Hiring A Divorce Attorney? Beware Of Red Flags!

hiring a divorce attorney

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

This is a great guest post! Written by two California attorneys, the article addresses red flags to look for when hiring a divorce attorney. 

How Your Lawyer Can Make Your Divorce Much Worse

by Jason Smith and Branigan Robertson

In movies, the tough lawyers get all the results. They push their weight around, win every argument before the judge, and intimidate their opponents. We’re here to tell you that TV is not reality. In the real legal world, the best lawyers are not overly aggressive; they are calm, prepared, and know when to fight and when to compromise. But when you’re about to file for divorce, you may be enticed to hire one of those tough lawyers. After all, your soon-to-be ex-husband is a piece of #%&@ and this is all their fault, right? Shouldn’t you squeeze them for all the are worth?

Don’t fall for the trap. This is especially true if you have children. This article analyzes how hiring the wrong lawyer can make your situation much worse. We discuss the hyper aggressive lawyers and the hidden dangers that come with that type of representation. We also discuss lawyers and attorneys who promise that you’ll get the moon and back. If you hire one of these attorneys, when the dust settles, you will probably be disappointed with the result, and you and your children will pay the price.

As many of the wonderful posts on this blog suggest, divorce can be extremely hard. If you add the stress of a bad lawyer on top, it will make things ten times worse. We write this article to warn those who are thinking about getting a divorce to be extremely careful in who they hire. So, listen closely, here are two types of lawyers to avoid like the plague.

Overly Aggressive Lawyers

We’re both California litigators in highly emotional areas of law. Mr. Smith is a family lawyer and Mr. Robertson is a civil litigator. We’ve seen the consequences of belligerent behavior by lawyers play out in courtrooms. We’ve seen families implode and lives get ruined. It’s not pretty.

You’ve heard this expression before – if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to view everything as a nail. The problem with this is that in the legal world, especially in family law, a nail has the ability to hit back. When ex-spouses (especially men) are treated poorly by your lawyer, they will fight back. They do this by using children, alimony, and marital dirt against you. What may have started out as a relatively amicable separation, quickly turns into a mud-slinging contest.

Overly aggressive attorneys are perceived as extensions of their clients. If an attorney is being unnecessarily combative, the opposing party puts up defenses and trust between the parties evaporates. And why wouldn’t it? After all, the lawyer is simply doing the bidding of his client…right? People going through a divorce view the opposing lawyer as a hired gun – one that their ex is controlling. In many cases, that isn’t exactly true. Attorneys have wide discretion in how they behave, and hyper aggression is usually not one of the things they discuss with their client.

What are some real-world consequences of this type of representation?

1. Higher legal costs. Hyper aggression leads to a firestorm of anger, emails, briefs, and court appearances. Since you’re paying your lawyer by the hour, that means you and your ex will be spending a lot more money in legal fees.

2. Your children will be devastated. When parents are at each other’s throats – they unintentionally forget about their kids. Parents then use children against each other, or try to “leverage” them to get a higher settlement. It’s horrible for the children.

3. You’ll be drained emotionally and physically all the time. It will affect your sleep, work, and relationships.

How do you spot this type of lawyer? I believe you can figure it out relatively easily. First, if the lawyer puffs his or her chest, and says things like “we’re going to crush them” or “I’m going to put so much pressure on them they’re going to be sorry” or words to that effect, steer clear. That is a clear sign of a lawyer who may do more harm than good.

Second, check out any online reviews of that lawyer. While online reviews must be taken with a grain of salt, they can be enlightening. Read them with a critical eye for things like false promises, unnecessary work, or incredibly high legal bills. These may indicate an overly aggressive divorce attorney.

Third, ask the lawyer to speak with two or three former clients. When you contact those former clients, ask how aggressive the attorney was. Ask if the lawyer stayed calm, or if he yelled at the opposing side. If the lawyer never admitted that the other side was right about something, or never told the client to compromise, that is a clear indication the lawyer may not be good for your divorce.

Overly Positive Lawyers

“I’m going to get you full custody of the kids, $20,000 a month in spousal support, and the vacation house!” Oh, isn’t it wonderful to know that your lawyer is just perfect and knows exactly what you want? Step back a second and think about this. A divorce is a separation. The law in every state tries to divide up the assets fairly. If you’re lawyer is promising you that you’ll get almost everything, he’s probably just trying to get you to sign his retainer agreement.

If this lawyer knows some magic formula to winning everything, wouldn’t other lawyers know too? If every lawyer knew exactly how to get their clients exactly what they want, why doesn’t everyone come out happy? The reason is because there no lawyer can promise you a specific outcome (even if it seems likely). If your lawyer promises you the world you should be worried. Nobody gets everything that they want in a divorce.

If your lawyer seems to be promising you a lot and never giving you any bit of bad news, be careful. He may be holding out on you. If your lawyer is giving you too much hope, a sudden loss is going to be devastating. For instance, imagine that for 6 months he strung you along promising that you’re going to get full custody of your child. Meanwhile, you’re paying him a ton of money. Every time you met, he told you that you’re going to end up being the custodial parent. But divorces don’t usually work like that. Courts want to give both parents custody, especially if both parents are good people.

No matter how bad things seem, it is your lawyer’s responsibility to keep you in the loop during the whole divorce process. You need to understand that you will need to make compromises in many issues of the divorce.

Choosing the Right Lawyer for You

It’s simply infuriating when someone you hired to make your divorce happen causes more damage than necessary. We’re talking about divorce lawyers here, but it can apply to many other areas of law practices, especially employment law, business litigation, and sibling disputes over their parents’ estate. We know that when you file for divorce, you just want it to end as soon as possible. There’s no reason to drag it out longer than it needs to be, simply because you hired the wrong lawyer.

About the Authors


Jason Smith is a family lawyer in California. He attended Pepperdine University School of Law. He opened his own family law firm after working for several years as a civil litigator. His office handles all family law related matters, including divorce and the division of marital assets. Visit his website for more information.


Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in California. He represents employees in lawsuits against corporations and focuses his practice on whistleblower and wrongful termination cases. You can visit his firm website for more information.

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    Divorced Girl Smiling welcome video
    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    One Response to “Hiring A Divorce Attorney? Beware Of Red Flags!”

    1. Ridley Fitzgerald

      You’ve got great tips for finding a good divorce lawyer. I like how you said that you have to find someone who is realistic, and doesn’t make crazy promises. My sister is about to go through a divorce, so I’ll make sure that she understands this.


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