Choosing the right Family Law attorney – Certified Specialists in Family Law

One of the most important decisions a person going through a divorce, child custody case, paternity case or any other family court case will have to make is choosing the right attorney to represent them in their case.  Picking the wrong attorney can have catastrophic consequences for the outcome of your case.   While it is possible to switch attorneys in the midst of litigation, it will require significant cost to do so and the damage that has been done by your previous counsel may be irreversible.  Perhaps the best indicator of whether an attorney you are considering is the attorney you should hire is if the attorney is board certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in Family Law.

What does it mean to be a certified legal specialist in Arizona?

The Arizona Board of Legal Specialization identifies attorneys who have demonstrated superior knowledge, skill, integrity, professionalism and competence in a specific area of law, to better serve the public.  To obtain certification, lawyers must meet specific requirements.

What are the general requirements for board certification?

To qualify for certification in Family Law, an attorney must:

  • Have been admitted to the practice of law continuously for a minimum of seven years.
  • During five of those years, must have been engaged in the practice of Family Law within the State of Arizona, two years of which must have been immediately preceding the application. During each of such five years, the attorney must have engaged in legal services in the field of Family Law equivalent to at least 70% of a full-time practice
  • Make a satisfactory showing of substantial involvement in Family Law.  “Substantial involvement” in Family Law means the engagement in Family Law matters as follows:

(a) Dissolution of marriage, legal separation, and annulment of marriage;

(b) Matters relating to children, including legal decision making and parenting time;

(c) Paternity;

(d) Juvenile court matters including dependency, adoption, and termination of parental rights;

(e) Child support;

(f) Spousal maintenance;

(g) Modification of legal decision making, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance;

(h) Identifying separate and community property, and division of community property;

(i) Taxation issues incidental to dissolution or separation;

(j) Contempt and/or enforcement proceedings;

(k) Mediation or negotiation of family disputes, and resolution of Family Law matters through alternate dispute resolutions;

(l) Special actions and appeals from Family Law matters;

(m) Issues of the non-matrimonial family;

(n) Issues of domestic violence; .

  • Must demonstrate substantial involvement in the field of Family Law by listing all hearings within the past 24 months (at least 30 total in the last 24 months) in which the attorney acted as lead counsel. A hearing includes evidentiary proceedings on orders of protection, trials, or other evidentiary proceedings whereby one or more issues are decided by the Court.
  • While Courtroom experience is necessary, of equal concern is the attorney’s ability to resolve issues with minimal stress to the parties while at the same time protecting the client’s interests. The attorney must list all negotiated settlement agreements, pre-marital or post-marital agreements, paternity agreements and stipulated orders in the past 24 months (at least 45 total in the last 24 months) in which attorney was lead counsel.
  • Within the five years preceding the application, the attorney must have been lead attorney in at least ten Family Law matters from categories listed below, including at least one matter each from at least five of the categories.

i) a matter that involves issues of valuation of a business or professional practice or other intangible asset in regard to which an expert accountant or business appraiser or other expert     submits a written valuation or testifies at deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends a mediation or negotiation;

(ii) a matter that involves issues of co-mingling of funds in regard to which an accountant or other expert traces funds and submits a written report or testifies at deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends a mediation or negotiation;

(iii) a matter that involves issues of excessive, abnormal, or fraudulent disposition of community funds or assets (community waste) in regard to which an accountant or other expert traces funds or assets and submits a written report or testifies at deposition or in a trial or hearing or attends a mediation or negotiation;

(iv) a matter in which a real estate appraiser submits a written appraisal or testifies at deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends a mediation or negotiation;

(v) a matter that involves issues of spousal maintenance or child support in which a physician or vocational or labor market or rehabilitation expert or other expert submits a written report regarding a party’s ability to earn income or testifies at deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends a mediation or negotiation;

(vi) a matter that involves issues of child custody or parenting time in which a written child custody or parenting time evaluation is submitted or a mental health professional or other expert meets with children or parents, or attends mediation or negotiation, or otherwise assists in attempting resolution;

