Top Divorce Lawyers 2009

Top Divorce Lawyers 2009

Statistics say more than 50 percent of all U.S. marriages end in divorce. Chances are that you or someone you know has faced the painful dissolution of a marriage. Add children to the mix, and matters become even more complicated. Even though prenuptial agreements, which court respect if properly prepared, have been on the rise, the simple fact is most married couples don’t tend to have them, particularly if the union took place more than 10 years ago.

So here you stand, knowing you are faced with a major life decision, one for which you need legal representation. Thankfully, there appear to be some excellent attorneys in the field of family/matrimonial law here in Northern Virginia. To compile a list, we began by consulting some notable sources, such as the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Best Lawyers® and Super Lawyers®. We spoke with some of the leading names in the profession, asking each contacted attorney to nominate at least one respected colleague to the list.

Some names were brought up again and again; these are the veterans of the marriage wars who have provided stellar representation for their clients over the course of decades. Still, an attorney may simply not feel like the right match for your needs, or a firm’s hourly rates may be out of your price range. If you’re in the market for a divorce lawyer, make several calls. Ask for hourly rates. Check credentials. And get a feel for whether or not an attorney’s personality and style match yours.

Via peer nominations, we put forth the following names, presented in alphabetical order.


Susan M. Butler‌
Shoun, Bach, Walinsky & Curran, P.C.
4000 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax; 703-222-3333;

Susan Butler understands divorce lawyers see people at a bad time in their lives, and that it’s the lawyer’s job to make it better. Clients usually see clearly on property issues, but emotions often flare over support because they’re scared, so Butler provides hard information and a sense of perspective. Her philosophy is: The lawyer has to draw the line and know when to settle versus when to go to court. Hourly rate: $345

Richard J. Colten
Colten Cummins Watson & Vincent, P.C.
3959 Pender Drive, Suite 200, Fairfax; 703-277-9700;

Veteran trial attorney Richard Colten tells new clients he’s not an aggressive shark—but rest assured he can assert himself when necessary. Unafraid of litigation, he knows he can equal or best other family lawyers in a courtroom, but he tries to diffuse situations and seek resolutions outside of litigation. A proponent of mediation, Colten considers himself a strong negotiator who aims to resolve, rather than exacerbate. Hourly rate: $500

Donne L. Colton Jr.
Delaney, McCarthy & Colton, P.C.
510 King St., Suite 400, Alexandria; 703-836-8989;

Clients who gravitate to Donne Colton Jr. tend to be settlement-oriented. Though fully capable of handling sometimes-unavoidable litigation, Colton knows a court case can be ugly and expensive, so his initial goal is always amicable resolution. Colton takes a genuine interest in people and finds the personal nature of family law a good fit for his personality. He is also a trained mediator and understands how to see things from both sides. Hourly rate: $325

Joseph Condo
Condo Kelly & Byrnes, P.C.
8444 Westpark Drive, Suite 500, McLean; 703-442-0888;

Despite being in practice for more than 35 years, Joseph Condo retains a sense of humor and the ability to communicate directly with, not at, his clients. Referred to by one of his colleagues as someone who betters the profession, Colton settles nearly 97 percent of his cases without trial and considers himself practical and creative in terms of coming up with means of resolving difficult cases. Hourly rate: $550

Heather A. Cooper
Cooper Ginsberg Gray PLLC
10201 Fairfax Blvd., Suite 520, Fairfax; 703-934-1480;

Compassionate and meticulously organized, Heather Cooper presents a solid option for individuals who are more budget-minded when it comes to fees; she describes herself as economical and conscious about keeping clients’ rates as low as possible. Empathetic and a good listener, she is also scrupulous in her trial preparations, though the goal always remains resolving a divorce without going to court. Hourly rate: $325

Caroline E. Costle
Greenberg Costle
8200 Greensboro Drive, Suite 750, McLean; 703-448-3007;

