Thinking about a divorce: Do you need a Lawyer? And if so, how to choose one?
By Lilliana Real, Esq. – Family Law Attorney, Mediator and Parenting Coordinator
Thinking about a divorce, how do you know if you need a lawyer if you are getting a divorce and how do you choose one; remember that you going through one of the most stressful time of your life and it is normal to be emotional and to roller coaster between various feelings, therefore, you will need to be careful how you decide if you need an attorney and if so, then be equally careful when you hire an attorney to make certain that you are happy with your lawyer at the conclusion of the divorce.
How to decide if you need a lawyer for your divorce?
Whether you and/or your spouse decide whether you need a lawyer, is a personal decision but it is based on many factors. If you do not own any property together, have no debts together and do not have children together (biological or adopted), then you may be able to handle your divorce yourself with the court’s self-help program OR if you are indigent, you may qualify to go to legal aid. The forms are typically self explanatory and usually the clerk of the court’s offices will have a self-help office to assist people who are not represented by an attorney or who are Pro Se, which is latin for representing yourself in court. If you do not have any property with your spouse or children together but only some debts together, you may also be able to go without an attorney to court. Lastly, if you have either property together or children together but you are in agreement as to how you will divide the property and how your will handle the time-sharing/custody of the children and child support, then you can also go Pro Se in your divorce matter. Alternatively, if you have property together and/or children together and you are not able to agree, you may want to hire an attorney (the attorney may not represent both spouses but both parties do not have to have an attorney) or at least have a mediator assist you and your spouse with preparing a marital settlement agreement and a parenting plan.
How to choose a lawyer?
There are many things to consider when choosing a lawyer. First and foremost, you must find a lawyer who you like and trust and feel comfortable with; this is important because the family lawyer is going to assist you and represent you one of the most important legal events of your life, if not the most important. The lawyer should have a similar personality and work ethic as yours; this is important because if you are a type A personality who likes thorough work product and you hire a lawyer who is not like you, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed. If you are not a “shark,” don’t hire a shark because you will end up being upset; and you can hire a good and effective litigator without hiring the “shark.” In other words, you need an attorney whose morals and ethics mirror your own; this is information you can obtain during the first consultation by the advice you receive. Even if your friend had a great experience with a lawyer, doesn’t mean that you will do well with the same attorney; you can interview the attorney your best friend or neighbor used and was happy with, but interview 2-3 lawyers before hiring one and follow your gut instinct to hire the one that you feel comfortable with because you may be working with this attorney for a year or two on your divorce matter and if you have children, you may continue to have post-divorce children-related issues until your last child reaches 18 or graduates from high school. Money is also a consideration but remember you get what you pay for so if there is a lawyer who asks for a $10,000 retainer and one asks for a $5,000 retainer and the last one asks you for a mere $1000, the latter is probably not your best choice. If you cannot afford the $10,000 one and you are not thrilled with the one charging your $5,000, try to negotiate with the most expensive lawyer and keep shopping, you may find a lawyer for charge you $3,500-$4,500 who you actually feel good to hire. If you need to answer a petition for divorce, write to the court and ask for an extension of time to find a lawyer. Also remember that if you hire an attorney and then are not happy with the representation, you can replace your lawyer, but you may lose your initial retainer as it may be non-refundable.
As you go through this process, it may be a good idea to have a therapist/counselor or religious advisor such as a rabbi to talk to when you are in the process of determining if you are going to represent yourself, hire a lawyer or retain a mediator for your dissolution of marriage, and to assist you in selecting a professional or professionals if you decide not to represent yourself.
Please keep in mind that a divorce is a very stressful and difficult time and you may not be happy with anyone, especially if you are not the one who wants to end the marriage, therefore, be kind and patient with yourself during and after the marriage is dissolved.
Have questions, you can send an email to: Lilliana@lrealpa.com with “divorce website” in the subject line. Please allow about 48 hours for a response. Thank you.