Why your divorce attorney may not be fighting your case and what to do about it
Many years ago, in a galaxy far away…well, actually…a few decades ago, in another country, someone we know was embroiled in a divorce action against a husband who had, by his own admission, become involved in another relationship. A rock-solid case for the wife, you might think. The husband was a judge and a former attorney in the area. He was also not universally popular in his community or his industry, as he had a habit of provoking people. The wife hired the best lawyer she could afford, and her attorney relished the idea of going up against “the judge”. However, while the judge may not have been universally popular, he was not entirely without friends and supporters, and he was able to hire the best in the business, due to the financial concessions his attorney was willing to make to be able to claim “the judge” as his client. The stature of the husband’s counsel made the wife’s attorney incredibly nervous and, while he did his best, it’s fair to say that he did not truly fight for her.
The purpose of this cautionary tale? What if your divorce lawyer doesn’t seem to be fighting for you? What might be the reason(s) and what can you do about it? What qualities should you look for in an excellent divorce lawyer?
Are you sure?
Some legal processes are cut and dried. If you are drawing up a business contract, you need an attorney who knows contract law and, while undoubtedly the contract is important to you, you are unlikely to be as emotionally invested as you are in your divorce. Very few life events are as traumatic as divorce. So your relationship with your divorce lawyer is complex. On the one hand, their job is to represent your legal interests. On the other hand, it’s impossible to separate your legal interests from your personal ones. Therefore it’s forgivable if you project your anxiety and distress onto your legal representative. Your own eagerness to resolve your circumstances and move on may make you think your lawyer is not fighting hard enough for you. But before you jump to any conclusions, take a step back and assess the situation. Why do you feel this way? Have you spoken to your lawyer about the pace of the case and the strategy they are following? It may be that you are simply not aligned in your thinking, and a frank discussion may resolve your concerns.
Reasons for underperformance
If this discussion does not reassure you and you are still uneasy about your attorney’s commitment to your case, there are a number of reasons why they may genuinely not be fighting as hard for you as they could.
Lack of experience in family law
Perhaps you have consulted with the lawyer who drew up your will, or handled your house purchase, or helped your brother out of a sticky situation with the police. You know the firm, they know you, and it was an obvious choice. But how experienced are they in divorce and family law? While many firms list “divorce” among their areas of practice, if they don’t have genuine expertise in family law they may be operating beyond their comfort zone. At SD Law, we are experts in divorce and family law. The number of complex cases we have successfully resolved enables us to represent you with confidence and skill. There is very little in the field of family law we haven’t seen.
Lack of time for you
Some firms take on every case that comes their way, regardless of capacity. Busy law firms will inevitably prioritise higher-profile and more lucrative cases. If you and your husband have modest assets, you may find you join the back of the queue. We won’t take on a case if we don’t have the resources to devote to it. We make sure every client receives equal time and attention, relative to the complexity of the case. You will never be an also-ran with us.
Unwillingness to go up against the other side
Cases like the wife of the judge are rare. It’s more likely that an attorney knows the reputation of the opposing counsel, not the opposing client. It can happen that the other side’s law firm is a daunting opponent. But if your lawyer has concerns about your spouse’s attorney, it is more likely to be because they know the other side’s strengths and weaknesses and want to be assured of the best approach for a successful outcome. Adversarial litigation is not in anyone’s interests, and in divorce cases only ramps up the stress and pain. We try to avoid confrontational actions and are strong advocates of mediated divorce. But if the opposition insists on a fight, we will meet them head on.
Fear of losing the case
Lawyers like to win, and may not relish a case they’re not confident they can win. If your lawyer is afraid of losing, they may not fully commit. At SD Law, the only winner who matters to us is the client. We want you to reach a divorce agreement that fulfils your requirements, gives you the financial means to move on with your life, respects your dignity, and closes a chapter in your life, so that you can start writing the next one. We are not “shark” lawyers out to win at all costs. If your lawyer is more concerned with their victory than yours, it may be time to find another lawyer.
You are entitled to select a new attorney, just as you can ask for a second medical opinion. Be aware that it may cost you a bit more in the end. Your original lawyer is entitled to be paid for the work they have done. In the first instance, talk to them. You may be able to resolve your differences. But if you feel the rapport is not there and you’d be more comfortable with a different attorney, that’s your prerogative. You can ask your lawyer for their opinion on who else you should hire. Then contact the new lawyer and set up a meeting. Ask your original lawyer for your files and pass them over to the new lawyer. Make them aware of any deadlines or court dates coming up, and be fair. Don’t change lawyers two days before your case is due to come before the court. When you hire a new lawyer, the old one has no further responsibility for your case.
What to look for in a divorce lawyer
If you are changing your attorney, or looking for one for the first time, check that they have these qualities:
- A good reputation
- Good communication skills
- Strong legal knowledge
- The ability to empathise with clients (look for client testimonials, Google reviews, etc.)
- Experience in family law
- The ability to stay calm under pressure
- A willingness to fight for their clients
Find an excellent family lawyer
At SD Law, we believe in divorce with dignity. We are experienced family lawyers with the strength of our reputation behind us. We will always fight for our clients. But don’t take our word for it. See what our clients have to say. Contact Cape Town attorney Simon Dippenaar on 086 099 5146 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your case in confidence. We are also in Johannesburg and Durban.
The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.