The Complete Guide to Choosing a Good Divorce Lawyer in Singapore
There are many divorce lawyers in the market. By conservative estimate, more than 400 law firms in Singapore handle divorce matters. You always have a choice. Some people ask around their network and settle on the first name that comes up. Others use lawyers they find online.of
This guide will hold your hands through the process.
Step 1: Educate Yourself on Divorce
Knowledge is power, and in finding a divorce lawyer, it is no different. Since the intention is to hire a lawyer, the focus of your reading is not on specific legal procedures or finding out which form to file. Rather, you should ask yourself these questions to understand how the divorce process unfolds:
- Can you divorce in Singapore (for expatriates)?
- What is the difference between an uncontested divorce and a contested divorce?
- What legal grounds (reasons) do you need for a divorce?
- What are the considerations for child custody (if you have children)?
- What are the considerations for the division of matrimonial property (if there is matrimonial property)?
There are also resources where you can find for answers online:
- Complete Guide to Divorce on SingaporeLegalAdvice.com
- Divorce overview on the Family Justice Courts website
- Forums, such as Singapore Motherhood forum, where you can read about the experience of others caught in the same situation.
Make notes, especially where they are relevant to your situation.
This process gives you an overview. If you still have doubts, that’s fine. That’s what a lawyer is for. The point is to get a feel of how complex your case is compared to others and what lies ahead.
For example, after reading, do you think you can come to an agreement on property and child custody? This affects the legal and emotional cost to a large extent.
The reason for this first step of reading up is because it sets the foundation for finding a good divorce lawyer. The knowledge obtained in this step helps in evaluating the lawyers you talk to, and knowing the kind of legal service you need.
Step 2: Finding the Right Divorce Lawyers
What you need to understand about divorce lawyers
As mentioned in the beginning, there are more than enough divorce lawyers to go around. You should understand the context in which your divorce lawyer is working, and you’ll get some insight into how they charge.
There are generally 3 kinds of divorce lawyers:
1. The solo divorce lawyer
This divorce lawyer can have a law firm in his own name, or be part of a small law firm as a partner. He or she may have a secretary, or have no staff at all. The distinguishing factor is that this lawyer will handle your case personally.
What this likely means is that the lawyer will not market himself as giving free consultations, because there are only so many cases the single lawyer can handle. He will usually charge a small fee for a first consultation just to make sure the client is serious.
The benefit is that the solo divorce lawyer is most likely to offer the personal touch when handling your case. Usually, the charges remain reasonable and affordable.
2. The divorce law firm
The divorce law firm usually consists of a lawyer with several lawyer associates working under him. Because of this structure, the lawyer is able to handle a large volume of divorce cases.
As a result, this lawyer is usually able to provide free first consultations and take the risk that the enquirer does not become a client. This law firm is also able to spend more on marketing, and thus they will also have a more polished look overall, compared to the solo divorce lawyer.
The possible disadvantage is that the senior lawyer you meet may hand your case off to a junior lawyer, and that might not be what you expect.
3. The high net-worth divorce lawyer
These lawyers are usually affiliated with larger law firms or have strong reputations for contentious cases. They focus on representing people with greater financial means, so don’t be surprised to be asked for a large deposit before any work is done.
Shortlisting your lawyer
After understanding this, you can begin shortlisting lawyers. Here are some of the popular methods.
The most popular and preferred option to find a lawyer is to ask around your network for the contact of a good lawyer. This makes sense because it is more comforting to know that someone has had a good experience with the lawyer before.
To be prudent, you may still want to shortlist a few lawyers using the other methods listed below. That is to ensure that you make the right choice.
Law is a personal service, so your personal compatibility with the lawyer will play a part in your overall satisfaction. It is also possible that as a referral, you may pay more than a walk-in client, depending on the lawyer’s pricing policy. After all, the lawyer knows that you already have a positive opinion of him, so does he really have to give you that discount?
We recommend shortlisting a few other lawyers just in case.
Like any other industry, the legal industry has its own share of online advertisements. Take your time to look through the online profiles of the lawyers to see if they seem like someone who can empathise with you.
However, beware of Google advertisements that show fees that are too good to be true. There are fixed costs such as filing fees, and lawyers have rent and staff to pay. It may be that the fees are for a very hands-off service that may not suit you, and the low fees are just a bait to lure you in.
Legal Services Regulatory Authority directory of lawyers
The Legal Services Regulatory Authority of Singapore keeps an updated list of the practising lawyers and law firms in Singapore.
