Since we are family law attorneys, you probably already know our answer. Absolutely you should hire a family law lawyer to help you through a divorce. And they already know family law and how the process works. But they have also seen and understand how difficult it can be to make good decisions during a family law matter. They know the value of having an experienced advocate on your side to help guide you through the process. Family law is such an emotionally charged area of law, it is difficult to do it alone. There is so much at stake, and even small mistakes can have lasting consequences. 999 times out of 1000 – hiring a good family law lawyer is beneficial.
But let’s take a step back from our obvious answer and talk about why hiring an attorney is worth it.
You need to hire an attorney if the other side has an attorney.
One rule of thumb always applies: If the other party has an attorney, you need to get an attorney. The chances are slim that a self-represented person (pro per) beats an attorney at trial or even negotiates a favorable outcome for themselves. We have seen too many people try to do it on their own—and fail.
If you do not hire an attorney, the court holds you to the same standard of an attorney. The Court says repeatedly that each party/counsel should act “reasonably” throughout a matter. This sounds generic, but it is an especially important legal standard to know, especially as a pro per. In family law, when anyone takes an unreasonable position, files the wrong documents, misses deadlines, does not know the law, or causes unnecessary court intervention, the court can decide to order the unreasonable party to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees.
If only one side has an attorney, they have an advantage that is difficult to overcome.
You should hire an attorney if your case involves significant assets or debts, a high-conflict custody situation, or safety concerns.
In some cases, not hiring an attorney is not an option. If you are serious about protecting yourself and your interests, you need an attorney. This is especially true in complex cases involving significant assets or debts, in high-conflict custody matters, or in any situation involving domestic violence or other serious safety concerns. Having an educated, experienced attorney in your corner can help you protect your best interests.
You may want to hire an attorney to prevent bad outcomes or guard against making a bad agreement.
In some cases, typically when both parties agree on most issues, you may not think you need to hire a lawyer, but even then, you should at least have an attorney involved to review your settlement agreements. Many people who try to do it on their own lose because they do not understand the entire process and they miss crucial litigation steps: i.e., they did not get the discovery information they needed, focused on the wrong issue at trial, did not submit their exhibits properly, or did not say the right things at trial. Many times, it is a combination of small errors that leads to an unfavorable ruling that has real consequences for their children and for themselves financially. After trial, once the court has made their rulings or signed your agreements, the options to fix or undo them are limited.
Even where an agreement is reached, hiring an attorney to draft the agreement prevents problems down the road.
Often, we see parties reach agreements without attorneys, they draft the agreements on their own, only to discover later that they used the wrong language, omitted important steps that would have made their agreements enforceable in court or did not include everything they should have. This is why hiring an attorney to draft, or at a minimum, to review your agreements is valuable. Attorneys are well-acquainted with the legal standards required and can ensure you include specific legal protective language and provisions. An attorney is going to know what to consider, and they know what needs to be included in an agreement, Divorce Decree, or Parenting Plan.
In simple, low-conflict cases, the cost of hiring an attorney may not be worthwhile.
In a few instances, it may not make sense to hire an attorney. The most common example is a simple child support modification. If both parents agree on the changes and feel informed of what they are agreeing to or giving up, then the cost of hiring an attorney to help with just modification is probably not worthwhile.
Even if you do not plan to hire an attorney, consult with one.
If you are involved in any legal situation where the courts may be involved, a consultation with an experienced attorney is by far the best thing you can do. During a consultation with a (good) attorney, they will listen to the facts, explain your options, discuss the potential outcomes, and provide you with the information you need to know. We cannot stress enough the importance of a consultation with an attorney. We always tell clients before their consultations that no matter what, they will feel better after their consultation. And as our meetings end, the most common thing we hear is a sigh of relief.