Do I Need a Lawyer for My Divorce?

Video Transcript:

Getting a divorce is like going on a long, winding road trip without a map. The divorce process is confusing, stressful, and sometimes it feels like you’re going in circles. And just like any other journey, having someone with experience and knowledge to guide you can make all the difference. 

That’s where a divorce lawyer comes into the picture. But do you absolutely need one? In this video, we will help you answer that question and give you alternative, low-cost options. 

The short answer as to whether you need a lawyer is: It depends. While some may be tempted to handle the process themselves to save money, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully. 

Divorce involves a lot of legal and financial complexities that may not be immediately obvious. From property division and child custody to spousal support and retirement accounts, the legal landscape can be daunting. 

If there is any disagreement between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse regarding finances, spousal or child support, property division, or child custody, hiring a lawyer may be a good idea.

If your divorce is simple, meaning you have no children, no shared assets, and no debt, and is uncontested, you might be able to navigate the process without a lawyer. 

An uncontested divorce is one in which the couple agree to the divorce and on all major issues relating to the dissolution of the marriage. Major issues usually include things such as the division of property, division of marital assets, division of marital debt, alimony, and custody and financial support of minor children.

However, “simple” is not a word usually used to describe any divorce. Even without kids or shared property, there are emotions involved. And emotions can complicate even the simplest of things. 

So, even if you and your spouse have no kids, no debt, and no assets, or are lucky enough to agree on custody rights and how financial matters will be handled, it might still be wise to hire a divorce lawyer to ensure your rights are protected. This could involve simply having a lawyer draft a divorce decree or review a divorce agreement. Luckily, there are many divorce attorneys that are willing to charge a flat rate for such limited services.

If you decide to go forward with a do-it-yourself divorce, it would be very wise for you to research the proper steps, relevant divorce laws, and forms you need to prepare and file. Many, if not all states, for example, have residency requirements in order to initiate a divorce action.

If you’ve been served with divorce papers, your spouse has hired an attorney, or have a contested divorce on your hands, you should definitely consider hiring a lawyer. 

Unlike an uncontested divorce, a contested divorce occurs when one of the spouses does not want to end the marriage, or if there is a disagreement regarding things such as how marital property, debt, or child custody will be distributed. 

Domestic abuse or violence, of you or your children, are other issues that often complicate a marriage dissolution. One or both spouses may have to fight for or against child visitation rights and restraining orders.

And let’s not forget, sometimes you just need a lawyer to understand all the legal jargon and guide you through the jungle of divorce proceedings. Seriously, have you ever tried reading a legal document? It’s like trying to understand a foreign language, but without the fun of being in a foreign country.

If you want or need legal representation but can’t afford it, there are several free or low-cost options. One of the great things about these options, other than the lower cost, is that you can mix and match!

Number 1: Get free advice from experienced divorce lawyers on Judigo Legal. If you just need a few simple legal questions answered or need some direction, you can chat online with an experienced attorney for free. 

Number 2: Negotiate informally with your spouse. If at all possible, put on your “patience of a saint” hat and try to come to a divorce settlement through negotiations with your spouse. Negotiations typically involve parenting plans and working out financial issues. Though negotiations may take a few months and will most likely test your sanity, you could potentially save thousands of dollars, bigger headaches, and time in the long run. 

Number 3: Try a collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorces involve each party hiring a lawyer to attempt to come to a settlement agreement without having to battle it out in court. 

With collaborative divorces, the spouses don’t talk to each other unless both their lawyers are present, and if during the process, one party threatens to sue the other, the collaborative divorce process ends. While this option is a bit costly, it provides each party with the support of a lawyer, keeps the matter private, out of court, and often costs only a fraction of going to trial. 

Number 4: Try a divorce mediation. The mediation process is a lot simpler than going to trial. It is simply a relatively informal meeting run by a mediator whose job it is to help spouses come to an agreement. The mediator is normally chosen by both spouses and is neutral in that they are not there to play favorites or to judge. Their only objective is to get both spouses to agree. 

Private mediation can be a little pricey although it is a lot cheaper, less messy, and less risky than going to trial. Some courts and local governments offer free divorce mediation services, so it might be worthwhile to do a little research to try to find one. 

Number 5: Hire an attorney to handle only one or a few things. This is known as limited-scope representation. Many attorneys, including Judigo Legal members, offer unbundled services and some even offer flat rates. With limited-scope representation, you can save a lot of money by handling some tasks yourself and delegating more complex things to an attorney. 

For example, some people will hire a divorce attorney just to represent them in court or at a mediation, or to draft or review agreements. 

Number 6: Get help from legal aid clinics. Many legal aid offices can answer questions and provide either limited or full-scope representation on a sliding scale. You may also want to ask your local bar association about free or low-cost legal aid organizations. 

Number 7: If you live in California, hire a registered Legal Document Assistant. Legal Document Assistants (LDAs for short) are non-lawyer, trained professionals who are authorized to prepare and file legal documents for clients. 

Please note that LDAs are not the same as paralegals. In California, and a lot of other states, paralegals cannot work directly for the public. Rather, paralegals can only work for and under the supervision of an attorney. 

LDAs, on the other hand, can perform work directly for the public and are generally much cheaper than lawyers. However, keep in mind that LDAs cannot represent you or give you legal advice—only lawyers can do that. Also, you should ensure that any LDA you are looking to hire is registered with the County Clerk in each county where they provide services.

Here’s a final word on low-cost options: Be wary of online divorce companies who offer their services at bargain basement prices. Make sure to research and vet anyone you intend to hire. And remember–only state bar-licensed lawyers can give you advice about legal issues!

In conclusion, like most things in life, whether or not you need a divorce lawyer isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. It largely depends on your specific situation. 

If you’re unsure, it doesn’t hurt to consult with a lawyer to understand your options better. Chats with lawyers on Judigo Legal are free, but if you need something more than a quick chat, many member attorneys offer free, longer consultations.

After all, it’s better to have and not need, than to need and not have, right? That goes for umbrellas, spare tires, and yes, divorce lawyers.

Thanks for watching and remember, this video is meant to be informational only and is not legal advice.

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