Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Divorced?
I am asked this question by almost every coaching client in the beginning of their divorce process. People are sometimes hesitant to use a lawyer for fear of it making them “look mean”, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees when they can just do it themselves, or they simply have no idea how to begin to find one that will mesh with their values and goals. Makes total sense. However, we strongly recommend that you put those hesitations aside and add a lawyer to your list of go-to divorce resources.
Just because you are working with a lawyer doesn’t mean you’ll be in the courtroom battling it out. You could be having a do-it-yourself divorce (i.e. kitchen table divorce) or working with a mediator, and still receive the benefits of working with a divorce lawyer. Below are some thoughts about how to incorporate a divorce lawyer into your mediation or do-it-yourself divorce.
In the beginning…
If you are in the phase of contemplating divorce, it is a perfect time for that first conversation with a divorce lawyer. He or she will advise you on any precautions to take prior to having the conversation with your spouse. This could include issues around your children, whether or not you should stay in the marital home, or a variety of financial matters concerning having adequate cash and securing bank and credit card accounts.
Your lawyer will also guide you on how the state divorce laws apply to you and your situation. I cannot stress the importance of you fully understanding your rights. Even more importantly, your lawyer may see things you aren’t in terms of what may be the best parenting arrangement or financial settlement based upon your particular circumstances. For example, parenting time may not automatically default to 50/50 if the husband has an alcohol problem or the wife travels all of the time for work without having adequate family support. You also may think you need to split that inheritance from your Grandfather, when in fact it is all yours because the funds have remained in a separate account with your name only.
If you simply do the research to understand the laws and think you need to apply them at face value, you could be missing some items that seriously impact your children or your financial picture. It’s definitely worth the few billable hours with a lawyer to have complete clarity on your situation and likely outcome.
As you progress through your divorce, it’s pretty likely that you’ll hit some speed bumps. You and your spouse may find yourselves in a situation where you cannot resolve at least one item. Your divorce lawyer may help you with a negotiation strategy where you could give in another area to get what is a higher priority to you. He or she can also advise on the likely outcome if this issue were to go to arbitration or litigation. Mediators are also an invaluable resource to help with this process. Just remember, mediators cannot give either party legal advice. That’s the job of your divorce lawyer!
Your documents could be prepared by a Mediator, or you could have completed them from the forms you downloaded online. Now that you have the final settlement documents in front of you, take them to your divorce lawyer for final review. This may seem like an unnecessary step and expense, but this precaution could save you greatly down the road. You may think you agreed to one thing, but the legal drafting might not quite capture the spirit of your agreement. If there is an issue later, the words on the page will prevail regardless of the intent. It’s best to suck up the couple of hours of legal fees to be on the safe side. Fixing an issue later will cost you much more! Trust me on this one. Unfortunately, I learned this one the hard way!
The percentage of divorces that are do-it-yourself increases every year. At the same time, many divorce lawyers share with me that most of their clients are dealing with post-divorce issues. That would tell me that too many issues are slipping through the cracks when a lawyer isn’t involved to give their expert advice. That said, I sincerely hope you consider this guidance carefully when making your decision about engaging a divorce lawyer.
Untangle The Knot has much more information on finding a divorce professional and working with your lawyer. Learn more about how we can be your — your go-to online divorce resource.
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