The vast majority of Caroline Costle’s practice involves family law and domestic relations, but she handles some criminal defense and other litigation, which she feels makes her a better lawyer. She’s comfortable in a courtroom, and prickly situations don’t faze her. Costle not only assesses the needs of her clients, but also those of the opposing side, so she can try to bring about a resolution that allows all parties to retain dignity. Hourly rate: $375

James Ray Cottrell
Cottrell Fletcher Schinstock Bartol & Cottrell
801 N. Fairfax St., Suite 404, Alexandria; 703-836-2770;

As one nominating attorney put it, virtually everyone on this list has battled with James Ray Cottrell at some point. Hard-nosed, ferocious and boasting decades of experience and a resume filled with honors and accolades, Cottrell handles only contested divorces, but that doesn’t mean he wants to go to court—only that he is prepared to play hardball over financial aspects of a case, such as assets and spousal support. Hourly rate: $565

Gerald R. Curran
Curran | Moher
3554 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 100, Fairfax; 703-328-5020;

While he’s eager to settle a case amicably, Gerald Curran knows his percentage of cases that go to trial will be higher than most because that’s why clients come to him—he can be trusted with cases that have a likelihood of going to court. He doesn’t like taking cases to trial that should be settled, but when presented with all-or-nothing scenarios, he’s fully prepared for the courtroom. Hourly rate: $475

Robert C. Dunn
Law Office of Robert C. Dunn
707 Prince St., Alexandria; 703-836-9000

He will always fight for the best interests of his clients, but Robert Dunn is not a gladiator. Dunn says litigation should be the last resort, not the first. He reminds clients this is not a commercial dispute, where getting the upper hand is always the desired results. These are families, and dollars spent on litigation can drain limited resources—particularly in the current economy. He tries to negotiate and at times uses outside mediators to find mutually beneficial resolutions. Hourly rate: $350

David L. Ginsberg
Cooper Ginsberg Gray PLLC
10201 Fairfax Blvd., Suite 520, Fairfax; 703-934-1480;

If a case does not settle opposing counsel, know that it is not the fault of David Ginsberg. Well reputed, bright and practical, Ginsberg seeks a fair outcome for each case while protecting his clients’ rights. He aims to mitigate stress and expenses, and his business and finance background helps him understand and navigate financial nuances—especially in this tough economy. Hourly rate: $300

Daniel L. Gray
Cooper Ginsberg Gray PLLC
10201 Fairfax Blvd., Suite 520, Fairfax; 703-934-1480;

Daniel Gray is reasonable—in both price and temperament. He feels proper perspective enables him to do the best for clients who may be emotionally charged, and he makes sure clients are always mindful that if the parties don’t resolve the case a judge will, leaving them with fat legal fees and perhaps feeling unhappy with the final result. Hourly rate: $300

Sandra L. Havrilak
The Havrilak Law Firm, P.C.
9900 Main St., Suite 500, Fairfax; 703-591-1515;

One attorney peer describes Sandra Havrilak as bright, diligent and no-nonsense. Another adds that she is assertive but always willing to sit down and try to resolve matters. Havrilak strives to make clients comfortable and to ensure everyone’s on the same page as to what the client wants to accomplish and whether or not the goals are realistic. Clients who are business-oriented and focused on settlement will appreciate her attitude. Hourly rate: $400

Susan M. Hicks
The Susan M. Hicks Group, P.C.
9302 Lee Highway, Suite 700, Fairfax; 703-691-4848;

Each client is an individual to Susan Hicks, and she does her utmost to understand what is going on in their lives. She takes the time to learn all facts of a case and the other side’s position. Her ability to understand the full picture is fueled by her work as a mediator with The McCammon Group, which she also sometimes uses for her clients who are on the edge of resolving a case but can’t quite close it. Hourly rate: $500

Brian M. Hirsch
Hirsch & Ehlenberger, P.C.
12110 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 401, Reston; 703-481-6063;

A fellow attorney says when Brian Hirsch pops up on the other side of a case, you know he will be a fair opponent. A dedicated family man who has coached his sons in Little League, Hirsch is fond of using a team mindset. And just like a great coach, he’ll hold his ground—even with his own client, if necessary—in the interest of the best result. Hourly rate: $350

