Hiring a divorce lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make during the divorce process. Working with a knowledgeable attorney who you trust can help you navigate the numerous legal steps involved in divorce—but they do more than that. The right attorney also can make sure you feel supported during this big life transition and stay focused on your long- and short-term goals.
But what should you do if you’ve hired a lawyer and things aren’t going well? How do you know when—or if—you should find new legal representation?
Five signs it’s time to find a new divorce attorney
Before you consider divorcing your divorce attorney, make sure your expectations and goals for your divorce (and the process itself) are realistic. After all, divorce settlements often require that each party compromises on one issue or another, and unexpected challenges can arise along the way. Bumps in the road usually happen, no matter how well you’ve tried to avoid them. A sign of an experienced attorney is how well they help you weather those bumps to keep on course.
But if any of the signs below sound familiar, it may be time to divorce your divorce attorney.
1. Your attorney doesn’t respond to you
Even an amicable, uncontested divorce can be emotionally challenging. Not knowing where you are in the process will only add to your stress.
It can be hard to rely on your attorney or their advice if they do not:
- Respond to emails, texts, or phone calls generally within 24–48 hours
- Provide how to navigate emergencies when the office is closed
- Give you regular status updates on your case, including consulting with you before communicating with opposing counsel on substantive issues
- Copy you on all court filings, decisions, and correspondence
- Keep scheduled meetings and appointments
Additionally, it’s common for attorneys to get support from junior associates or paralegals—but if the attorney you signed with disappears without any form of communication, transition plan, or explanation, you may not be getting the service you want or deserve.
2. Your attorney doesn’t listen to you
There’s nothing more frustrating than being vulnerable with someone who doesn’t listen to you. If you find that your attorney constantly talks over you in meetings, doesn’t respond to your questions with actual answers or strategic plans, or if you feel they’re trying to confuse you with lots of legal jargon, consider what you really need from your representation.
If you want a settlement you feel good about, or if you want to feel that your goals are being advocated for in court, it’s crucial to have a lawyer who listens to you and is willing to collaborate with you on a strategy for your case.
3. Your attorney doesn’t understand your goals
It’s a red flag if your attorney hasn’t asked about your goals for child custody, child support, spousal support, asset distribution, or any other issues regarding your divorce case. After all, your lawyer can’t advocate for you if they don’t know what’s important to you and why. The conversation should also occur more than once to account for delays in the process and changing life circumstances.
Make sure you are working with someone just as invested in setting you up for a successful future as you are.
4. Your attorney says “yes” to everything you want
Family law cases frequently require compromise. If your attorney is over-promising results, without any talk of risks or vulnerable areas, you may want to take a step back and reassess.
Your attorney is not being realistic with you if they say they can get you everything you want. Instead, they should be helping you establish pragmatic expectations, even when that means telling you difficult-to-hear information.
5. Your attorney only cares about money
We all know that lawyers charge fees for the services they perform and that family law cases are not inexpensive. However, whether you’re paying an hourly rate or a flat fee, remember that cost doesn’t always equal quality. If the amount you’re paying doesn’t reflect the work being performed, or you haven’t been consulted on actions taken in the case that might not be legally necessary to your case, it could be time to reconsider your options.
How to break the news to your current attorney
If you feel your relationship with your attorney is damaged, it’s time to take action. Changing lawyers mid-case isn’t always easy to do, so you need to be organized before taking the following steps.
Think about timing
The feasibility of switching divorce attorneys may depend on your specific situation and where you are in the process. If you’ve just initiated your divorce proceedings or are pursuing mediation, you may not need court approval. However, if you’re in the middle of a divorce trial, you may need to seek approval from the judge to switch counsel, which can cause issues, including delays and potentially causing prejudice in your case.
Each divorce case is fact-specific and unique to our clients. As such, it’s important to have an honest conversation with a new potential attorney about where you are at in your legal case and what changing attorneys might mean for you.
Be upfront and honest
Remember, your attorney can’t make any changes if they don’t know that some changes need to be made. If you think there’s a chance your working relationship can be salvaged, have an honest conversation (in person and in writing) about your concerns and give them an opportunity to make the necessary changes.
If, however, you’re ready to move on, you need to provide clear and concise communication detailing your reasons for severing the partnership.
Keep a paper trail
Before you send a letter of termination to your current counsel, review your engagement letter or retainer agreement to ensure you follow the appropriate steps for ending your contract.
Your termination letter should include a formal request that they stop working on your case immediately, transfer all case files to you or your new counsel, and send you a final bill.
Keep copies of all your correspondence with your attorney.
Consult an experienced divorce attorney in New Jersey
Is it time to divorce your divorce attorney? The team at Jacobs Berger is here to help you make the switch.
Make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team today.