Interviewing Family Law Attorneys? Key Questions You Will Want to Ask

Jan 22, 2024
women family law divorce

Hilary Purtell Contributor 

I write about family law best practices and divorce in Massachusetts. 

Navigating family court can be an emotionally charged and legally complex process. Whether you are facing divorce, child custody disputes, or other family-related legal matters, choosing the right family law attorney is paramount. A skilled and knowledgeable attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. But how do you know who to hire? Asking around and gathering references is recommended, but relying on word of mouth alone to hire an attorney without properly vetting them first could have a lasting impact on both you and your family.

To make a thoughtful and informed decision, prepare a list of interview questions for your initial consultation with an attorney. Our members have learned much about the legal process over the years and have compiled a list of questions to share with you that they wish they had known to ask before entering into a binding legal contract with their attorney.

Qualifications and Experience

Family law is a specialized field, and you want an attorney who has a solid track record of handling cases similar to yours. Inquire about their years of practice, specific cases they've handled and their success rate in achieving favorable outcomes for their clients. Every family court case is different, and each attorney brings their own skillset to litigation; depending on your specific needs, it may be beneficial to work with an attorney who specializes in the area relevant to your case.

  • How long have you been a family law attorney?

  • What experience do you have trying family court cases versus other matters?

  • Have you had experience with my ex’s attorney and if so, what was the outcome?

  • How often do you advocate for the higher earner and/or the party seeking support?

  • What are the most recent support guidelines that relate to my case?

  • How many cases have you settled versus those that went to trial?

  • Have you ever tried a case before my Judge (for cases already docketed) and if so, were you successful?

  • In what jurisdictions have you tried cases and what Judges have you practiced before in my jurisdiction?

  • Have you ever filed an appeal on a ruling? What was the outcome?

  • What is your experience dealing with cases involving addiction, domestic violence/coercive control?

Fees and Billing

Discuss the attorney's fee structure and payment options upfront. Some attorneys charge hourly rates while others work on a flat fee or contingency basis. These questions will set the financial expectations and prevent surprises, especially if your case is complex or drags on.

  • What is your hourly fee?

  • What are the minimum increments used in your billing?

  • How much do you charge to read an email that contains one paragraph or a court date?

  • Do you charge for emails or texts regarding the scheduling of our meetings and hearings?

  • At what rate are travel expenses billed?

  • Do you delegate work to associates at a lower fee?

  • Can you explain the potential costs and timeframes to litigate my case?

  • What is the average cost of going to trial?

  • How can I help reduce legal fees? 

  • How often will I be billed?

  • How often do you require retainers be replenished?

  • Do you accept credit cards for payment and is there a fee for this?

  • Do you apply interest charges on fees not paid by a certain date?

  • Who do I speak with if there is a discrepancy on my bill?

  • May I take a few days to look over your contract before signing?

Communication and Availability

Another important topic for discussion with an attorney is communication. Define your expectations upfront. Find out who you will be communicating with during the process and when to expect an answer. You will need to know how and when the attorney’s staff will be involved in your case. Establishing clear expectations can prevent misunderstandings and frustrations later as the case progresses.

  • What part of the process do you handle personally?

  • What aspects of my case will you delegate to someone in your firm?

  • Will I have regular meetings, receive email updates, or have access to an online portal to track my case?

  • When will I receive an answer to my emails?

  • Who will draft my financial statement for the court?

  • Would you include and/or forward me any correspondence with opposing counsel?

  • Will I be included in all meetings and calls with the opposing counsel?

  • Will other firm staff join meetings or hearings?

  • Is there any circumstance that would compel you to withdraw as my attorney?

Legal Strategy and Approach

Family law firms’ approach to litigation, including discovery, subpoenas, settlement negotiations, hearings and appeals can vary. While attorneys must follow basic procedural rules, most experienced attorneys have developed their own strategy to navigate their way through the system using various methods and tactics to win their cases. Experienced attorneys are skilled at manipulating the process to their desired outcome, often testing the boundaries to see what Judges will allow. Ask questions to learn how the attorney will likely argue your case, and then decide if you are comfortable with his or her approach.

  • What strategy have you used in the past for cases that are similar to mine?

