Family Law – Professional Liability Fact Sheet

Family Law – Professional Liability Fact Sheet

February 5, 2019 David Lipson

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Description of Practice Area

As an area of practice, family law includes all litigation and legal services related to antenuptial and domestic relationships, separation and divorce, alimony and child support, child custody, surrogacy and adoption.


Frequency of Family Law Claims

CNA claim frequency in the family law area of practice has been consistently higher when compared to all other areas of practice in the last six year. In fact, the most recent data reflects and upward trajectory of family law claims.


Claim counts arising from family law have increased from 98 incurred claims in 2007 to 245 incurred claims in 2016.


Quick Stats

  • Average of 498 claims reported per year
  • Average of 181 claims paid per year
  • Average cost per claim: $65,755
  • Average yearly cost of all family law claims: $11.9 million
  • #4 claims area by count

Source: CNA Lawyers Professional Liability Claim Data 2007-2016


Top Causes of Family Law Claims

This chart represents the most common claim allegations against family law practitioners between 2007 and 2016. Disciplinary grievances are excluded from the data, which, if included, would represent more than one third of total reported incidents in the area of practice over that time.


Risk Management Tips

Screen New Clients

Be cautious when a prospective client has been represented by one or more prior attorneys for the same matter. Also be wary of a client who is overly concerned with fees or otherwise indicates an inability to pay. Most states do not permit contingency fees in domestic relations matters, but consider requiring a retainer up front to alleviate long-term financial stress.


Be Wary of Conflicts

Even where a divorce is uncontested, an attorney cannot ethically represent both parties. Less obvious conflicts involve the prior joint representation of both spouses in a substantially related matter (e.g. estate planning or real estate transaction). The practice of “conflicting out” potential attorneys- meeting with several attorneys solely to preempt their retention by the other spouse- can result in a disciplinary complaint if not properly recognized.


Manage Emotions and Expectations

Keep expectations realistic by having frequent discussions about the client’s goals and explaining all possible outcomes. In the interest of obtaining a favorable resolution and avoiding a disciplinary complaint, maintain integrity and civility with opposing counsel, notwithstanding client pressure to the contrary.


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