Here is a common question I receive on forums and sometimes just sent to my e-mail. Question: Should I get an attorney for my separation/divorce?
The short and obvious answer is YES. Of course, lets be honest here, if you ask a car dealer if you should buy a new car, or ask the preacher if you should repent, you should be expecting the answer to be a resounding “yes”. However, since nothing in the law is ever clear and although the law is printed in black and white, it is anything but; even this seemingly simple and extremely common question has more than meets the eye.
The fact of the matter is, whether or not you should hire a lawyer depends on many variables. What do you want to accomplish? What are the assets, debts, issues on child support and custody, can you and your estranged spouse work together to resolve your differences? Do you want to reconcile? Does he? Can you afford to hire a lawyer or more to the point, can you afford not to hire a lawyer?
First and foremost, I have a philosophy, I am certain it cost me a certain amount of business, but it also saves me a lot of anguish and personal introspection. If you do not want a divorce, do not file for one. Let me repeat that: IF YOUR GOAL IS TO GET YOUR SPOUSE TO GO TO COUNSELING, ASK THEM TO GO TO COUNSELING, DO NOT FILE A DIVORCE. In Texas, a Judge cannot order a party to attempt to reconcile or go to counseling. A Judge can encourage it, many do, but there is no provision in the law that allows a Judge to force a party to do one of these things.
Second most important is this: IF YOUR SPOUSE HIRES A LAWYER, YOU WILL NEED A LAWYER. I am only 5’10” but I love basketball, it is the only sport I pay attention to and I like to think I know quite a bit about the game. I played in high school (yes, it was a small school), I have read the rules, studied strategies for the game, etc. However, if I were ever privileged enough to play a game of one on one against Jason Kidd or J.J. Berrea (Jason is 6’2″ and JJ is 6’0″ so at least they have minimal height advantage on me) I may get a few lucky shots and even score a couple times but I will never win. These are two professionals. They play basketball for a living. By definition, they are supposed to win. The same can be said about a lay person taking on a skilled lawyer. You can be an avid courtroom drama fan, you may even understand some of the rules of evidence. However, at the end of the day, if you play a game against a trained professional you are supposed to loose. That is why they are trained professionals.
If you fall into the category of you want a divorce, reconciliation is not an option, and you think you and your spouse can agree to most of the details, this presents a situation where you may get away with neither one of you hiring a lawyer. However, just because you can does not mean you should represent yourself. Particularly when the two of you can hire one lawyer, split the cost and get an uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse agree to all the details – in other words, you both agree the divorce will occur and you have agreed to who gets what property and who pays what bills, who is keeping the house/apartment, who will make decisions for the children and how much child support will be paid, etc. Then you have what we call an uncontested divorce. The cost of an uncontested divorce varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on court cost – cost are generally in the $300 range, and attorney’s rates. I offer a one cost turn key option – it includes court cost, filing fees, notices, drafting, certified copies at the end, submission of the “Austin Form” and withholding orders if applicable, and all closing documents (except QDROs – an order dividing a retirement account – those are extra since I hire another firm to do those if they are needed.)
If you do not have an agreed divorce, then refer back to my second point. The law allows you to represent yourself, but that is not always a good idea. You could and should always consider mediation as an option before filing for divorce and this part of the process you can do without lawyers and then you can secure the services of one attorney to provide limited scope or unbundled legal services to finish your divorce or custody suit saving thousands of dollars in the process.
Since we are on the subject of cost – always a huge concern – consider hiring Family Mediation Services. A few lawyers in the North Texas, DFW, Collin County area offer Unbundled Legal Services a/k/a Limited Scope Representation but I am happy to work on these types of cases. In fact, I take the concept one step further and offer mediation services on an as needed basis without the need to hire lawyers. If you think you are going to mediation anyway, why pay a lawyer thousands of dollars to sit there with you? It is a unique approach designed to lessen the burden on you and your family while saving you legal fees.
If hiring a lawyer is too expensive, your traditional choice is to go it alone, find a lawyer willing to work pro bono, or find a way to pay for the help. Now there is another choice, mediation without lawyers. Check it out at www.ReevesPC.com.