There is no one-size-fits all answer, so these three key factors will help you decide whether you should hire a divorce lawyer.
Divorces are tough, on you and your family. And not only can they be emotional and challenging on a personal level, they can be stressful and complicated from a legal perspective as well.
But it’s also true that there is a wide range of outcomes for how any particular divorce might unfold, spanning from amicable separations to heated court battles. With such a wide range of possibilities, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether you should hire a divorce lawyer.
There are, however, some useful things to keep in mind as you evaluate whether or not you need to hire a divorce lawyer. Each of these considerations is discussed in more detail below, but at a high level, some of the primary things you should consider are:
In addition to those considerations, there are some other themes you should keep in mind as you think about the legal side of your divorce. With or without a lawyer, divorces often unfold something like this:
But not every divorce goes through each of these stages, and the stages could happen in a different order. As just one example, a judge might order mediation after you and your spouse have already initiated court proceedings; so mediation is a process that could unfold either before or after you hire a divorce lawyer, and either before or after things get contentious.
Related to this bird’s-eye-view of the process, a key theme is that the best outcomes often result from reaching an agreement with your spouse. If you are able to effectively communicate and reach agreements outside of court, it can save you time, money, and headache. It also allows you to shape the outcomes, as opposed to putting your issues before a judge and having to live with someone else’s decisions about your life including child custody, alimony, and division of marital property.
Now let’s address the three key questions mentioned above that you should consider when deciding whether to hire a divorce lawyer.
Basically, the more contentious your divorce is, the more it makes sense to consider hiring a lawyer.
At one end of the spectrum, if you plan to file for an uncontested divorce, then there shouldn’t be a heavy legal lift. It may still be worthwhile to have a lawyer review or formalize your agreement before submitting it to a court, but you’re less likely to need a divorce lawyer for an uncontested divorce.
If your divorce is contested and things are contentious, however, it becomes more important to have a legal expert who will fight for your interests.
Similarly, the more complicated your divorce is the more you could benefit from the experience and expertise of a divorce lawyer. How complicated your divorce is depends on factors such as what type of financial and property issues are involved, and whether you and your spouse have children.
If you’ve got complicated finances, substantial marital property (or marital debt) to sort through, and child custody issues to work out, it can be important to have a legal expert who will help navigate you through the process and protect your interests every step of the way.
If your spouse has hired a lawyer, you should seriously consider consulting a divorce lawyer as well.
The fact that they have hired a lawyer does not necessarily mean they plan on a scorched-earth approach, or that you should take one either. But unless you hire a lawyer who is experienced in divorce cases and can help you navigate the legal framework, you will be at a disadvantage. Hiring a lawyer is the only way you can ensure your interests will be fully represented.
There are three other practical considerations to be aware of if you are debating whether to hire a divorce lawyer.
First, limited scope representation is an option. This means you could specifically limit by agreement what the lawyer will assist you with (such as just reviewing your divorce agreement, or attending mediation with you). Limited scope representation may make more sense - and be more cost effective - than hiring a lawyer for a full representation if you’re not embroiled in a particularly contentious or complicated divorce.
Second, ethical rules will require you and your spouse to hire separate attorneys in nearly every state in order to avoid conflicts of interest. It doesn’t matter whether your divorce is contentious or amicable (nor does it mean that your divorce needs to become contentious). But from a legal perspective, you and your spouse’s interests are different, and therefore must be represented separately.
Third, If you are not able to afford a lawyer, there are other resources available to you as well. You may qualify for Legal Aid and should contact a Legal Aid office near you. You also might be able to get a lawyer to take your case pro bono (for free), and should reach out to your state’s bar association for referrals.
The best way to make sure your interests are fully represented is to hire an experienced divorce lawyer who will help you navigate the legal process and fight for your interests. But not all divorces require full representation from a divorce lawyer, and not everyone can afford to pay for a divorce lawyer.
Three key factors which determine whether you should hire a divorce lawyer are: (1) how contentious your divorce is; (2) how complicated your divorce is; and (3) whether your spouse has hired a divorce lawyer. The more contentious and complicated your divorce - or the greater the imbalance because your spouse has hired a divorce attorney - the more you should consider consulting a divorce lawyer for yourself.
And if you are unable to afford a divorce lawyer, know that there are other options such as Legal Aid or pro bono representation which may be able to help you navigate what is often a stressful and navigating process.
If you do speak with a divorce lawyer, here are some of the key questions to ask them to see if they are the right fit for you.