Do I Need an Attorney to File for Divorce?

Posted by Brian Waller | Apr 16, 2020

With everyone stuck at home, it is almost inevitable that couples who were on the brink of ending their relationship before quarantine will be following through once things return to (somewhat) normal. When considering divorce, it is common for people to explore filing for divorce without the help of an attorney. That is smart, you should understand as much as possible about the options before doing anything.

It may seem odd for an attorney that practices family law to recommend NOT hiring a lawyer. But there are some situations where an attorney is simply not needed, or may even make things worse or harder than they need to be. Here are some examples of situations where hiring an attorney may not make sense:

  1. You are separating on good terms. You don't have to be Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, or call it "conscious uncoupling". But if you are able to communicate with your spouse and you both want to end the marriage, you may not need an attorney. This is especially true if you don't have children and don't have significant assets. Basically, you would complete all the documents required by the court and have a single court hearing. 
  2. You already live separately. Some couples live apart for a long time before they go through the legal divorce process, so they have already divided all of their joint property. Sometimes spouses have lived apart longer than they lived together, just never got around to finalizing the divorce. In this situation, the divorce is more about logistics and following the process than negotiating who gets what, so all it takes is someone to take the initiative and follow the steps.
  3. Your kids are grown. If you have children, you should consider their ages before divorcing without an attorney. There are a lot of decisions that will have long-lasting effects on your kids if you divorce when they are young. Who provides health insurance, who chooses and pays for extracurricular activities, where they spend holidays, and who pays for college are just a few.
  4. You are curious and self-motivated. I speak to potential clients sometimes and tell them they don't need to hire me (or any attorney). Usually, it is someone who has already done a lot of research and has a few pointed questions or has already filled out the forms and got stuck somewhere along the way. Basically, anyone that wants to can figure out how to file for divorce and represent themselves, and many do. The question is whether they have the free time to do the research and are committed to taking this on as a second job for a while.

I encourage people to try to file themselves because that is my personal nature. If something needs to be fixed in my house, I try to fix it myself even if it is something I have never done before. I like figuring it out and there is some satisfaction in doing it. There have been times where this has gone horribly wrong and cost way more time and money than hiring someone, but I can't help it.

There are other people that have absolutely no interest in trying to do something themselves and call a professional from the beginning. They want advice on what to do and don't have the time or interest to invest in learning enough about the law (or plumbing, etc.) to adequately do the job. There is no shame in this approach, it certainly saves time and helps avoid the early pitfalls along the learning curve. It also provides peace of mind, which is worth more than money sometimes.

So, what do I recommend? Unfortunately, I have to use the most common answer given by lawyers to any question. It depends. There is no one-size-fits-all answer because so much depends on the person and the situation, and there are never two exactly alike. My advice would be to speak with an attorney (preferably more than one) and see what they think. Hopefully, they will reinforce your gut instinct on whether you should hire an attorney or go it alone.

There are also ways to work with an attorney without fully hiring them and paying a large retainer. Some attorneys offer coaching services, where they will work with you on your case in the background. You would do the ‘heavy lifting', but have guidance on the process, strategy, and someone ready to answer questions when they come up. Another option is Limited Assistance Representation, where the attorney does specific parts of the case. This could be anything from reviewing documents to appearing in court or taking part in mediation.

We would be happy to talk through your case and see if you are someone who could go it alone, work with you on a limited basis, or represent you in your case from beginning to end. You can contact us to schedule a call at any time to discuss these options or something in between, there is no cost or obligation.

About the Author

Brian Waller

Founder and Principal Attorney

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