I heard someone explain to a group in a bookstore why they shouldn’t hire lawyers. How they can trust lawyers, how they would cheat them, and how they should depend on the company the speaker belonged too. The conversation made me think about why someone facing divorce or separation needs a good lawyer.
Reason #1 – What You Must Know
You must be aware of your legal rights, obligations and responsibilities. Only a lawyer can help you if they have been retained to represent the interests of your spouse. Without knowing your rights and duties, it is difficult to make realistic financial arrangements for divorcing and separation. Inability to understand your rights can mean you do not get your fair portion of assets, your fair part of support and your fair time with your kids. If you do not know what your duties and responsibilities mean, you could end up paying more to get your fair share or support. Consultations are often offered at a discounted rate by most lawyers to encourage people seeking advice early on. If you are looking for real advice and not just backyard fence advice, there is no reason to do so. I have found that backyard fence advice can often be wrong. Even if you believe half the things that you hear, it’s still incorrect.
Reason #2: Backyard Advice
My friend is divorced. Why can’t my friend’s knowledge and experience be relied upon? Although you could do it, the reality is that your friend can’t practice law unless they are licensed attorneys. Your friend’s knowledge will only be as limited as his/her personal experience. His/her knowledge of the law is limited to what happened in his/her case. Things change. The law changes. Any change in the facts may affect the outcome or the advice. Changes in the law can also change the advice. Your friend may not have sufficient knowledge or experience to provide practical legal advice.
Reason #3-Identifying Issues
It is important to consult a lawyer immediately to learn everything you need to protect yourself and your children as well as your property interests. Sometimes, people do not know how to approach identifying the issues to be discussed. Even if the separation was amicable and the parties plan to divorce “friendly”. A competent, experienced divorce lawyer can help you identify and discuss the issues with your spouse in order for you to reach a comprehensive agreement. There have been many occasions over the years when we were able point out to clients issues they hadn’t considered.
Reason #4 – To share divorce or not to share
My spouse has an attorney. Is it really necessary to have one myself? Can we both have the same attorney? The short answer is “No.” In fact, 30 years ago, it was illegal for a lawyer representing both sides of a divorce. Dual representation may be permissible in some cases, provided both parties are fully informed and have given their consent. These cases are not common and if there are any disputes or unhappiness, the attorney will end the representation. Each party must find new counsel. Our clients rarely, if ever, accept dual representation. We protect our clients in the strictest respect of the law. Conflicts between the opposing side are too obvious to us to agree to dual representation. Additionally, if your spouse is represented by a lawyer, it means that he/she already has received legal advice and has some knowledge about his/her rights and responsibilities.
Knowledge is power, as someone once said. Would you rather be the person with the most knowledge (and power) than the one without any? How trustworthy can you trust your spouse and his/her lawyer in these situations? Remember that your spouse’s spouse’s attorney is your advocate. According to our experience, controlling spouses are more likely to lie about the law to gain an advantage during negotiations. I was recently told by a client that her husband left the marital home and told her she was her “landlord”, and she could not enter the home again without his consent. His lawyer also said this. Needless, he was lying to her. Her husband assured our client that he did not require them to consult lawyers and they could reach an agreement themselves. He also stated that if she didn’t insist on her attorney reviewing the paperwork before she signed, he would find something wrong with each draft to increase her costs. It was clear that he wanted to manipulate, intimidate and control the wife. However, it was wise for her to seek independent counsel from an experienced divorce attorney.
Reason #5-Do you feel lucky?
Without a lawyer, going to a court hearing for a pending divorce is like playing Russian Roulette. Which lucky person do you consider yourself to be? Would you rather have a trained surgeon perform the surgery yourself or do you prefer hiring one? Are you sure you’re competent to represent your case in court? Do you understand your rights and responsibilities? If you don’t know your rights, duties and responsibilities, the judge won’t be able to help you. Hearings can be governed by rules. The rules of the game are important to your team. It is important that someone prepares you for your testimony in the courtroom. In court, you will be held responsible for the words that come out of it. Recently, we met a man who was responsible for $4000 per month in spousal/child support obligations. The court issued an Order based upon erroneous exhibits that his wife had filed. It also relied on information that he provided in open court regarding his income. A skilled trial attorney will get you to say things you don’t mean, especially if it is something you weren’t prepared to say.
