When you’re facing divorce, you want to work with an attorney who is responsive, understands your goals, and will use their experience and expertise to help you leave the marriage with the resources you need to start over.
While most divorce lawyers do their best for their clients, others fall short of the mark. If you find that you are not getting the attention and quality representation you deserve, you may be wondering, “Can I change attorneys in the middle of my California divorce?”
At the Law Offices of Renkin & Yip, we have helped many clients who encountered problems with their original divorce lawyers. In this blog, we go over common reasons why the attorney-client relationship can go sour and what you should know if you’re thinking about changing lawyers before the divorce is finalized.
Can You Change Attorneys in the Middle of a Divorce in California?
Generally speaking, you can change your divorce attorney at any time. Retainer agreements cannot require you to remain with your attorney indefinitely, especially if you feel that the relationship is no longer working. During such a major change, it’s important to have a legal advocate you can trust to help you reach the next stage in your life.
Are Your Expectations for Your California Divorce Realistic?
If you’re thinking about switching to another lawyer, it’s important to ask yourself why you feel there’s a problem. Were you hoping that the process would be concluded more quickly, so that you can put the past behind you and move forward? Depending on the circumstances, the marriage dissolution process in California can take longer than expected. Contested divorce cases in particular can take months or even years to resolve.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I hope that the divorce would take a month at most?
- What were my expectations? If you’re seeking sole custody, your spouse may not readily agree.
- When the hearing or trial begins, do I expect my lawyer to win every issue?
Changing attorneys won’t solve the problem if you answer “yes” to any of these questions. While you’re always able to get a second opinion from another lawyer, it’s possible that changing counsel will not yield a different outcome. Expressing your concerns to your current attorney can help you better understand the divorce process and determine whether a change is really necessary.
Signs That Your California Divorce Attorney May Be the Problem
If you have realistic expectations but still harbor concerns over how your case is going, your attorney could be the issue. Here are some signs that they are not acting in your best interest:
- Making promises and then not keeping them
- Failing to return your calls or emails within a reasonable time period
- Not keeping you informed about your case
- Missing court appearances
- Constantly asking for continuances because they aren’t ready to move forward
- Being verbally aggressive when you question them
- Ignoring your request for an invoice, bill, or statement of charges so you can see where your money is being spent
Other viable reasons for changing your divorce lawyer include a disagreement on strategy or a simple personality clash. While these challenges aren’t necessarily anyone’s fault, they can hinder the progress of your case, and you may be better off working with a lawyer whom you’re comfortable working with and who understands and supports your goals.
Things to Consider if You Want to Change Attorneys in the Middle of Your California Divorce
Changing lawyers in the middle of a case, even when warranted, involves certain considerations you’ll want to understand and prepare for.
First and foremost is the extra cost involved. While your first attorney shouldn’t continue to bill you following formal withdrawal, the new lawyer must catch up with your case. You will need to provide them with all the documents and court filings related to your case and pay them to review everything.
This won’t be a problem if your divorce is fairly straightforward or has only been in progress for a couple of months. If your case is complicated, involves many documents, and has been pending for some time, getting your new lawyer up to speed can be more expensive, but it can be money well spent when you’re comfortable with your new representation.
Another thing to consider is a potentially negative reaction from the court. Some family law litigants change counsel as a stalling tactic, usually to spite the other side, and an attorney can file a motion for sanctions if they feel the other side has changed counsel to stall the proceedings. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s always a possibility.
If your spouse’s attorney takes this step, don’t be alarmed: you can simply explain that your interests were better served by hiring a different lawyer. Your new counsel can handle the matter on your behalf.
Sometimes Both of You Agree a Change is Needed
There are times when both the client and attorney agree that a change is necessary to further the client’s interests.
In some cases, the attorney does not have an efficient working relationship with opposing counsel. A divorce case could lose focus and become more expensive if the relationship between attorneys becomes adversarial. Changing counsel can give a family law case new direction and focus in such situations.
How to Change Divorce Attorneys in California
If you’ve decided to switch lawyers, start by retaining a new divorce lawyer, so that you aren’t left without legal representation. Sign an agreement with your new attorney and inform them about any upcoming hearings and filing deadlines.
The next step is to end the relationship with your current lawyer. You can dismiss your attorney in writing or in person, but even if you do so in person, you should also write a letter of termination that clearly states the following:
- The date you wish to end the professional relationship
- The name and contact details of your new divorce lawyer
- You want all material pertaining to your case to be sent to your new lawyer by a certain date
- You wish to receive all outstanding bills, verification of your retainer balance, and a date when you will receive it
Your new divorce lawyer will notify the court that you have changed counsel and want them to represent you moving forward. This document must also be provided to your mediator if you are using one.
How to Find the Right California Divorce Attorney
When you’re looking for a divorce attorney in San Diego and the surrounding area, start by reviewing their websites and confirming that they handle cases like yours. For example, if you are a service member, you’ll want to work with a lawyer who understands the intricacies of divorce in the U.S. military. If your marital estate is worth millions, you should look for someone who represents high-net-worth clients.
The next thing to check for is client testimonials. Has this lawyer or their law firm done a good job with past clients? Do they actively encourage client feedback by leaving an input form on their site?
If the reviews look positive, call the firm and schedule a consultation. Are you welcomed and treated with respect over the phone? If so, that’s another good sign, as successful divorces are usually a team effort. Finally, when you speak to the attorney, do they seem interested in knowing what you want as opposed to what they think should happen? If the answer is yes, you may have found the advocate you need to help you start over.
Do You Need to Change Attorneys During Your California Divorce?
You may choose a lawyer in good faith, but find midway through your divorce that they are not right for you. They may want to use a strategy you’re not happy with or you may feel like they aren’t listening to you. This shouldn’t discourage you, since you’re not legally bound to the first attorney you hire.
At the Law Offices of Renkin & Yip, we understand that your interests may be better served by changing lawyers. We can smooth the process for you by communicating with your former attorney to obtain your files and informing the court and your spouse’s counsel that you have new representation. We will also listen to your goals and give your divorce matter the dedicated attention it deserves. To learn more or speak to a San Diego family law attorney, please call 619-304-4760 or request an appointment online today.