How to Choose the Best Divorce Attorney for You

Best Divorce Lawyer in Virginia Beach

If you are here reading this post, you may have asked “who are the best divorce lawyers near me” or “who is the top divorce attorney in Virginia Beach?”  The short answer to these questions is that it depends on your needs and circumstances.  If you were only married for a year and do not have any children or assets to divide, your needs are going to look a lot different than a real estate tycoon who has been married for 30 years and has properties and investments worth over a 100 million dollars. There is no best attorney for everyone.  The choice of attorney is a personal one and should be made carefully.  When making the decision to hire the best divorce lawyer near you for your needs and circumstances, you should consider the following eight criteria:

1. Right Experience

The Best Divorce Lawyer for You has the Right Experience

The best divorce lawyer for you has the right level and kind of experience.  

Right Level of Experience

The right level of experience for you depends on the complexity of your case.  If your marriage is short and you do not have any children or significant marital assets, you likely do not need an attorney with over 20 years of experience.  An attorney with five years of experience or less might be just fine if they have experience drafting separation agreements and understand the basics of the divorce process.  You should be wary of hiring someone right out of law school unless you are confident they are being actively supervised by an experienced divorce attorney. How do you know what level of experience the attorney has?  The attorney should advertise the year he or she was licensed by the Virginia State Bar.  This should indicate their level of experience unless they have experience practicing law in a different state.  

More Complicated Cases Require More Experience

For more complicated cases involving lots of investments, business interests, hidden assets, atypical compensation structures, etc. you will want to look for an attorney that has been practicing for a longer period of time.  You may want to look for an attorney that has been practicing for over 10 years and in some instances as much as 20+ years.

More Experience is Not Always Better

More experience is not always better however.  If the lawyer you are considering hiring has been practicing for over 40 years and has made clear that he is on the verge of retirement, he may not be fully invested in your case.  You want to make sure that the lawyer you hire is prepared to put full focus and attention on your matter. 

Another reason that more experience is not always better is cost.  A lawyer with over 20 years of divorce experience will likely charge the highest hourly rate.  That might be worth it if your case is complex and you need a seasoned expert, but for less complicated cases it may not make sense for your budget.  

Right Kind of Experience

Having the right level of experience is not enough if the experience is not related to divorce matters.  Except perhaps for very simple cases, the best divorce attorney for you should specialize in divorce cases.  Make sure the lawyer you choose advertises divorce as their main area of expertise.  Just as you would not want to go to a primary care physician for knee surgery, you would not want to go to a general legal practitioner for a hotly contested and complex divorce case.  

One way to find out if the attorney is a divorce specialist is to see if they advertise any published divorce cases they have handled.  If they list any cases, you can google the names of the cases and review them to see what kind of divorce issues the lawyer has experience with.  If the attorney maintains a family law blog, that is also a sign that they are invested in divorce matters. You also can look to see what other organizations the attorney is involved with. There are family law sections of local bar associations and the Virginia State Bar, and some attorneys participate in continuing legal education seminars specific to family law.    If attorneys are investing significant time in family law specific organizations and activities, you can bet that they are divorce specialists and likely have the right kind of experience for your case.  

2. Right Cost

The best divorce attorney for you is the right cost.

The best divorce attorney for you is the right cost.  Ideally the attorney you choose should provide you a high value for your budget.  You do not want to spend a fortune on an attorney and feel like at the end of your case they accomplished very little for you.

Go Over the Lawyer’s Fee Structure at the Initial Meeting

Most divorce attorneys require an advance deposit of money called a retainer before they will begin work on your case.  Work performed by the attorney is usually billed by the hour, and the hourly rate varies between attorneys depending on their level of experience, credentials and expertise.  Lawyers often do not state the amount of the advanced retainer required until a meeting with the client takes place because the amount is often case specific.  If the case appears uncontested and easy to resolve, the advance fee likely will be less compared to the fee involved for an all out divorce battle.  You should go over the fee structure in detail with your attorney at the time of the initial divorce consultation.  

Ask Whether Your Goals Can be Reasonably Achieved Within Your Budget

Discuss your budget with the lawyer and press them to answer whether your goals can reasonably be achieved within that budget.  Do not expect them to tell you exactly how much your divorce will cost.  If they promise you they will resolve your case for a specific amount on an hourly billing structure, that is a red flag.  There are too many variables at play to give a specific cost prediction, especially when the case is contested.  Nonetheless, if the lawyer cares about keeping your costs at a reasonable level, she can suggest ways to make this happen.  He can emphasize taking reasonable positions and not fighting every single small battle. He can assign certain tasks such as legal research and routine motions to an associate attorney or paralegal who charges a lower hourly rate.  Additionally, the attorney can discuss ways you can assist with your own case to decrease your costs such as playing a more active role in collecting important documents and communicating information in a more organized and efficient manner.  Sending 37 emails interspersed throughout the day with a single sentence of information per email is not a good strategy if you want to keep your costs down. 

