Divorce: Do You Need a Lawyer?
How divorce lawyers work.
You probably know of people who suffered the torments of hell going through divorce, and you also probably know people who pulled it off without much fuss. Why are some divorces sensible and others catastrophic? The answer depends on various factors, including the personalities of the people involved, the importance of what's at stake, and sometimes on how much you rely on lawyers and courts to resolve troublesome issues. In general, the less you use the court, the less cost and heartache you'll have — and in many cases, you'll get a better final result. But how do you avoid courts and lawyers?
Make Divorce Decisions by Yourselves
In theory, at least, it's simple: You usually do best if you and your spouse work out thorny issues together, perhaps with help from a neutral third person, such as a mediator. You keep control over such vital matters as how your children will be raised, what happens to the family home, and how your property will be divided. If you and your spouse can work these issues out yourselves — and many, if not most, couples can — you will save yourselves time, money, and anguish. More important, you will spare your children the ugly spectacle of extended parental fights, helping them come through the divorce as undamaged as possible. If you are able to resolve the big questions of children, money, and property, you then just need to ask the court, in writing, to grant a divorce. In many states, you don't even have to appear in court. Many courts now make it relatively easy for people to handle an uncontested divorce without a lawyer.
Keep Divorce Lawyers From Fanning the Flames
When you're emotionally distraught or angry, turning all the details and hassle of a divorce over to a divorce lawyer may seem like a perfect solution. Unfortunately, it doesn't always simplify things. It's all about the lawyer you hire, so it's critically important that you find the right one. If you want a lawyer's help but you still want to keep your divorce civil, make sure you hire a lawyer who will support that approach. When you interview lawyers you're considering, ask them whether they feel favorable about negotiating a settlement rather than fighting it out in court. Lawyers operate under a prime directive: the zealous pursuit of their client's interests. If you make sure to let the lawyer know that your interest is in an amicable divorce, then that's what you should get. Unfortunately, some lawyers make it a practice to be as aggressive as possible, and if your spouse finds a lawyer like that, you may have to fight fire with fire. In these cases, unfortunately, the battle can go on and on, intensifying in passion, until the clients run out of money and limp to the settlement table. Worse, if there are children, the fight depletes not only your pocketbook, but also your children's sense of security. Once the legal fight is over, trying to establish a normal ongoing parenting relationship between both parents and the children can be very difficult.
When to Hire a Divorce Lawyer
It makes a lot of sense to hire a lawyer if there is a real problem with abuse — spousal, child, sexual, or substance. In that situation, a lawyer can help you get the arrangement you need to protect yourself and your children. It can also make sense to hire a lawyer if your spouse is being dishonest or vindictive and you just can't cope with it. In that case, you may need someone to protect your interests. It's also prudent to hire a lawyer if your spouse has an attorney. This is especially true if you have children or are facing complicated financial issues. It could be difficult and emotionally intimidating to go head to head with a seasoned pro. If you can't afford a lawyer, consider calling your local legal aid office. If you qualify financially, a lawyer will at a minimum discuss the legal aspects of your case with you and may continue to answer questions on an ongoing basis during your proceedings while you represent yourself. Ask whether the legal aid office has a pro bono program. The office may have a list of private attorneys that are willing to take on cases referred by legal aid at little or no cost. If you don't qualify for legal services or pro bono help, you'll have to shop around for someone to represent you.
If You Fear Violence
If you fear that your spouse might harm you or your children (or abscond with your property), take action immediately. Move to a safe place, and, if necessary, get a temporary restraining order to keep the spouse away. It's very important that you also get a temporary order for custody of your children, so that you're not accused of kidnapping. If you need money, you have the right to use your joint accounts. Take the amount of money you realistically need plus some extra for emergencies (but try not to take more than half of what's there unless you absolutely have to), and immediately file an action in court for support.
Republished and edited with permission – Nolo.com