“If you hire a lawyer, I won’t give you a dime.” "We can share a lawyer and save money.” “Our divorce isn’t complicated. We can do it ourselves.”
I’ve heard these lines so many times. Women tell me how they felt pressured not to hire a lawyer or to use the same lawyer as their spouse. Their spouse usually cites money as the reason (lawyers are expensive, yadda yadda), but sometimes it’s about how the lawyer will just make everything more difficult. There’s truth to both claims - sometimes. Hiring a lawyer to help you through your divorce case will definitely be more expensive than handling it on your own. And there are lawyers who overcomplicate things and raise the hostility level. But there are helpful and not-so-helpful types in just about every category - lawyers, doctors, teachers, therapists, you name it.
Or maybe it’s you - not your spouse - who’s resistant to hiring a lawyer. Perhaps you’re looking at a lawyer’s hourly rate and thinking that’s not how you want to spend your dough.
If you find yourself wondering if you need a lawyer to get through your divorce, it’s a fair question. Here are 6 reasons to hire (or at least consult with) a divorce lawyer:
1. They’ve done this a lot more than you have. Even if this isn’t your 1st divorce - heck, even if it isn’t your 5th divorce - chances are a lawyer is going to have done this more often than you have. And by “this” I mean negotiated a settlement, drafted a separation agreement, argued in court, etc. They have a lot more experience and have seen all kinds of things happen. Which should translate into you getting a better or at least more thought-out outcome. A good lawyer will also think of a whole host of things you wouldn’t even know to think about - things like tax consequences, allocating child tax credits and Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (say what?!)
2. It’s not their life. Even the most compassionate attorney out there isn’t as emotionally invested in your case as you are. Sound like a negative? Usually not. Think about how well you make decisions when you have a clear, dispassionate head. Now think about how well you make decisions when you’re highly emotional and dependent on the outcome. There’s a reason why doctors don’t operate on their own family members. A lawyer can be a great advocate, but still cool and calm enough to help you make smart decisions.
3. The law is written by lawyers. After “public service,” more legislators list “lawyer” as their profession than any other. Which means that laws are often being written by lawyers, in lawyer speak, which isn’t exactly plain English. 🧐 It can be confusing and difficult to understand, and often cross-references other laws. Plus, the law’s constantly being interpreted and even created by court cases (“case law”). Which means that if you want to gain a decent understanding of the divorce laws that affect you, be prepared to do a good bit of studying. Or hire a lawyer whose job it is to understand the law and keep up with changes to it.
4. Court can be a scary place. If you haven’t spent regular time inside a courthouse, it might feel a bit overwhelming. There are metal detectors (like an airport, but not). There’s a lot of standing up and sitting down (like Church, but not). Judges have their own rules for how they keep their courtroom and how they expect you to act in it. Some expect you to address everyone by their last names; some are less formal. Some want you to speak from the podium; others will look at you funny if you get up from your table. A lawyer who is local to the area will have gone to court hundreds of times, and be able to prep you on what to expect, so court can feel a little less scary.
5. Lawyers usually get quicker responses from court personnel. This might not sound fair, but any honest courtroom staff will tell you they usually respond more quickly to a lawyer - especially one who is pleasant to deal with - than they do to parties who represent themselves (called “pro se”). The courts are a little more cautious when dealing with people who aren’t lawyers. Plus, because they may not know the law or the process, they tend to contact the court more frequently than lawyers do.
6. They can be a calming voice in a really emotional time. You’re on edge. There are a million decisions to be made. And everyone else seems to have an opinion on what you should do. A good divorce lawyer will act as your guide, steering you through the process and advising you about the options you have. If you feel at all uncertain about what you should do - what settlement to ask for, what’s fair or likely to happen - a divorce lawyer is the expert in that area.
If you’ve considered these reasons and are still unsure, think about just having a consultation. You might find a lawyer you will consult for free, though many good ones will charge for their time. But you can gain valuable knowledge in that consult, even if you choose to go it on your own after that.
Whichever way you go, we offer you a ton of tips to shortcut many of the things you’ll want to know as you embark on divorce. Things like best practices to get through your court case, understanding taxes, and how to be your own financial detective. But there’s still a lot of unique things about your own case - and having your own lawyer can help you work through them.
Still thinking about sharing lawyers, or using your spouse’s lawyer? Make sure you read this first.
And if you haven’t yet seen a lawyer, check out our answers to 3 questions commonly asked to divorce lawyers. Shave off an hour of time you would’ve paid for these answers, and use those dollars where you need them more.
Finally, if you know you need your own lawyer, or already have one, but are concerned about how much you’re spending, check out these 5 ways to stretch your legal dollars.