(vii) a matter that involves issues of valuation of a retirement plan, in regard to which an actuary or other expert submits a written report or testifies at deposition or in a trial or hearing or attends mediation or negotiation;

(viii) a matter that involves issues of community enhancement of the value of a separate business, professional practice, or real estate, in which an expert accountant or appraiser submits a written report regarding such issues or testifies at deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends mediation or negotiation;

(ix) a matter involving interstate jurisdiction issues, either as to long-arm personal jurisdiction or as to subject matter jurisdiction;

(x) a special action or appeal to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court;

(xi) a matter that is settled by alternate dispute resolution, which means mediation involving the participation of counsel, arbitration, or Rule 72 special master proceedings, but does not include mediation through an agency of the court or settlement at a pre-trial conference or other proceeding at the court;

(xii) a matter in which the applicant serves as mediator, arbitrator or Rule 72 special master;

(xiii) a matter in which the applicant serves as a court advisor, child’s attorney, best interest attorney, or parenting coordinator;

(xiv) a matter arising under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction;

(xv) a matter involving allegations of child sexual abuse in which an expert submits a written report or testifies at a deposition or in a hearing or trial or attends a mediation or negotiation;

  • The attorney must demonstrate honesty and integrity, professionalism as defined by the Lawyer’s Creed of Professionalism of the State Bar of Arizona, and a high degree of competence in the practice of Family Law.  The required degree of competence is substantially higher than that possessed by a general practitioner who regularly handles Family Law matters.  Legal competence is measured by the extent to which the attorney (1) is specifically knowledgeable about the fields of law in which the attorney practices, (2) performs the techniques of such practice with skill, (3) manages such practice efficiently, (4) identifies issues beyond their competence relevant to the matter undertaken, bringing these to the client’s attention, and (5) properly prepares and carries through the matter undertaken.
  • For purposes of demonstrating a “high degree of competence” the attorney shall meet the following standards:

(a) The attorney must demonstrate a substantially complete knowledge of substantive law and rules of practice, procedure, evidence, and ethics pertaining to Family Law;

(b) The attorney must demonstrate a high degree of skill, thoroughness, preparation, effectiveness, professionalism, and judgment in the field of Family Law;

(c) The attorney must pass a written examination on topics relating to Family Law. This examination shall include substantive law, rules of practice, procedure, evidence, and ethics pertaining to the area of Family Law;

(d) The attorney must demonstrate a substantially complete knowledge of and high degree of skill in the use of alternative dispute resolution as it applies in the field of Family Law.

  • The attorney must to submit the names of at least five 6 Arizona attorneys who practice in Family Law or judges before whom the attorney has appeared, who are familiar with the attorney’s practice, not including current partners or associates.  There shall be selected at least five additional Arizona lawyers, judges, or qualified professionals as references from cases/matters/projects submitted by the attorney to demonstrate substantial involvement. The references submitted by the attorney and the additional references will be requested to provide written comments concerning the attorney not only on such specific topics as knowledge, skill, thoroughness, preparation, effectiveness, and judgment, but also concerning the attorney’s ethics and professionalism.

As indicated by the process above, to be board certified as a specialist in Family Law an attorney must meet very stringent requirements.  By choosing an attorney who has been board certified as a specialist of Family Law you can rest assured that attorney has already been fully vetted by the State Bar of Arizona and is highly competent in the area of Family Law.  There are approximately 17,000 attorneys in Arizona.  Only approximately 700 (or about 4%) of those attorneys are certified as specialists in their area of practice.

James L. Cork II is an Associate Attorney at Fromm Smith and Gadow PC.  Mr. Cork has been practicing Family Law since 2008 and is a board certified specialist in the area of Family Law.  Mr. Cork has represented hundreds of clients in the following practice areas: Dissolution of Marriage, Legal Separation, Child Custody (now referred to as Parenting Time and Legal Decision-Making), Child Support, Spousal Maintenance, Paternity, and Grandparent Rights.  To schedule a consultation with Mr. Cork please call 602-955-1515.

This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be construed as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship shall exist unless and until an agreement for legal services is reached between attorney and client, and a legal services contract is fully executed by and between attorney and client.

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