  • What is the biggest challenge of my case?

  • How do you handle discovery if the other side is non-compliant?

  • Given both parties income, ages, children ages; what type of support would you seek?

  • Do you think we will need a third-party expert to get involved?

  • How do you handle conflict or questionable tactics from the opposing counsel? 

  • How would you handle a judge who favors the other side?

  • How aggressive of an advocate will you be in court?

  • How do you typically handle custody arrangements?

  • How do you handle modifications to child custody or support agreements?

  • Would you request an advance for attorney’s fees from my ex if needed to proceed?

Coercive Control Cases

Cases including domestic abuse (violence, emotional abuse, coercive control) are often high conflict. Ask the attorney about their approach to handling high-conflict cases and how they would advocate for you effectively. Coercive control is a serious issue in family law, and it often leads to litigation abuse, another form of control by the ex-partner.

It is crucial to choose an attorney who understands this form of abuse and can effectively address it. When hiring a family law attorney to handle your case make sure you feel comfortable with their approach. It could be a very complicated, emotionally charged matter and impact both you and your children.

  • How do you recognize coercive control in family law cases?

  • What legal options are available to protect my safety and that of my family?

  • Will you collaborate with mental health professionals or support services?

  • What steps will you take to protect my safety and privacy?

  • Will you advocate for virtual meetings with the opposing side?

  • Have you had a similar case to mine and was there a settlement?

Third Party Experts

It is also very important to ask what other third-party experts the attorney typically uses to support their cases, particularly when there are children involved, such as matters that may require a Parent Coordinator or a GAL (guardian ad litem). In addition to knowing what other fees you may incur, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the expert's role and how their involvement will impact your case.

  • If you use other outside experts, who are they?

  • How will the expert’s work be used in court?

  • Do you have in-depth knowledge about GAL requirements and procedures?

  • Do you have specific Parent Coordinators you recommend if my case needs one?

  • Do you have in-house tax specialists of forensic accountants?

  • How will you collaborate with the expert during the process?

  • Can I meet with or consult with the expert personally?

  • How will the expert’s fees be managed or shared?

Expertise and Conflicts

If your case involves unique circumstances such as complex property division or international custody disputes, inquire whether the attorney has any specialized expertise or additional qualifications that could be beneficial in your situation. Discuss the attorney's availability to take on your legal matter and their ability to meet the deadlines that will be related to your case. Lastly, confirm whether they have any potential conflicts of interest or other commitments that could impact their availability to represent you effectively.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

In your initial consultation, we suggest you explore whether the attorney is open to alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, collaborative law or conciliation. These types of services can often provide a less adversarial and more cost-effective way to resolve family law disputes, and some attorneys encourage these methods while others may not.

  • Are you open to alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation, conciliation or collaborative law?


There may not be enough time to ask every question, but the more ground you cover the better informed your decision will be. Getting sufficient answers before you sign a contract (and yes, always sign a contract!) can not only help prevent future misunderstandings or conflicts, but the information can also serve as a guide to how your case will be settled or presented in court. You will learn a lot about your case during the interview process, including certain legalities and pitfalls that you may not have been aware of. Take notes, or even better, bring a friend or family member with you to take notes for you. It will be a lot to process.

Remember to articulate what outcome you are looking for and make your financial situation clear. Whoever you choose to speak to will be conflicted out as a choice for your ex-partner (he will not be able to hire that attorney). This may work to your advantage.

After you make your decision, read the retainer agreement carefully. Watch out for short due dates, interest charges, and if the attorney can force a lien or mortgage on your home if you do not pay fees.  Also, carefully read the language that explains all circumstances relating to the attorney withdrawing from your case. These and other contractual details are important to know up front, as they will be much more difficult to address later should you have an issue with your attorney down the road.

The attorney-client relationship is the most important factor driving the outcome of your family law case. You will need your attorney to be your staunch ally and advocate.  An attorney worthy of you as a client will understand his or her responsibility - which is to educate, openly communicate, collaborate and guide you to make thoughtful and informed decisions that achieve the best possible outcome.  


Hilary Purtell Contributor 

I am a professional actor, voice talent, on camera host, and co-director of non-profit Jane Does Well Organization’s Education and Advocacy Committee.