Factors to consider when searching for child custody, divorce or child maintenance lawyers?
Not all lawyers are the same. Just as not all doctors are the same. You won’t go to a medical doctor who is a foot specialist (podiatrist) if you have a skin problem. For that, you will see a Dermatologist. This you would do, even if the podiatrist knows a bit about skin illnesses and diseases and is, nonetheless, a medical doctor. The same principles apply to the law and to lawyers. Various lawyers specialise in various fields of law. Some know more, and some know less. You won’t meet with a property lawyer if you have been accused of medical malpractice; or would you? You get the point we are trying to bring across.
Factors to consider when enlisting legal service from a legal practitioner
There are Important factors to consider when employing, or enlisting the services of a lawyer (attorney, advocate, legal consultant, etc.) A few of these factors as follows:
Location of the lawyer
This is not always an issue as the advice can be provided via a video call or telephonically. If it comes to litigation, it may be an issue. If you live in Cape Town and the lawyer in Johannesburg, there would be additional traveling costs to consider.
The Cost or Fee of the Lawyer
Not all legal practitioners charge the same for their services. Depending on the years of experience of the lawyer, he or she would charge a higher or lower fee. The same applies to his or her expertise. If he or she is an expert in a certain field of law, the fee may be higher than a generalist attorney. Therefore, if you do not need expert advice, consult with an advocate or attorney with enough experience to be able to assist you.
Gender of the Attorney or Advocate
There is not much that can be said about this factor. Some people prefer one gender over the other. The bottom line is to be comfortable with the person you are consulting with. Many times, especially in litigation, you may see your lawyer a few times a month for up to two (2) years.
Availability of your lawyer
Some lawyers are extremely busy and in demand. Ensure that the lawyer you are making use of has the time to attend to your matter expeditiously.
Experience of the lawyer
There is no substitute for experience. If your matter is simple, then experience may not be a big issue. If your matter is complicated, more experience is required. Obviously, as outlined above, with experience, there comes a higher price tag.
The language which is spoken by the lawyer
It may be a good idea to make use of a lawyer who speaks your first language. If there is a language barrier, the lawyer may assume certain facts. The same applies to the client.
Don’t speak to me, speak to my lawyer
You often hear the phrase, “do not speak to me, speak to my lawyer.” This phrase although popular may only be useful in certain circumstances. Unless you have many lawyers at your disposal or one that knows it all an is an expert in all areas of law, it won’t always be a good referral. Chanting that phrase may not be a good idea.
Professional services come at a fee
Not everyone can afford the services of a lawyer (attorney or advocate). Legal practitioners are trained professionals, who would charge a fee for their time and services. The same as any professional or business would charge. Luckily the law does not force one to make use of an attorney or advocate when appearing in court or dealing with legal matters. You can represent yourself in a legal matter or conduct your own defense. But please, at no point do we say you should not seek legal advice or assistance. If you can afford it, or have access to it, obtaining sound legal advice and assistance in a matter is invaluable.
Now let us move on to apply the aforementioned principles to sourcing a lawyer in relation to children matters. Here we are referring to matters regarding child custody, guardianship, maintenance and so on.
Matters regarding children
When it comes to matters regarding minor children, the same principles as above apply. Maybe more so, as children are represented by adults in litigation. Most of the time it’s their parents, and sometimes, their caregivers. Sound legal advice is therefore paramount.
If you have access to or can afford the services of a lawyer, it is important that you make use of an experienced and knowledgeable family law practitioner. There are many subbranches of family law. For example, a divorce lawyer may not deal with issues regarding relocation or passport application consent. Some legal practitioners practice commercial law, criminal law, and others, property law. Although one can always learn the law, making use of a legal practitioner with limited experience in a family law matter could cost you your case.
Where to find a family law practitioner?
The internet is always a good place to start. Many law firms and consultancies have websites showcasing their experience and services. Sometimes you will hear of a law firm on the radio, or on social media. Word of mouth is also a good source. Notwithstanding where you find the details of a legal practitioner, you would like to find out if he or she is the right person for your case.
Questions to ask a lawyer at your first meeting
The most important thing to determine from your lawyer is whether not he or she is capable of handling the matter at hand. If the matter is simple, then an expert in litigation would not be appropriate. However, if your matter calls for a court of law to make a decision on the matter, then a legal practitioner who has sufficient experience in litigation would be appropriate. This would be especially so when dealing with an urgent child custody matter. Therefore, you need to ensure that the lawyer you are consulting with is the type of lawyer you will require.
Practical example on which lawyer to source
Let’s say you are involved in a custody dispute. You and the other parent of the child just separated. The other parent now decides to leave the country with a minor child without your consent. Let’s say, in this case, it is the mother. Only the mother’s name is on the birth certificate. She books the ticket for her and the child and tells the authorities she does not know who the father is. She is therefore set to leave the country the next day.
The father hears about this and does not want the child to leave the Republic of South Africa. He has full parental responsibilities and rights as he was actively involved in the child’s life since her birth. In this case, an urgent court application should be made. Here an experienced attorney and advocate should be approached to stop the mother from leaving the country with the minor child.
After the lawyers stopped the mother from leaving the country, a few days later, she applies for child maintenance. Both parents are salary earners, and the child’s’ expenses are basic. Under these circumstances, a reasonably experienced legal practitioner would be appropriate. They are many other factors to consider when employing the services of a lawyer. This would depend on the nature of your case.
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