Do I Need a Lawyer to get a Divorce?
This is a question we get asked all the time. It’s understandable. Hiring an attorney is an important decision and it’s wise to question if it’s a necessity. The short answer is no: you do not have to hire a lawyer to get a divorce. You can go to the Clerk & Master’s office in the Courthouse and file for a divorce on your own. That is what is called representing yourself (the legal term for which is pro se). If your spouse has filed for divorce against you, you can represent yourself without a lawyer. If you already divorced and are back in court on new issues with your former spouse, you can represent yourself.
Should I Represent Myself?
We recommend a do-it-yourself divorce only in limited situations. If the marriage is a short one, there are no children, and there is no property or debt to be divided, then the case should be simple enough that you may not need the help of a lawyer.
But, be careful. It may sound like you are saving money by not paying a lawyer, but if there are dependent children, or if you and your spouse own any property, or owe any debts, together, or have contributed to the other’s property, you’ll be better off and actually save money in the long run by having a lawyer look out for your best interest and advise and help you. You will want to make absolutely sure that child custody and visitation, the parenting plan, and the division of property and debts are done fairly and properly. An experienced lawyer knows how to make sure the right result is obtained.
Is it really that complicated, what if we don’t have much to fight over?
You may well want your divorce to be simple, but your spouse may try to make it complicated. Or, if you have lived together for a while, property interests can get complicated to sort out. Among the many issues that may come up in a divorce are child custody, child visitation rights and schedules, division of property, allocation of debts, steps to assure finality on as many issues as possible, dealing with physical or mental abuse, orders restraining contact, and orders restraining misapplication of assets. Not every such issue comes up in every case, but most cases can have surprises in store for the divorcing parties.
Do We Both Need a Lawyer if We’ve Already Figured Things Out?
Can one lawyer represent both spouses in the divorce? In almost all cases, one lawyer cannot, or should not represent both spouses. In cases where there is no disagreement at all between the spouses, it may be okay to hire just one attorney. Most cases, however, do involve some disagreement, so it is almost always best for each side to consider hiring his or her own attorney.
When you do need the help of a lawyer, it is essential that you select an attorney who will vigorously represent your interest, obtain favorable results as soon as feasible, and charge you a reasonable fee. It is also very important that you are comfortable with your lawyer.