12/23/2013 03:27 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2014

5 Ways Women Can Avoid Losing Money to A Divorce Lawyer

Last year, March 2012 to be exact, my sister decided she was ready to file for divorce from her husband whom she left in October 2011. As luck would have it, she found a divorce lawyer, I'll call him "Richard," in the same building as her CPA. She contacted Richard and they set up a meeting to discuss her situation. She decided to hire him.

My sister paid Richard $550.00 up front, and he sent her divorce papers to review. She sent them back with changes and he revised the papers and sent them back to her to sign. She sent them back, again, and expected the papers to be filed. Unfortunately, a few weeks went by and there was no contact from the lawyer. My sister, mom and I got a sinking feeling about the situation. A few more weeks went by and Richard sent my sister an email stating that he was no longer practicing law; he moved to Michigan to start an insurance business.

Fast forward to June 2013 and my sister contacted another lawyer, I'll call her "Hilary," but she was closing her practice. The good news was that Helen was referring people to "Ms. Hough," a highly respected lawyer in her network. Ms. Hough contacted my sister and they set up an appointment. After speaking with my sister, Ms. Hough discovered that "Richard" never filed the paperwork, and the paperwork (my sister had her copy) he gave my sister was outdated. Unbelievable. My sister had to pay "Ms. Hough" $750.00. Add this to the $550.00 she already spent, and she was out $1,300.00. Her soon-to-be ex-husband didn't have to pay anything.

If you're headed towards divorce, find out below how you can avoid losing your money to a lawyer.

1. Ask for references.

Always ask for references. You want to hire a lawyer that comes highly recommended from colleagues and clients. Make sure you receive at least three references -- five or more is better. This way you can reach out to a diversified group of people and make a decision as to whether or not to hire a particular lawyer.

2. Investigate the lawyer.

This may seem extreme, but you could hire a private investigator to check out your lawyer. After all, you want to make sure you're dealing with someone who is honest and has integrity and a good character. Find out what you can and go from there. It's better to be safe than sorry.

3. Ask questions.

Create a list of questions to ask a divorce lawyer. For example, you could ask:

  • How long have you've been practicing domestic law?
  • When did you pass the bar exam?
  • Did you pass the bar exam the first time?
  • Where did you attend college/university?
  • What is your success rate?
  • What can I expect if I hire you?
  • How long will the divorce take?

Ask as many questions you want because this is your money, time and life. You want a divorce lawyer who'll work for you and do his/her best.

4. Get a second opinion.

If you're not sure about a lawyer, find another one. Make sure you write down all of the information about him or her and ask questions. Why? Because you'll want to make a pros and cons list about each lawyer. Once you've finished, you'll have enough information to choose the right lawyer for you and your case.

5. Get a referral

When in doubt, get a referral from a close family member or friend. Lawyers appreciate referrals and they're a testimony to how great how he or she is at his or her practice. And you may receive a percentage or dollar amount off of your legal service because you were referred by a former client.

Getting divorced is a stressful time. Even though you may want your marriage to be over sooner rather than later, it's better to find a good divorce lawyer who'll work for you. Otherwise, you could end up paying more than what you expected to in the first place.