How To Hire A Family Lawyer Staff Profile Picture
Written By:

Family law attorneys can be instrumental in handling important legal matters related to the heart and the home. From birth to marriage and beyond, these legal professionals play an important role in all stages of life. Family law attorneys handle more than three-quarters of a million divorces every year and facilitate more than 135,000 adoptions annually. They also spearhead significant cases related to emerging areas, such as assisted reproductive technology. Lawyers working in this area of practice usually deal with all forms of family-related issues that require legal mediation. These include:

  • Divorce

  • Custody

  • Adoption

  • Asset distribution

  • Alimony

  • Prenuptial agreements

  • Postnuptial agreements

  • Domestic violence

While some legal issues can be handled without consulting an attorney, such as petitioning a court for a name change, others may require a high level of legal support. This is particularly true in child custody cases and contested divorces where the parties face substantial disagreements that are difficult to overcome. Individuals who need legal assistance or want an unbiased opinion from a skilled legal professional can use the information in this guide to find a qualified attorney in their area.

  1. Determine if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney.
  2. Start your search, and look for an attorney with deep experience and a substantial case history in family law.
  3. Check for an attorney's membership in the American Bar Association Section of Family Law.
  4. Schedule an initial consultation, bring these documents, and ask these important questions.
  5. Understand how family lawyers charge for their services and what you can expect to pay.
  6. Be open and honest with your family attorney.

Determine if you qualify for a court-appointed attorney.

Legal aid attorneys are available to individuals who have an income that’s below a specified limit requiring legal assistance. In some states, legal aid is only available for low-income individuals, while in other areas, domestic abuse and family law cases can qualify for legal assistance. Legal aid clinics can be government-funded agencies or nonprofit organizations. If a legal aid attorney is not an option due to income or case specifics, there may be other resources available. You can contact your state bar association for free case reviews as well as information about various legal volunteer organizations. Local law schools may also be able to provide access to low-cost legal assistance.

Start your search, and look for an attorney with deep experience and a substantial case history in family law.

Hiring a family law attorney is an important decision. To ensure the best outcome for your case, you want the most qualified attorney that you can find. Attorney websites can provide helpful information about the firm and its partners. Ideally, websites should demonstrate that family law is the attorney's main practice area and that the individual has substantial experience in this discipline.

  • Family law is a diverse specialization. Working with an attorney who handles divorce, adoption, or estate planning issues regularly gives you the best chance for success.

  • Qualified family law attorneys provide logical, level-headed representation that takes the emotion out of complex legal issues.

  • Experienced attorneys have seen it all, so they can anticipate and prepare for possible challenges and disputes.

  • Veteran attorneys typically work with a team of experienced paralegals, investigators, and third-party professionals who can support the case.

  • Attorneys who are certified in family law must complete continuing education courses to ensure that they're up to date on the latest trends and precedents.

  • Cases are heard in juvenile or family courts that have a limited jurisdiction, so it's important that the attorney is familiar with their protocols.

ExperTip: Divorcing? An attorney may or may not be necessary. Currently, 17 states, including Washington, D.C., have only no-fault divorce, meaning there is no option to allege fault in the divorce case. These divorces are treated as a contract ending rather than the dissolution of a marriage. If couples agree to the terms of a divorce and meet all of the eligibility benchmarks, they can file uncontested no-fault paperwork without an attorney. However, if separating spouses disagree about any element of the divorce, this becomes a contested divorce that could require the intervention of a lawyer, or mediation. If you are dealing with a family conflict or other situation that requires legal paperwork filing, negotiation with another party, or a potential trial, a family lawyer can be a significant asset.

Check for an attorney's membership in the American Bar Association Section of Family Law.