Kelly Sweeney Hite
Law Offices of Kelly S. Hite PLLC
4165 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax; 703-766-0732;

Given the intensely personal nature of the information exchanged in a divorce case, Kelly Hite feels it’s essential a client feels comfortable with his or her lawyer. She charges a flat fee for initial consultations and encourages prospective clients to take as long as they need and say everything on their minds. During that time she will lay out a plan of action, and the clients can assess if they’re on the same page. Hourly rate: $325

Leslie Weber Hoffman
Family Law & Mediation Center, PLLC
10300 Eaton Place, Suite 150, Fairfax; 703-691-3066;

When clients go to Leslie Weber Hoffman, they can expect candor. She offers an honest analysis of a case that includes the perspective of the other side and the range of possible outcomes. People who want a pound of flesh don’t tend to gravitate to her. She has handled complex custody disputes, including some involving same-sex couples. In addition to litigation, Weber Hoffman also practices a substantial amount of mediation. Hourly rate: $350

Dennis M. Hottell
Hottell Malinowski Group, P.C.
10486 Armstrong St., Fairfax; 703-352-5666;

Dennis Hottell says his philosophy is preserving the integrity of a family while at the same time achieving the best result possible for his client. He places the wellbeing of children as his highest priority. Known for navigating complex custody issues, he has also handled non-parental family issues, such as grandparent visitation rights and third-party visitation rights. Hourly rate: $450

James W. Korman
Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C.
2300 Wilson Blvd., Suite 700, Arlington; 703-525-4000;

With an extensive background in banking law, James Korman has gained a reputation for being a family lawyer knowledgeable about complex business matters. Part of one of the larger law firms in Northern Virginia, he is also able to quickly consult attorneys in his office about creditors and debtors, bankruptcy, tax law, estate matters and business. He always tries to settle a case, but is unafraid to go to court. He is respected by fellow attorneys for his intellect, ethics and professionalism. Hourly rate: $525

Marcia M. Maddox
The Maddox Law Firm, P.C.
8221 Old Courthouse Road, Suite 101, Vienna; 703-883-8035;

Marcia Maddox says if you have an agenda that includes either revenge or vengeance, then she’s not the lawyer for you. Her philosophy is two good lawyers can almost always put a settlement together but, as a veteran trial attorney, she knows the courts throughout the state. As president of the U.S. chapter of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Maddox has her finger on the pulse of matrimonial law, and she puts that knowledge to use for her clients. Hourly rate: $500

Christopher Malinowski
Hottell Malinowski Group, P.C.
10486 Armstrong St., Fairfax; 703-352-5666;

Very often issues will emerge in a case that tend to start leading the parties off on tangents. Christopher Malinowski prides himself on focusing his clients on the ultimate goal. Malinowski worked in a maximum-security prison for 11 years while putting himself through college and law school. He knows how to not get caught up in drama and remain the voice of reason, keeping everyone honed in on the big picture. Hourly rate: $340

David Masterman
Masterman & Graham
1945 Old Gallows Road, Suite 305, Vienna; 703-827-5500;

An honest and bright straight shooter, David Masterman’s direct manner may be off-putting to some, but his knowledge of the law is stellar, and he considers his combination of experience and effectiveness the reason his clients select him. He is unafraid of new territory and knows that, despite great past results, an attorney cannot be mechanical in approach. Rather, the lawyer must look at each case individually and respond accordingly, to either achieve a client’s goals or redefine them. Hourly rate: $485

J. Patrick McConnell
Odin, Feldman & Pittleman, P.C.
9302 Lee Highway, Suite 1100, Fairfax; 703-218-2185;

A divorce can involve complex issues that require attorneys with expertise in tax, real estate, business and even criminal law. As part of a 50-lawyer firm, where he chairs the family law and domestic relations practice group, J. Patrick McConnell has the ability to quickly turn to other lawyers for needed information. In addition to his extensive practice in Northern Virginia, he has handled complex national and international custody matters. Hourly rate: $450