Reason #6-Too Little Too Late
It is like going to the lawyer after you have signed papers or taken part in depositions or hearings pro so (representing your self) is over. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t represented. You can still appeal a bad decision, bad deal, or any rulings that were made against you when you weren’t there. It is important to seek advice before you sign anything. It is best to seek out advice before you go to court. You should get legal counsel as soon as you are notified of a pending case against you.
If you have read this article and have already signed papers, you should still consult a qualified divorce attorney to explain and review the papers. You can use the loopholes to negotiate terms that are favorable to you or demand clarification of the agreement. The attorney can also help you understand the consequences for signing the paperwork.
If you are reading this article and are involved in a divorce action, and have attended depositions yourself, you should immediately consult a skilled divorce attorney to determine whether there is legal grounds to suppress depositions. You should bring all necessary documents to the consultation. In some cases, we were able to reopen a case due to depositions that were too early. Depositions can be stopped by filing the required papers in accordance with the court’s rules. Even though it might be too late for you to take action in your case, you should still consult with a divorce attorney to be certain.
Reason #7-Isn’t a Lawyer a Lawyer? (A Rose by Any Other Name …)
I know a lawyer who handled the closing of our house. Can I ask him/her for advice on separation and divorcing? But you can’t. There is a saying that if they lead the blind, they both will fall in a ditch. If you were suffering from an eye infection, would you see a podiatrist (foot physician)? A podiatrist has medical school, so he/she knows a lot about the body. Questions like: How much information does he/she recall, and how current is his/her knowledge of medical literature related to the eye and infections, as well as the treatment and diagnosis. I have seen terrible separation agreements made by lawyers who didn’t dedicate at least some of their practice to family legal but were trying help a friend/relation in their time. If a lawyer does not feel that he/she can handle the case or is unwilling to learn the necessary knowledge, the lawyer should decline to take it.
It takes time to keep up-to-date with all the legal changes that affect separation or divorce. Just think about it. Every week, there are either federal or local courts that make decisions that could impact your situation. Every week the legislature meets, whether it is Congress or the General Assembly. They make decisions that may affect your situation. Experiential divorce lawyers should regularly review new cases to see if they affect family law practice.
Reason #8: Prepaid Legal
You can definitely speak to one of the participating attorneys if this service has been paid for. However, unless the attorney has extensive experience in divorce law and devotes a significant part of his/her professional practice to separation/divorce and related issues, it is worth considering looking beyond your prepaid program. Have any articles, books, or articles been written by the lawyer on divorce, separation, and related issues? I’m not a participant attorney in a prepaid legal plan. The best divorce attorneys are not part of “prepaid” legal. According to my knowledge, there are no fellows or members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers that participate in prepaid legal services plans. If you are reading this report and have personal knowledge of an attorney who belongs to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and also belongs to a pre paid legal plan, please email us at email@example.com to report the name of the attorney so that we can verify the information and update this report.
What is at stake? The custody and support and division of assets, which you may have worked all your married life to amass, including your home and pension savings. Are you willing or able to compromise on your children? Your home? Your pension? Your retirement?
Reason #9 – Ships Need a Navigator
Think of your legal matter as a ship. The captain is the client and the navigator is the attorney. The navigator can’t tell you where to go, but they can show you the best way to get there. Divorce is difficult. Even “friendly” divorces are not always easy. It can be very emotional. You may need to seek legal, emotional, and psychological support. Separation and Divorce are difficult decisions that will affect your spouse, children and yourself for the foreseeable future. These difficult times can be fraught with passions so it is important to have a clear mind. It is important to have a team that includes someone who is familiar with divorce and separation laws. This will help you see clearly and help you navigate through the complicated and sometimes painful waters of separation.
If you don’t have a good lawyer to help you through the planning and separation phase, you will not be able to get the sound advice you need and the third party perspective that you need in order for you to make life-long decisions. Without the expertise, experience, and advocacy of a skilled divorce attorney at the stage of separation, you are without the support and knowledge of an experienced lawyer. You’re at the mercy both of your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer. Your spouse or his/her lawyer are not going to be merciful. When you can’t fight for yourself, you need someone who will fight for you. You need someone to help understand what’s happening and how you can respond to it.
You need someone to help you become proactive and not passive to the steps taken by your spouse. You need a team that supports you. This team can include your pastor or spiritual advisor as well your CPA or tax adviser, extended family and friends, and a competent divorce attorney.