Professional membership associations are an excellent starting point if you want to find the most qualified attorney in your area, and the American Bar Association Section of Family Law is the premier group for lawyers in this specialization. It represents nearly 10,000 professionals who handle cases related to adoption, child custody, divorce, separation, estate planning, and reproductive technologies. Family law specialists have proven that can provide a variety of benefits. For example, members must complete relevant continuing education courses to stay current on the latest policies and precedents, and family law must represent a substantial part of their legal practice. Interested individuals can call the ABA or contact the state bar association to confirm a family law specialist's membership.

Schedule an initial consultation, bring these documents, and ask these important questions.

Scheduling an initial consultation with an attorney is the first step in any family law case. During this meeting, you have an opportunity to explain the situation, ask questions, and receive personalized advice from a seasoned professional. Most family law attorneys offer consultations for free or for a reasonable flat-rate fee. To get the most from this meeting, it's important to make sure that you're adequately prepared. Regardless on the type of case, it's helpful to provide copies of relevant documents.

  • Birth certificates

  • Personal identification

  • Marriage certificates

  • Divorce decrees

  • Prenuptial agreements

  • Tangible evidence, such as proof of adultery

  • Documents from previous legal proceedings

  • Correspondence from adoption agencies

  • Tax returns and financial records

  • Estate planning documents

  • Insurance policies

An initial consultation gives prospective clients a chance to interview attorneys to find the best candidate. Asking the following questions can help you determine whether the lawyer is a good fit for your needs:

  1. Are you state-board certified as a family law specialist?

  2. How long have you been practicing family law?

  3. Is family law your primary practice area?

  4. Who is your typical client?

  5. What types of cases do you normally take?

  6. Will you be handling my case personally?

  7. Are there other ways I may not be familiar with to solve my family conflict?

  8. Have you taken cases similar to this one in the past? If so, what was the outcome?

  9. How long does it take for you to respond to calls or emails on average?

  10. Will you provide me with all documents related to my case?

  11. What do you need from me in order to best handle my case?

  12. What is a fair cost estimate for my case?

After hiring an attorney, additional questions may include:

  • What are the next steps?

  • Do you need anything from me?

  • How is the case progressing?

  • What outcome is realistic right now?

Understand how family lawyers charge for their services and what you can expect to pay.

Family law attorneys typically charge by the hour although they may complete some simple services, such as document preparation or name change petitions, for a flat fee. Average hourly rates range from $225 to $300; however, they can be as low as $85 and as high as $400 depending on geographic location, the lawyer's level of experience, and the type of case.

The complexity of the situation may also influence the level of representation required. For example, a contested divorce will cost more to settle than one where both parties are in agreement on issues such as property division, child custody, or alimony. In addition to lawyer's fees, prospective clients may be responsible for court costs and related expenses. Here's what you can expect to pay for some of the most common family law services.

  • Divorce: $12,000 to $15,000

  • Child Custody: $3,000 to $5,000

  • Adoption: $12,5000 to $40,000

  • Name change: $1,000 to $3,000

  • Prenuptial agreement: $2,500 to $10,000

Be open and honest with your family attorney.

Family law cases can churn up difficult emotions and reveal complex family dynamics. While the process may be uncomfortable, it's important to be 100% honest when communicating with your attorney. If it's a divorce case, your attorney needs to know what the other side might say to ensure that they're completely prepared to respond appropriately. You may be hesitant to tell your lawyer about certain sensitive details concerning your marriage out of embarrassment or shame—for example, maybe you had an affair and you don't want to admit it. In this case, telling your attorney everything will help them best prepare for a hearing, anticipate your ex-spouse's case, and set realistic expectations for a resolution. Additionally, failing to reveal information or providing false information could result in perjury once you take the oath. In extreme situations, attorneys may withdraw representation if they discover that a client has been untruthful, which may cause additional delays and expenses.

Ready to speak to a lawyer? Here is our list of the best family lawyers near you.

Share Staff Profile Picture StaffAuthor

At, we're passionate about guiding people to find the best in life, whether they're researching how to start a small business, planning a home remodeling project, or discovering a new hobby.