Can you trust your divorce attorney?

Not all divorce attorneys are created equal. For example, an attorney may fail to adequately investigate the worth of a business.

When someone is going through the process of divorce in New York (or before the process has even begun), one of the most important decisions to make is choosing an attorney. Many attorneys are ethical, intelligent and hard-working. They serve their clients capably. Some do not, however. Many people are in the middle of a divorce or have finished the process, happen to read something on legal malpractice, and realize that they cannot trust their attorney.

Filed too close to deadlines

Divorce can be an extremely hard time financially. In cases where one spouse earns much more than the other, he or she may be asked to pay temporary support until the divorce is finalized. However, some lawyers do not act efficiently enough to file this request. As a result, they have used up weeks in which a spouse could have been receiving support. Moreover, because of the time pressures, a spouse may be settling for a low and unfair amount.

Never investigated the spouse's business

Many people in New York own businesses. In a divorce, the business owner may not always be honest about what the business is worth. Sometimes, this error is unintentional. In any case, a competent attorney would usually undertake measures to fairly and thoroughly investigate the worth of the business. This may include hiring a valuator or forensic accountant. If this has not been done (or was never done), it is possible that legal malpractice occurred and one party was shortchanged in the divorce.

One thing to keep in mind is the statute of limitations. If the alleged legal malpractice occurred, say, five years ago, there might not be anything that can be done about it. New York's statute is three years, but there are exceptions, so consulting an attorney can be helpful.

Other possible areas of concern

Other issues that might cause someone to lose trust in a divorce lawyer include:

· Outdated knowledge

· Little knowledge of the laws in multiple jurisdictions if a case involves more than one locality

· Ever-changing fees, excessive fees or a final fee different from what was agreed on

· Inability to clearly explain realistic expectations and what a settlement might look like (this can affect whether a client was as educated as possible in accepting or not accepting a settlement)

· Hard to reach (ex: does not return calls for days or weeks)

These issues may amount to legal malpractice in New York. However, one thing to remember is that for many people, divorce is an emotionally fraught time. Some people may demand that their attorneys act like therapists and remain in near-constant contact. Similarly, they may place more weight on their perspective of events and assume that the judge will see things their way despite their lawyers' warning. If someone is in doubt about whether malpractice may have occurred, consulting an attorney may help clarify the issue.

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