Think you can do this one on your own?

People get divorced every day. Some try to go it alone. They figure they can work through whatever they need to with the (soon to be) ex, and save the money in legal fees. Or one party doesn’t think they can afford a lawyer, and so they remain unrepresented while the other does hire an attorney.

Here are just a few reasons why working your own family law case, without a lawyer, is a bad idea.

1)  You are likely getting divorced because you and your spouse do not get along, for whatever reason.  While you might be able to negotiate a fair distribution of all your property, debt, and assets, and determine child custody, all by yourselves, don’t bet on it.  If you have any type of imbalance of power in your relationship, someone is going to come out of this the Big Loser.  It is very common for one party to be the dominant force in any marriage.  That person is not going to want to give up any of that power or control.  (For example:  When the husband says to the wife things like, “I wasn’t going to pay you to stay, so why should I pay you to leave?” and “I’m not going to finance your Life of Luxury,” you have an imbalance of power.  Guess who lost in that case?)  Rule of thumb:  If one party to a divorce is very happy with the outcome, the other one probably got screwed. A lawyer can prevent that by helping to hold up her client when the going gets tough, and refusing to let the client roll over and die.

Well, we can tell that THIS is going to go badly. . .

2)  Divorces/child custody cases are inherently emotionally fraught.  You will likely be hysterical at some point over some thing, be it who gets the kids and what visitation is going to look like, or who is going to end up with which bills/property.  Even the most seemingly-rational people go a little nuts when their lives are being flipped 180 degrees.  I’ve seen cases of couples fighting over who gets the Christmas wreath that no one ever cared about while they were married.  You will need to have someone who can work on your behalf who is not emotionally involved in your life.  You will not be getting everything you want in your divorce–and if you do, you’re probably screwing the other party. (Note:  Some lawyers are more than happy to help you destroy your ex.  I’m not one of those.  If your lawyer is out for blood and you don’t want that, get a new lawyer.  Destroying your spouse will not make your life, or your children’s lives, better in the long run.)  Someone needs to be The Voice of Reason.  That’s your lawyer’s job.

3)  Some things you can’t legally negotiate away.  And if you think you can, just wait until you try and modify your Decree.  Couples will commonly try to do the whole, “You can pay less child support if you give me the (fill in the blank on property and/or debt).”  Child support is a right that the child(ren) have, not the parents.  Courts will not uphold orders that allow for significantly reduced child support amounts.  (This is not to say that the judge won’t sign your homemade order that allows for no child support payments for a year, and then only some piddly-amounts’ worth.  BUT. . .)  Child support is always open for modification, until the children age out or become otherwise ineligible for child support.  When the spouse who has the kids comes to find out that he/she could’ve gotten a lot more money, you can bet that they’ll all be back in court.  Save yourself the energy and do it right the first time.  With a lawyer.

4)  If your spouse gets a lawyer and you don’t, prepare to be steamrolled in any “negotiations.”  An attorney’s loyalties by law lie with the party who signed the retainer agreement with them.  If your spouse gets a lawyer, that lawyer does not represent you.  It is his job to zealously advocate for the interests of his client.  Those will not be your interests.  One-sided lawyer divorces commonly end in the unrepresented party getting screwed.  Don’t be that person.

Guess who didn’t have a lawyer??

It has been stated by many that they cannot get a lawyer because they can’t afford it.  Lawyers are not allowed to take domestic cases on contingency, and so many attorneys think that if they don’t get paid up front, they can’t get paid.  This is not true.  A contingency agreement is a payment agreement that allows the attorney to take a percentage of the total amount of money recovered in a case.  A lawyer can allow for delayed payment that is NOT a contingency.  This is how it works:  If you or your spouse have property–real estate, investments, retirement, whatever–there will be a property settlement.  Some lawyers will take cases with an agreement in place that they will take whatever their fee would be from the actual work that’s been billed when the client gets money in a property settlement.  This is NOT a percentage of the settlement.  It is simply delaying payment until the client has money to pay.  And if you think you can’t afford a lawyer, try going it alone–You can’t afford NOT to.

There ARE those who would not drastically benefit from hiring an attorney in a divorce case.  These people do not have a marriage of longer than 3 years, property, investments, debts, or children.  If you have any of those things, get a lawyer.  Period.

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