Catherine M. Reese
Reese Law Office
10300 Eaton Place, Suite 150, Fairfax; 703-279-5140;

In a recent client survey, Catherine Reese found that most of her clients said they were impressed by her knowledge, ability to help them and compassion. Reese works collaboratively with her two associates, personally handling all details that require her expertise but also making sure cases are handled with maximum efficiency and cost control. By interacting with more than one attorney, there is always someone familiar available to a client when he or she contacts the office. Hourly rate: $335

David E. Roop Jr.
The Roop Law Firm, PLLC
1604 Spring Hill Road, Suite 460, Vienna; 703-442-0040;

David Roop Jr. has the ability to step outside a case, look at the whole picture and come up with a solution satisfying to both sides. Direct, practical and efficient, he is known for focusing on the issues and end goals that will enable all parties to move on with their lives. He says he achieves this by getting all the details right from the first consultation and sharing his conceptualization of the case with the client. Hourly rate: $450

Betty Moore Sandler
Nichols Zauzig Sandler, P.C.
12660 Lake Ridge Drive, Woodbridge; 703-492-4200;

Highly regarded by everyone she encounters, Betty Moore Sandler’s clients by and large come via referral. She considers herself a trial attorney, and she prepares all cases with a thorough approach, but does everything she can to keep her clients out of court. She doesn’t take things personally and encourages clients to be totally honest. Sandler says family law touches on many things—real estate, business, taxes, psychology and even vocational expertise—so she leaves no aspect of a case unattended. Hourly rate: $400

Carol Schrier-Polak
Bean, Kinney & Korman, P.C.
2300 Wilson Blvd., Suite 700, Arlington; 703-525-4000;

With a master’s degree in social work, Carol Schrier-Polak has lectured and written extensively on issues of mental health, children and custody. Regardless of the situation, she always puts children first, and feels that’s what draws clients to her. She knows the law, the judges and the court system in Northern Virginia, and her ability to be creative in reaching a settlement is valuable in this economic climate. In addition to representing clients, she is also a highly respected mediator. Hourly rate: $425

Robert E. Shoun
Shoun, Bach, Walinsky & Curran, P.C.
4000 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax; 703-222-3333;

Family law has been the sole focus of Robert Shoun’s practice for more than three decades. Unquestionably one of the best known and most highly respected family lawyers in Northern Virginia, Shoun has settled 97 percent of his cases in the past five years without trial. With 11 attorneys at his firm, all of whom practice family law, he is able to keep fees down by having a junior associate handle aspects of research. Shoun also has a full-time paralegal assisting. Hourly rate: $500

Betty A. Thompson
Betty A. Thompson, Ltd.
1800 N. Kent St., Suite 1001, Arlington; 703-522-8100

At their initial consultation with Betty Thompson, clients are asked who referred them to her. One replied, “tens of thousands.” The grand dame of divorce lawyers in Northern Virginia, Thompson has been practicing law for 60 years. Despite decades of experience, she is still learning every day. While the laws of divorce are very clear, facts alter cases, and no two cases are exactly alike. Thompson knows how to analyze a case and is willing to listen, because she believes that family law requires strong human relations skills. Hourly rate: $500

Brian West
The West Law Group, P.C.
1800 Tysons Blvd., Suite 350, McLean; 703-564-4600;

A former rugby player, Brian West’s tough-minded, goal-oriented approach may not be for everyone. He maps out the issues, sets objectives and takes direct steps to achievement. In the initial consultation, he describes the dynamic, and says that people with competitive frames of mind will be drawn to him. Hourly rate: $550

Richard M. Wexell
Wexell Milman
10480 Armstrong St., Fairfax; 703-385-3858;

Involved in one of the leading child custody/relocation cases in Virginia, Richard Wexell is well suited to deal with points of guardianship. He is also a calm head responsive to his clients’ needs, such as allocation of debts in relation to distribution of assets. Whether it involves working for a settlement or preparing for litigation, he is equipped to handle it. Hourly rate: $375