practicing family law for almost 10 years.

Family law encompasses divorces, child custody, adoption, child support, you name it. And I can’t say I’ve seen it all, because every case is different. However, there are a few things that everyone should know, regardless of where they live, or what kind of case they might be involved in.   

Six Things to Know: From a Family Lawyer

1. Don’t Be Embarrassed

Hiring an attorney might be a situation you never wanted to find yourself in — that’s okay!

I know that when you meet with someone, you generally want to present the best side of yourself. It’s easy to not tell the full story, especially when you are embarrassed or regret your actions. Just know that your attorney will not judge you, and your attorney needs to know all of the information.

My job for my clients is to achieve the best outcome for their particular case, and to do that, I need to know everything. And I would rather have too much information and edit it down than to have to constantly follow up to get what I need.     

2. Find a Good Fit

If you feel embarrassed to talk to your attorney and don’t want to tell them what they need to know, perhaps it’s not the best fit.

There are so many attorneys out there. It’s important to find someone you click with. It is so important to have an attorney you can talk with, because in family law you will share your most intimate details. Also, you will be working closely with support staff. Make sure that it feels like a good fit overall.

And don’t hesitate to reach out for another opinion. A family law case can take over a year from start to finish. So, you are entering into a potentially long relationship with your attorney.  

Make sure it’s a good fit financially.

Hiring an attorney is a big investment. Once you find someone you like, it’s time to ask the financial questions. Sometimes paying a smaller retainer isn’t always better.  What is your attorney’s hourly rate? Does your attorney outsource work to a legal assistant to cut down on costs? It’s important to get the full picture of what you’re entering into.    

3. Documenting is Key

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Have documentation of every allegation you want to make. Often times, when children are involved, it turns into a “he said/she said” situation. Do you have screenshots of text messages? Social media posts? This goes to another level when finances are involved, such as in a divorce proceeding.

Also, it’s important to know where everything is — bank accounts, credit cards, loans, etc. And if you don’t know what your spouse has, your attorney has ways to help you out. 

4. Swallow your Pride

This one is easier said than done. More often than not, both sides have hurt feelings during a divorce or custody dispute. Although it might be uncomfortable for you, try to do what is truly best for your child(ren).     

5. Settling Outside of Court

When you first think about filing a case, or hiring a family lawyer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you imagine yourself in a courtroom, like on a TV drama?

Thankfully, think again. Many cases never reach the level of both parties arguing in front of a judge. Most cases settle outside of court — either through negotiation between attorneys, or at mediation. At mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) goes back and forth between the two parties and helps them reach a decision that everyone can live with. In North Dakota, there is a program where basically every case dealing with a minor child gets six free hours with a mediator.     

6. Do It Right the First Time

This is really the number one thing to know. I know that going through a divorce or custody dispute is emotional and you just want to get it over with. However, if the kids are young and you sign off on a terrible agreement, it will be hard to fix later on.

You cannot have too many details included in your judgment — if you think that you and the opposing party will get along and work it out, you wouldn’t be going through this dispute in the first place. 

People constantly come to our office to get something fixed after going a cheaper route, or not vocalizing what they really wanted the first time around. You will end up paying probably three times the amount to fix an issue, and modifying a judgment requires you to meet a much higher standard than just doing it right the first time around. 

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Anna is a Fargo native and currently practices family law. She lives in Fargo with her husband William, Goldendoodle Rory, and two children, Kensington and West. Anna is passionate about building connections in motherhood, because she didn't realize how much she needed other moms around her until she became one herself. In her free time, she enjoys cycling classes, yoga, reading, and the Green Bay Packers (even though they break her heart every year). Anna's guilty pleasures include Bravo reality TV and a good glass of Prosecco.


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