Many people attempt to go through a divorce without any legal representation. If you feel you and your spouse can reach a fair settlement (especially if there are little or no assets involved), you can try to go it alone. However, you are well-advised to hire an attorney.
You will need some legal assistance to make your divorce official. Remember, a divorce is an agreement that the courts must approve. There are specific procedures that you will have to follow, and legal forms will have to be prepared.
In general, it is a good idea to acquire as much legal support as possible during a divorce. If you cannot afford divorce lawyers (one lawyer cannot represent both of you), look into hiring a paralegal. A paralegal is not a lawyer but can help you with most of the paperwork and may be able to steer you through the divorce process. You can locate a paralegal in the Yellow Pages or online or ask for recommendations. Ask about their qualifications and experience. Make sure that you understand all of the costs in advance of hiring a paralegal.
Consider using a mediator or arbitrator to help you reach an agreement. Mediation/arbitration can help you avoid expensive litigation and allows you to get on with your lives more easily. Consider having an attorney review the document before you sign it.
We strongly suggest you hire an attorney if children are involved in the divorce. You want to be certain the agreements relating to custody, visitation and support are legally sound. You should also have an attorney help you if you are dividing substantial marital property or if a private business is involved.
We strongly suggest you hire an attorney if your spouse has one, or if the proceedings are becoming nasty.
How to Select an Attorney
Hiring a divorce lawyer can be a little intimidating, especially if you have never worked with a lawyer before. Ask friends and people you know for recommendations (unless you want to keep your divorce private). Contact your state or local bar association for referrals. Look for a lawyer that specializes in divorce law. Always try to find an attorney who will respect your right to negotiate versus going to trial.
Start with two or three attorneys and call for an initial consultation. Explain the case and see how he or she responds to you. Is he or she attentive, or is the meeting being constantly interrupted for calls and other matters? If the lawyer is not giving you the proper respect now, this may be an indication that your case will not receive the attention it deserves.
Ask the attorney if he or she handles cases like yours and whether he or she will be handling your case personally or delegating it to someone else. If your case will be delegated, meet that attorney if possible. Ask how many cases actually go to trial. If the number is high (say at least 25%), then this lawyer may be too aggressive and not interested in seeking compromise. As a general rule, approximately 90–95% of divorce cases settle without having to go to trial.
Ask how long he or she thinks your case will take and how much it will cost. Each lawyer may give you a different estimate. A very expensive lawyer may not necessarily be the best one, yet a low-ball quote may be unrealistic. Divorce lawyers typically charge by the hour.
Asking your lawyer to launch a full-scale war may be a bad idea. You may be asking for a huge legal bill and forcing your spouse's attorney to launch an equally expensive defense (adding to the dissipation of marital assets to legal fees). In the end, you may not even get a much better settlement. The money you could both save can be used for much better causes, such as retirement savings or paying college tuition for the children.