When to Use a Divorce Lawyer & When to Avoid One

by Jennifer Williams Google
A divorce attorney can facilitate communication -- or get in the way.

A divorce attorney can facilitate communication -- or get in the way.

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Divorce can be a terrifying prospect. On top of that, one of the first decisions you usually make is one of the most important: whether to hire a lawyer. This decision affects the entire course of your divorce. Situations exist in which you may need the professional guidance a lawyer provides, and circumstances also exist in which you should avoid using a lawyer. The trick is in knowing which is the best road for you.

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Complicated Financial Issues

If you and your spouse have a complicated financial life, a lawyer can simplify property division and help you avoid do-it-yourself mistakes that can haunt you afterwards. Examples of complex financial situations include joint ownership of a lot of high-value assets and longer term marriages where complex alimony calculations are at play. Another complicated issue concerns retirement or pensions plans that require a qualified domestic relations order. Mistakes in the division of any of these assets, especially those where the laws are constantly changing or that require the filing of special documents, make using a lawyer well worth the expense.

An Uncooperative Spouse

If your spouse is stalling the proceedings, trying to rush you or to bully you into settling -- or is withholding or hiding assets, hiring a lawyer may level the playing field. Most experienced lawyers have seen these behaviors before, and they know how to deal with them. They can file motions and present arguments to the court that aren't usually explained in do-it-yourself divorce forms, such as a motion to compel or a motion for status conference. Hearings are held on these motions, and your attorney can explain to the judge why the motion was necessary, and the judge can make your spouse proceed in good faith.

Domestic Violence

If your spouse is physically or emotionally violent to you or your children or if he has a substance abuse problem, hiring a lawyer may be a good idea. A lawyer can act as buffer in all your communication with your spouse. He can also help you secure physical and legal protection for you and your children while protecting your interests against a spouse who cannot be trusted to consider your welfare -- or that of the children.

Might Be a DIY Divorce

If you and your spouse are both committed to negotiating the big issues in your divorce, you may make it through without hiring lawyers. Issues that must be decided include property and debt division, spousal support, child custody, visitation and child support. When spouses negotiate and compromise with the common goal of getting the divorce done and getting on with their lives, divorce becomes much less complicated. Standardized court approved forms may be all that's needed to file and complete the divorce. If the spouses are stuck, questions are usually simple enough that the court's self-help center, if there is one, can provide the necessary guidance.

The Possibility of Mediation

If you and your spouse can't reach an agreement on every necessary detail, all is not lost in your bid to finish your divorce without lawyers. Certified family law mediators exist to grease the wheels of negotiation when they are stuck. Mediators are specifically trained to facilitate communication between divorcing spouses, and move a stalled negotiation forward. Mediators are much less expensive than lawyers, and if your negotiations are almost complete, a mediator may be all you need to reach your divorce's finish line.