3. Right Distance

The Top Divorce Lawyer for You in is the Right Distance

The top divorce lawyer for you is located reasonably near you.  If you live in Virginia Beach, the best divorce attorney for you might be located in Norfolk or Chesapeake but probably not Richmond.  Having a local lawyer confers at least two advantages: cost and familiarity with the courts and judges.  

Cost Advantage

Lawyers often charge by the hour for any work performed related to the case.  If they have to travel to court, then expect to be charged for travel time.  Using the example from above, if your case is in Virginia Beach and your lawyer is based out of Richmond, your lawyer will be spending at least four hours driving to and from court, which you then will be billed for.  If you had hired a Virginia Beach attorney instead, the total travel time could be cut to 30 minutes, which represents a substantial cost savings..    

Familiarity with Local Courts and Judges

Local attorneys have more familiarity with local courts and judges because they practice in front of them regularly.  Local attorneys get to know the court staff and clerks and other local lawyers.  The court atmosphere is more familiar and comfortable to them.  Most importantly, they get to know the  idiosyncrasies of the local judges, which can help determine the best approach to use when advocating for clients.  Local attorneys also get to learn the local procedures of the courts, which are not always made clear to the public.  Outside attorneys lack these advantages and often do not receive as warm of a reception from the local courts compared to familiar faces (unless the familiar face has a bad reputation, which is touched on more below).  

4. Right Availability

The Best Divorce Attorney for You has the Right Availability

The best divorce attorney for you is there for you when you need them.  When you call and schedule a consultation, how soon can you get an appointment?  Attorneys have busy court schedules, so it is not unusual to experience some level of wait.  But if the first appointment is over two months out in the future, you should consider going elsewhere.  If the attorney’s caseload is that heavy, there is a good chance she will not have time to give your case the attention it deserves.  

Good attorneys return your calls and emails in a timely manner.  They plan your case out well in advance and touch base with you from time to time to keep you informed on how your case is progressing.  Divorce is anxiety provoking enough in its own right.  If you cannot get in touch with your lawyer to find out what is going on with your case, your feelings of anxiety will only escalate.

You should ask the attorney in the initial consultation about his caseload, his policy with returning calls, his general availability for meetings, and how he prepares for cases. You should also make sure that the attorney you meet with is the attorney who will handle your case. Some law firms are notorious for handing off cases to associate attorneys after the initial consultation. You end up getting a different attorney then the one you first met with.

5. Right Reputation

The Best Divorce Lawyer for You has the Right Reputation

The best divorce lawyer for you has a reputation of excellence.  A lawyer with a great reputation is respected by her peers and judges and possesses the right skills to achieve a favorable outcome for you.   

If you can help it, do not rely purely on internet advertisement when selecting a divorce attorney.  Do your homework.  Does the attorney have a disciplinary record with the Virginia State Bar (VSB)?  You can check by going to the VSB website.  If you find out that the attorney you saw on an internet banner ad recently was suspended for stealing his client’s money, do you really want to take a chance with this lawyer?  

Trusted friends and family are great a resource for determining a lawyer’s reputation, especially when the friend or family member is a local attorney that has insight on the major players in the game.  Just remember that your friend’s divorce may not be the same as yours, so do not rely too much on what your friend says about the divorce process. 

Client reviews also can be a good way to vet a divorce lawyer’s skill and reputation in the community.  Look for reviews that are in depth and discuss specific qualities the lawyer possesses that make him or her a good fit for you.  

Beware of top 10 lists that advertise the top divorce lawyer in your area.  Oftentimes, the maker of the list does not advertise the criteria they use to determine who goes on the list.  Sometimes the lists are okay, but other times they include lawyers that do not have the best reputation or experience handling divorce cases.   

6. Right Candidness

The Top Divorce Attorney for You is Honest With You

The top divorce attorney for you is honest with you and does not give you false hopes.  Some attorneys have a reputation for making big promises that they know they cannot keep just to get clients to hire them.  It may seem nice to have a lawyer that tells you everything you want to hear, but in the end this will come back to bite you.  What you really need is an attorney who is realistic and can tell you whether what you want is reasonably achievable.  If the attorney sells you on false hopes, then you will end up wasting a bunch of money on a losing case and your expectations will ultimately be crushed.  

Perhaps you discover that your spouse cheated on you.  You call the first divorce attorney you can find and march into their office fired up wanting to hear about how you can punish your cheating spouse for his awful behavior.  Some lawyers might tell you that they are going to take your spouse to the cleaners and get you significantly more spousal support and property due to the adultery.  If the adultery led to the breakdown of the marriage, Virginia judges are required to weigh adultery as a factor in determining the amount of spousal support to award and how to divide marital property;1 however, they do not always put a lot of weight on this factor.  Further, judges are not supposed to punish people for adultery in divorce cases even though it seems like they should.2  Punishment is what the criminal justice system is for.  How judges treat adultery ultimately depends on the specific facts of the case.  It may be a big deal to them or may not be.  If lawyers tell you otherwise, they are not being honest with you, and you should look elsewhere.

