If real life looked more like The Brady Bunch and less like All My Children, family court attorneys would be out of a job. Fortunately for them, and perhaps unfortunately for the rest of us, modern life often requires the services of a legal professional who knows what to do when families fall apart. If it looks like divorce or other family issues are in your future, here’s what you need to know when seeking out a family court attorney.

Do I Need a Family Attorney?

First off, it’s important to know what circumstances might lead you to family court. Little Cindy has lost her doll and blames brother Bobby, causing a rift in the family? Don’t hire a lawyer; the dog stole the doll. Planning on marrying a billionaire who wants you to sign a prenuptial agreement? Definitely get some legal advice. Family court attorneys also handle divorces, annulments and legal separations, child custody disputes, adoptions and restraining orders. If any of these events are on your horizon, you’ll want to know what characteristics are important when picking a lawyer.

How Do I Choose the Right Family Attorney?

Here are some things to keep in mind when making your selection:

  • Choose an experienced family court attorney. Would you intentionally schedule quadruple bypass surgery with a surgeon who’d never done one before? Unless you’re the proud (and trusting) mom of said surgeon, probably not. The same logic holds for lawyers. Don’t be shy about calling a number of law offices and asking questions like “How long has the attorney been practicing family law?” and “What other types of law does the attorney handle?” Answers like “Two months” and “A little bit of everything” are not what you want to hear. While it isn’t necessary that the lawyer appear only in family court and practice no other types of law, you want someone with a good, solid background in that area who knows the ropes.
  • Choose someone you feel comfortable with. If you have a phone or in-person consultation with the attorney and afterwards find yourself asking “What the heck did he say?” you might want to keep looking. “Legalese” is not the same thing as “legal ease.” If you have an appointment and the lawyer doesn’t show up and no one from the office bothered trying to contact you to say she was tied up in court, find a lawyer with better office procedures. A good attorney who spends a lot of time in court may get held up sometimes, but you should at least get a heads-up when it happens.
  • Choose someone with the right level of expertise. A divorce involving no property isn’t nearly as complicated as one where the spouses own several businesses. The division of marital assets may also have tax consequences that need to be addressed by someone who understands tax law. Ask enough questions to determine whether the person handling your case has the skills your case requires. This is no time to let Cousin Ernie get his feet wet on his first case.

Let Your Family Attorney Win

Whether you’re creating a Very Brady family by adopting your spouse’s kids, or plotting your eleventh divorce like a true soap opera diva, make sure the lawyer you hire to handle it has the qualities you need for a happily-ever-after outcome.