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Do I Even Need a Divorce Lawyer?

Once you and/or your spouse decide to get divorced, you may wonder, “Is it worth getting a divorce lawyer?” People filing for divorce consider representing themselves because they:

  • Want to ease the financial strain of divorce by eliminating attorney’s fees
  • Believe they can handle the legalities themselves
  • Plan to file uncontested and don’t feel they need an attorney

No matter the reason you are considering self-representation, it is important to understand the risks of representing yourself as well as when you should consider consulting with an attorney. Below, we will discuss why you need an attorney and what to consider before deciding to represent yourself.

Divorce: Do You Need a Lawyer?

The risks of representing yourself in your divorce case include:

  • Filing or completing court documents incorrectly
  • Becoming disheartened or overwhelmed during the proceedings
  • Coming to court unprepared
  • Acting improperly in court (as it relates to etiquette)
  • Misunderstanding the laws that affect your case
  • Agreeing to terms that negatively impact your financial future
  • Losing your case

While you may want to save money by not retaining a divorce attorney, that decision is not in your best interest. You need a lawyer, especially if you:

  • Have a complicated case. The more complex your case is the more you need an attorney. Not only does an attorney have more legal knowledge and expertise than you, but they can better help you protect your interests and develop strategies. Complicated divorce cases include but are not limited to high-asset divorces (i.e. divorcing couples who are business owners, company executives, high-profile, etc.), military divorces, divorces where there is a history of violence, and divorces with complex child custody matters (i.e. one parent plans to relocate, allegations of abuse, disabilities, paternity disputes, etc.).
  • Need legal advice. If you represent yourself, you will need to understand the laws related to your cases, court procedures, courtroom etiquette, and more. The court (and judges) will not give you a pass for failing to follow the procedure or complete necessary tasks. While you may be confident in your ability to handle your cases, you should retain a lawyer—even if it’s simply to be advised on court procedures or have your forms reviewed before filing.
  • Want help developing a case strategy. Getting divorced involves making decisions that impact your future finances and life (i.e. alimony, child custody, etc.). Understanding how you will fight to protect your interests and developing a legal strategy is important. An experienced attorney can best advise you on what strategies are best for your case.
  • Do not have an amicable relationship with your soon-to-be-ex. If the other party plans to fight dirty or drag out the divorce, a divorce lawyer will know how what to do.
  • Are afraid of your soon-to-be-ex-spouse harming you or your children. Victims/survivors of abuse can benefit from the help of an attorney because they can help you obtain a restraining order and handle negotiations and communication with the other party for you.

Do I Need a Lawyer for an Uncontested Divorce?

If you and your partner agree on everything, you can file for an uncontested divorce. Even if you and your spouse seem to be in agreement, you still need a divorce attorney; they can review the terms and serve as a legal advocate that looks out for your best interests. A reliable attorney can also ensure your agreement doesn’t overlook important issues and will be accepted by the court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Divorce Mediation in California?

Again, it is not required that you have an attorney, but they can support you throughout the mediation process by:

  • Helping you prepare for sessions
  • Protect your assets and interests
  • Serving as a legal advocate

It is important to note that a mediator is a neutral, third-party who helps you and your partner reach a suitable agreement. However, they are not there to push either party to make certain decisions and are not advocates for either party.

Questions to Ask When Deciding If You Should Hire a Lawyer for Divorce

If you are still considering self-representation in your divorce, you should answer the following questions. The more questions you answer with a no, the more risk there is in self-presentation.

  • Are you confident in your oral and written communication skills? As mentioned, you will need to complete forms when you file for divorce. You may also be expected to speak and address the court/judge during the proceedings.
  • Do you have time to research laws and prepare for court? Depending on your availability and schedule, you may not have time to dedicate to researching or preparing for the case.
  • Are you consistently able to meet deadlines and arrive at meetings on time? You will be expected to adhere to filing deadlines and arrive in court on time. A lawyer could remind you of court appearances and deadlines, but if you represent yourself, you will have to remind yourself.
  • Are you able to maintain your composure when stressed or prodded? In court, you cannot interrupt the opposing counsel or the judge, and you should avoid making personal attacks (even if you are upset or prodded by the other side).
  • Can you act objectively rather than emotionally? Getting divorced is emotional; you may be experiencing a loss of control or feeling angry or betrayed. However, in making decisions regarding the terms of your divorce, you should try to remain objective. An attorney can both act in your best interest while maintaining an objective perspective.
  • Is the other party also representing themselves? If the other side has an attorney, you should also retain a divorce lawyer to “even the playing field.”
  • If the other party doesn’t play fair, are you prepared to handle that? An attorney can more easily recognize and combat delaying tactics, untrue accusations, etc.
  • Can you easily make quick or concrete decisions? If you often struggle to make decisions, you may struggle with negotiating the terms of your agreement.
  • Can you adhere to rules that you believe are unfair or shouldn’t apply to you? As we’ve mentioned, you will be expected to know and obey the laws and courtroom procedures regardless of your legal experience.
  • Are you confident in your ability to collect evidence and/or connect with experts or witnesses who can testify? If your soon-to-be-ex has evidence and may make it difficult for you to obtain it, a lawyer understands how they can compel them to share it. A reliable attorney can also advise you on what documents or items you will need to collect to support your cases (concerning custody, alimony, property division determinations).
  • Are you able to give yourself grace if you make mistakes? Oftentimes, we are our own worst critics. If you are easily defeated or excessively berate yourself because of mistakes, you may consider consulting with an attorney.

Contact Our Firm If You Are Considering Divorce

At Singleton Smith Law Offices, our attorneys are known for their dedication to excellence and our clients. We are equipped to help clients handle cases legalities in divorce matters, including:

Before (or even if) you decide to represent yourself in your divorce, you should consult with our lawyers. Our experienced divorce lawyers can help you better understand:

  • What to do in preparation for filing for divorce
  • How to file (i.e. what forms and information you need)
  • How we can best help you (i.e. strategizing, collecting evidence, advising you of your options)

If you are getting divorced, it is important you have legal help. Yes, there is a lot of information and resources available online. However, online information (including our blogs) does not replace personalized legal counsel from our attorneys, and forgoing an attorney has a huge impact on the outcome of your case.

Contact Singleton Smith Law Offices to schedule your free, initial case consultation online or at (951) 779-1610. Our attorneys are equipped to help clients file for divorce, and we can work tirelessly to provide you with affordable ethical legal services.