7. Right Temperament

The Best Divorce Lawyer for You has the Right Temperament

The best divorce lawyer for you has a temperament that best helps you advance your goals.  They should be a good listener and want to genuinely help you.  Stay clear of attorneys that are overly boastful and make wild promises just to get you in their door and make money off you.  

Divorce attorneys generally can be categorized into three types: lambs, bulldogs, and foxes.  


The Best Divorce Lawyer for You is Not a Lamb

Lamb-type attorneys are averse to conflict.  They seek to settle divorce cases as quickly and painlessly as possible.  This sounds great in theory and can lead to a low cost divorce.  Unfortunately, most divorces are not so simple.  If the other side does not want to play nice, do not expect a lamb attorney to stand up for you.  In their desire to avoid a court conflict, they will push their clients to take unfavorable settlement offers.  For these reasons, you generally do not want a lamb for your attorney.   


The Best Divorce Lawyer for You is Not a Bulldog

Bulldog attorneys love to fight.  They refuse to agree to simple requests.  They talk over their opponents and are not shy to attack them at a personal level.  And they will not stop attacking until they get what they want, no matter how significant the cost is to their clients. 

Bulldog lawyers are attractive to those looking to get back at their spouses and make their lives hell in court, but they rarely make the best divorce attorneys.  It may feel good to have an attorney who stands up for you and relentlessly attacks and embarrasses your spouse.  But such tactics tend to make the divorce drag out and become much more expensive than it should be.  Bulldogs often do not have many friends among divorce attorneys and fuel the ire of judges.  When other divorce attorneys are confronted with bulldogs, they get defensive and make less attempts to settle since they know their offers will likely be ignored.  Most judges hate deciding divorce cases.  When presented with an over the top bulldog, judges may feel even more put-off and may be inclined to rule against the bulldog for making a difficult type of case even more contentious.  Generally speaking, you should avoid the bulldog attorney.  


The Best Divorce Lawyer for You is a Fox

Lawyers that take a fox approach to divorce cases are cunning and strategic.  They look at the big picture and plan out a winning course of action.  They carefully consider different scenarios and the consequences that each choice they make will have on their clients, which makes them always one step ahead of their competition.  Foxes do not win with brash tactics but instead rely on careful positioning to give their clients leverage to achieve favorable settlement outcomes.  They understand the important benefits of resolving divorce cases through settlement and work to achieve settlement as a primary goal; however, when faced with an unreasonable bulldog they are fully prepared to litigate and stand up for their client’s best interests.  If they do end up at trial against a bulldog, they are better positioned to put on a winning case. In nearly all divorce cases, you want a fox to represent you.  

8. Right Team

The Best Divorce Attorney for You has the Right Team

The best divorce attorney for you surrounds himself with the right team of professionals.  

Achieving a successful outcome in your case depends not just on having a great attorney but also on having the best experts, support staff, and resources.  Divorce often involves a collaboration between many individuals in different fields including:

  • tax experts
  • estate planners
  • financial advisors
  • forensic accountants
  • appraisers
  • vocational rehabilitation specialists
  • custody evaluators
  • business valuation analysts
  • private investigators
  • real estate agents and more

Having the right connections and resources is invaluable, especially for high asset divorce cases.  Your attorney should also have staff to assist her, including a paralegal and assistant.  This helps to keep your costs down and frees up time for your attorney so he is more accessible to you.  When you have your initial consultation, make sure to ask the attorney about their support staff, the experts they use, and their resources.  


Divorce is one of the most significant decisions you will make in your life.  You should not make the decision hastily or else you will later come to regret your choice.  Take your time and use the above criteria to help you make a thoughtful and well reasoned choice regarding the best divorce lawyer for you.   

Contact an Experienced Virginia Beach Divorce Lawyer Today

I hope you found the above guide to be comprehensive and helpful to you in making your choice of divorce lawyer.  If you came here asking “who is the best divorce lawyer near me in Virginia Beach,” please contact me today to see if I am the right fit for you.  To schedule a consultation with me, you can call my office at 757-491-1841 or fill out my online contact form.

Related Posts

For information on how to prepare for a Virginia divorce consultation, please see Prepare for Your Virginia Divorce Consultation in Six Steps.

For information about the divorce process in Virginia, please see The Divorce Process in Virginia.

About the Author

Virginia Beach Divorce Lawyer Near Me - Jordan Fanney

Jordan A. Fanney, Esq. is an experienced Virginia Beach divorce lawyer who works for Poole Brooke Plumlee PC.  Jordan Fanney practices in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Hampton, Newport News and the surrounding area.
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  1. See Va. Code § 20-107.1(E)(13) for spousal support and Va. Code § 20-107.3(E)(5) for property division. ↩︎
  2. O’Loughlin v. O’Loughlin, 20 Va. App. 522, 526-27 (1995). ↩︎

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