SingaporeLegalAdvice.com has a list of experienced divorce lawyers that you can approach. Read through the profiles and online reviews to get a sense of which lawyer’s style will suit you. To save time, you can just fill in a contact form and send your query to several relevant lawyers in Singapore at once.
Step 3: Choosing Your Divorce Lawyer
After shortlisting some lawyers, it is time to take the process to the next step. You’re going to contact the lawyer, either by email, phone or appointment. Lawyers are usually open to having a short free initial consultation for divorce cases.
In contacting the lawyer, here are some questions you need to ask the lawyer:
1. What is the legal service that you need?
Essentially, you should ask the lawyer how to best handle your case and what he will do for you. Does it involve litigation? Does it involve negotiation on your behalf? Is it just going to be the signing of a few documents?
The divorce lawyer should explain to you the different stages of the divorce process. You should already have some idea of the service you need from the research done in Step 1.
The paperwork is what all divorce lawyers should be able to do. This is also a good opportunity to find out whether the lawyer is experienced in family law.
A good divorce lawyer should be able to offer you nuggets of wisdom from past experience on how to handle your divorce proceedings. This includes issues such as, when exactly to file for divorce, and what you should be asking for from your spouse.
To do that, the lawyer first has to understand your problems and priorities. That’s also a sign of empathy from the lawyer.
2. What is the cost for the service that you need?
Different lawyers have different rates, since it is a personal service that is dependent on the specific lawyer. You should budget at least $2,500 for legal fees even for the simplest divorce with the cheapest lawyer. Whilst there are lower advertised rates, any service outside of the “packages” offered will lead to an increase.
Sometimes, this is inevitable due to disagreement with your spouse over the details. For example, your spouse may demand that you amend the Statement of Particulars before accepting it. Every time the lawyer has to amend the paperwork, the cost will increase.
What is important is that the lawyer should be transparent about the costs for each stage of the divorce. Admittedly, it is more difficult to estimate the costs in the case of a contentious divorce, but there should still be a scale for rates, and possibly a fee cap. If you require instalment payments, this would be a good time to discuss too.
Sometimes, it may be worth it that the lawyer is more expensive. Some lawyers distinguish themselves by their personal touch and spend more time communicating with each client. Depending on your personal situation, the additional peace of mind and assurance may be exactly what you need.
At this point, if you want to bargain about the price, one option is to show that you are a mature client who is reasonable and won’t be demanding on the lawyer’s time.
For more information on divorce costs, check out our comprehensive guide on divorce fees in Singapore.
3. What is the set-up of the firm and who will you be dealing with?
You should find out who is the lawyer dealing with your case in the event a law firm takes on your case. Some of the more established firms may end up delegating simpler cases to junior associates, taking over only if matters get complicated (and expensive).
In contrast, at smaller law firms, the main lawyer is likely to personally handle your case. This is more a matter of personal preference as to who you prefer to deal with. This leads us to the last question…
Most Importantly, Are You Comfortable with the Divorce Lawyer?
Some people will prefer to engage female divorce lawyers, and for others, male divorce lawyers. Some will prefer to engage lawyers from their own race. Some prefer lawyers who look kind. There are many ways to choose your lawyer.
Don’t forget that law is a personal service. The lawyer should be able to understand your circumstances and to represent your interests. If you are not comfortable with your lawyer, it is difficult to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Moreover, with so many divorce lawyers to choose from, there is no reason that you cannot find one you are comfortable with.
Going through a divorce is not easy, but getting a good divorce lawyer makes it much easier.
Finding a good divorce lawyer doesn’t have to be a pain. It is a process that can be broken down into a series of steps, as explained above.
P.S. Can you divorce without a lawyer?
Yes you can, and people have done it. However, think twice before you do so. Think about what is at stake. If you have a property and/or children, a lawyer’s fees may end up negligible compared to what good representation does for you.
In addition to dealing with the emotional fallout and your day-to-day life, there is also the hassle of getting up to speed on the divorce procedures, finding out how to fill in the forms and filing your documents personally at the Service Bureaus (lawyers usually have access to the Electronic Filing System from their offices).
That’s only if the other side does not contest the divorce. If they do, there’s a lot more filing and advocacy that you have to do.
Going through a divorce is a tough journey. It may be worthwhile having an experienced divorce lawyer by your side to help you navigate the difficulties that lie ahead.
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