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Can I Switch to a New Lawyer in the Middle of My Family Law Case?

Apr 14, 2021 | Written by: Diana N. Fredericks, Esq. |

Switching attorneys in the midst of a family law case is absolutely acceptable and is not uncommon, but there are certain formalities to which parties should adhere and a methodology that should make the transition seamless.  

Family law matters (divorce, support, custody, parenting time, etc.) can be very high-conflict and emotional; these are some of the most important decisions you may make in your life for the foreseeable future.  Therefore, it is important that you and your attorney have a good rapport and are on the same page in terms of expectations (realistic ones), costs, strategy, etc.  If not, then that may be a good reason to consider switching attorneys.  You should not be friends with your attorney, but trust and mutual respect is a must.

If you decide to change attorneys either mid-case or for post judgment issues, make sure you have a consultation with your prospective new counsel and make sure you bring the documents from your case with you to discuss.  It is worth paying an additional consult fee to have the attorney review same and make your consult specific rather than generic.  It may be that this “second opinion” only confirms what your current attorney is already telling you, or the new attorney may be able to objectively provide different perspectives and confirm your desire for new counsel.  Also be sure to inquire about any costs for the attorney to review the file and get up-to-speed, which could be substantial depending on the status of your case and the issues.  Also, make sure you explain why you are unhappy and looking to change attorneys; it is important to be honest about what did not work for you so that you don’t fall into the same circumstances with a second lawyer.

If you make the switch, the attorneys will need to submit a Substitution of Attorney to the court and all parties involved.  There are fees associated with the preparation of these forms as well as the filing.   The new attorney will then ask your current attorney for the file.  This may include correspondences and pleadings, but not notes.  Your current attorney may charge a fee for copying the materials, as well as delivering same.  Given that you should have been copied on all such documents, you should be able to provide your attorney with the information, however, having a complete copy of all records from counsel is typically the best practice.  Your attorney may not refuse or withhold the file if you owe money, as that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. 

I have no objection to being a client’s second attorney and often I am called upon to give “second opinions” for prospective new clients.  I am happy to do so.  However, I will not typically (never say never) agree to become someone’s third or fourth attorney.  Once a litigant has had several attorneys, this tends to throw up a red flag and can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as the client being difficult (particularly as the number grows).  Make sure you are honest in consultation about the number of attorneys you have seen and why, as you don’t want to end up in a situation where your attorney is unaware of this information and is caught off guard.

Ultimately, it is absolutely acceptable to change attorneys, as it is admittedly very hard to discern what is right for you after a one-hour consultation when you have (probably) never done this before.  As your case unfolds, and especially if litigation becomes contested, you will see how your attorney handles your case, responds to your inquiries, etc., and you can better determine whether or not this attorney is right for you.  

These previously written blogs may be helpful in your consideration of an attorney:

- What I Wish I Knew Before I Began the Divorce Process

- Top Five Things to Consider When Contemplating Divorce

Diana Fredericks, Esq.

Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters.  She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015.  Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.