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I was out shopping when my phone rang. I jumped in shock when I looked at the number and then realized it was a callback from the office of a family law attorney I had called earlier in the day. As I stood in the cereal aisle he held a free consultation with me, answering my questions and outlining a plan for my child custody case. He talked a good talk and I made an appointment with his secretary to drop off a retainer and sign a contract for him to represent me.

Sometimes you are going through more than just a difficult time with a narcissistic partner or co-parent and realize you need legal advice from a family law attorney. It can seem overwhelming to start the legal process by hiring legal representation for your family law matter. I have gone through the entire process more than once and will share how I navigated my family law issue and what I have learned after years of experience working with two different legal teams.

And may I remind you that divorce can be an act of radical self-love?

Decorative image family law attorney

How to Retain a Family Law Attorney

Here’s the step-by-step plan I used to retain an attorney to handle my divorce case and child custody dispute:

Step 1: Google advice on how to retain an attorney. Laws are different in every state so it’s best to know what you are getting into when you seek legal assistance. You can save time and money by doing a little research before you continue your search.

Step 2: Ask friends and relations if they have any attorneys to recommend. Another idea is to check your local Facebook group to see who has a good reputation in your area. Ask for specific circumstances such as a firm that has experience with domestic violence cases, child custody modification, protection of parental rights, and tailoring a child support order to your specific circumstances. 

Step 3: Google local family law lawyers and make a list of at least 5 to call. Each family law firm has a different style and area of expertise. Pro tip: If you have a consultation with an attorney they can’t represent the person you are going up against in court.

Step 4: Make a list of questions relevant to your case to ask each attorney. List the attorneys out and leave space to write answers and notes as you speak with them. You will probably find that each attorney will approach your case in a different way which will help you decide on who will best represent you. You may want to ask how much they charge for legal services and how long they have been part of a family law practice. You can also ask what can be handled by their paralegal for a lower hourly rate. 

Step 5: Call the attorneys on your list. Be prepared to speak with them right away or leave a message for them to call you back and then keep your questions and notebook handy for their return call.

Step 6: Review all of your information and make a decision on which attorney you would like to retain. I suggest taking at least a day to think things through before choosing someone to represent you. You will probably be overwhelmed with information at first and need some time to envision how your case may go and who can help you the most.

Step 7: Be prepared to drop your nest egg into a retainer for your attorney. They will schedule an appointment for you to hand over your hard-earned money and sign a contract. I was able to speak with my attorney’s paralegal and give her a little more information about my case during my first appointment.

Step 8: Make your first appointment with your new attorney. Good luck!

Divorcing a narcissist can become a huge legal battle so it is important to choose your attorney wisely. Taking the time to consult with a few attorneys is an excellent way to find the right person to help you get the best outcome possible.

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Working with a Family Lawyer

Here are a few things I have learned after working with an attorney for over two years:

  1. You will not see them often and will rarely get a reply to emails or returned phone calls.
  2. They value their time and expect you to value yours as well.
  3. They won’t care about all the little things that go on. They are looking for “big ticket” items that will have an impact on your case.
  4. Have a close friend or therapist to discuss your case with so you can keep your emotions out of your legal case. This is just business to attorneys and the court.
  5. Document your communications with the opposing party. The best way to do this is to use email for all communication. Here is an article about communicating with a narcissist which has some tips for setting boundaries and documenting communication.
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Here are some tips to help you make a meeting with your attorney as productive as possible:

  1. Have a list of questions or topics you need guidance on and stay on topic to save time and expense.
  2. Have your documents and notes organized so you can quickly and easily find what you need to share with your attorney. Have copies of everything you bring in case he wants to keep what you show him.
  3. You know your case better than your attorney. Be prepared to give him a review of the situation as needed.
  4. You are your own best advocate. You know what you want and need from your case. Be willing to let your attorney know when you are not in agreement with a plan of action.
  5. Keep notes during your meeting. You think you will remember things but you won’t especially if your case is stressful. My attorney usually has homework for me to do so I make sure to write down what he is asking for. He has asked me to make lists, send a summary of the situation, or find emails that show the situation more clearly. It is important to give your attorney what he needs so he can help you.
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Here are a few more things I have found helpful in communicating with my attorney and his office:

