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Angels of Hope and Freedom: Domestic Violence Resources

Legal Issues
Awareness and Education
Child Abuse
Sexual Assault
Survivor Stories
In Memoriam

Getting Help - Legal Guidelines:

Questions to Ask Before You Hire An Attorney

General questions about divorce or custody cases

         Have you or any members of your firm ever represented my partner or anyone associated with my partner?

         Do you handle divorce or custody cases? How many of these cases have you handled?

         How many of them were contested?

         How many of them went to trial?

         Did any of the cases involve expert witnesses?

         How many were before the judge(s) who will hear my case?

         What kind of decisions does this judge usually make?

         Have you ever appealed a case, and if so, what were the issue(s) appealed? How many of these appealed cases did you win? (Remember that even excellent attorneys lose cases.)

Questions about attorney fees and costs

         What are your fees? What work do these fees cover? Is this an hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?

         Is there an additional charge for appearing in court?

         Do you ever charge less for people who do not have much money?

         Do you charge a retainer? How much? What does it cover? Do you refund all or part of the retainer if my case ends up being dropped or not taking much time? (Attorneys should be willing to refund any part of the retainer not spent.) Are there other expenses which I may have to pay? What are they and how much are they likely to be?

         Will you be the only person working on my case? What will other people do? How will I be charged for their work? Will I be charged for speaking to your secretary? Your receptionist?

         Are there ways that I can assist you so as to keep down my costs?

         Will you send me a copy of letters, documents, and court papers that you file or receive regarding my case?

         Do you charge extra if the case gets more complicated or we have to go back to court?

         Will you require that I have paid everything that I owe you before you will go to court with me or finish my case? (Many attorneys do this. They may also refuse to return your original papers or copies of your file, and in some states this may be legal. Therefore you should insist on getting a copy of any paper filed with the court or given or received from another party or otherwise relevant to your case. Be sure to keep all of them in a safe place, in case you ever need them.)

         Are you willing to work out a payment plan with me?

         Will you put our agreement about fees and what work you will perform in writing?

Questions abut cases involving domestic violence

         How much experience have you had with cases involving domestic violence? Which party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or the children)?

         Do you generally believe women who tell you that they have been battered?

         Do you go to court with women wanting to obtain orders of protection against their abusers?

         How sympathetic to battered women are the judges who will hear my case?

         What are the laws of this state regarding which parent should be given custody when one parent has abused the other parent? Does the judge(s) who will probably hear my case follow these laws? What do they usually recommend?

         What do you think about joint custody awards in cases involving domestic violence?

         What do you think about mediation in cases where there has been domestic violence?

         Do the expert witnesses likely to be involved understand the need to protect battered women and children?

         What kind of custody and visitation arrangements do they usually recommend in cases involving domestic violence?

         Do the judges usually follow their recommendations?

         Do you have a working relationship with the local battered women’s program? With whom have you worked?

         Do you have a working relationship with any batterer intervention programs? Which one(s)?

         How helpful is the local prosecutor in handling domestic violence cases? Questions about contested custody cases

         Do you usually believe mothers who tell you that their child(ren)’s father has physically or sexually abused them?

         How do you handle cases where parental alienation syndrome is alleged? (This is a popular theory which blames mothers for turning their children’s affection against the father, most often in cases where the father has abused the mother or the children. The American Psychiatric Association says there is no scientific basis for this theory.)

         How do the custody evaluators that you work with feel about cases where the father has abused the child(ren)? Do they usually believe a mother’s statements about the abuse? What kind of custody and visitation recommendations do they usually make?

         How does the judge(s) who will probably decide my case feel about cases where the child’s father has abused the child(ren)? Do they believe mothers who have made reports about the father+s physical abuse of the child? About the father+s sexual abuse of the child?

         Will someone be appointed for the children, and how will that person feel about the father+s physical abuse of the child? About the father+s sexual abuse of the child?

         Will it matter if the child protective service agency has substantiated the abuse? If the father was convicted or pled guilty to the abuse in a criminal case? What do you do to protect children in cases when you know that their father is abusing them? Are you willing to stand up for my case, even if it angers the judge? If none of the abuse allegations have been made public yet, what do you recommend about whether to raise them and how, and how to keep my children safe?