  1. I use my name in the subject line of every email so the office can keep my evidence together. I also add a few descriptive words to the subject line so they can tell what the email is about. In my case, I have to forward relevant communications and other evidence so I make it as easy as possible for them to keep it organized.
  2. Only forward email evidence that really matters. The emails will be printed to add to your file and they will charge you for every copy so make them count if you are on a budget.
  3. I only call if it is super important. They won’t return calls unless there is some sort of action to take or they need to ask a question.
  4. Trust that they are moving your case forward. It is a slow tedious process and not much happens quickly.
  5. If you can’t trust your attorney then it’s probably time to find someone else. It may take a few tries before you find the right fit for you. Be prepared to change attorneys if you don’t feel you are being heard or represented as needed.
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Court dates are stressful! Before my first court date, I barely slept and was relieved when it was finally time to get out of bed and stop pretending to sleep. The whole drive to the courthouse my stomach was in knots. As I sat waiting on the bench for my name to be called I had to breathe slowly and will my stomach to relax so I wouldn’t vomit. My body was shaking and I was on the verge of a panic attack for the two hours I had to wait. All of that stress may be part of the reason I did not receive a favorable outcome to my legal matter that day.

Since that first horrible experience, I learned how to stay calm and make it through a court date with much less distress. Here is my cheat sheet for making it through a court date with sanity intact:

  1. Prepare Your Case. Do your best to feel prepared. Read over any evidence you think you may be questioned on. Go over your timeline of events and review dates. You can make a note to refer to while you are waiting in court. I also remind myself of possible responses to opposing counsel if I will be taking the stand. “Can you rephrase that question?” “What do you mean by _____?” “I’m unsure what you are asking me.” Never answer a question you aren’t sure of. Hopefully, your attorney will object for you. You can also ask for clarity at any time. It is empowering to advocate for yourself while you are under the microscope and shows the opposing attorney that you will not be pushed around.
  2. Prepare Your Mindset. It’s important to have some mental health strategies in place before going to court. I found keeping a heart-shaped ornament that was my father’s in my pocket reminded me I was loved whenever I touched it. You can choose a mantra and/or affirmation to use for the day to help you stay strong also.
  3. Journal. If you find writing helpful you can journal all your thoughts before and after the court date to help you move through the experience. Doing something with all the thoughts and emotions can help you process them faster.
  4. Rest. Give yourself a preparation cut-off time and then do something relaxing and go to bed early. Cramming all night is not going to help you in court the next day. You need as much rest as possible so you can think clearly and stay out of your emotions as much as possible. You will most likely be asked to make an important decision and you want to be able to think it through before responding.
  5. Clothing. Choose what you will wear a few days before court and have a backup outfit just in case. You want to look put together but not overdone. I err on the side of more dressed up and have been mistaken for an attorney when I’m going through security. You want to dress in a way that is respectful to the court. Women should wear three-quarter length or long sleeves. Modest dresses that are below the knee with a sweater or blazer always look nice. Slacks and a blouse are appropriate.
  6. Nourish yourself. I eat my usual breakfast before court. Stress burns a lot of calories so pack a lunch and good snacks. I don’t normally eat candy and sugary foods but I bring peanut M&M’s and a travel mug of sweetened coffee or tea for an extra hit of caffeine to keep my mind awake. Take something you can eat quickly during breaks. I’ve had days where we didn’t get a break for lunch and my blood sugar began to drop.
  7. Take a notebook. I am never able to remember all of the information that comes out in court unless I take notes. I want to remember what witnesses said, what I observed about someone’s behavior, how many bailiffs were in the room, etc. Your attorney will usually give you a legal pad so you can write notes to him as a witness is speaking or during the opposing attorney’s opening and closing arguments. You know your case better than anyone else. It is important for you to keep things straight for your attorney.
  8. Support. Have a friend or family member on standby. If you can bring a support person to court with you do so. I had a few friends I could text, call, or message before, during breaks, and after court to help me blow off emotions so I could stick to logic in court. It helps a lot to know someone is thinking and/or praying for you on court day. During breaks, you can text them a quick request or read an encouraging text they have sent you. Do not use your phone in court, not even to take notes.
  9. Recovery. Plan something fun or relaxing that evening or the next day. Do something that is comforting to help you recover from the stress.
  10. Always remember it WILL be okay.

When you have an excellent family law attorney on your side you have a better chance of having a positive outcome to the difficult situations that can arise during a custody battle or divorce process.

Taking legal action can be an important step towards living in freedom and peace.

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