Following is an excerpt from my most recent book Start Here: Your Guide to Divorce and Recovery available on Amazon. Start Here
Do you need an attorney? My answer to that is, maybe, maybe not. What are your circumstances? Do you have kids? Do you have a lot of assets that need to be divided? Is this a high-dollar marriage? Or on the other hand, are there no kids, no assets or very few and they have already been divided? Was it a short-term marriage, and have you been able to agree on everything? You don’t always need an attorney, especially if there are no assets to speak of, you don’t need to worry about child support or alimony, you weren’t married long, etc. Most courts have self-help forms online and instructions on how to do it yourself. There is no need to get attorneys involved if you are able to settle everything on your own. Beyond that, if there are only one or two issues that still need to be decided, a good mediator can help you with that. Depending on where you live, you may be required to mediate before going to court anyway, so why not just start there.
On the other hand, if things are going to be complicated, and if you have a lot of assets, a business or two or you have kids and are arguing over parenting time, decisions, etc., you may need to hire an attorney. To that end, do not just Google “divorce attorneys.” Start by asking trusted friends or family members; referrals are always best because these people have real-world experience with this attorney and wouldn’t be referring them if they were not good at their job. I would caution you to not use an attorney your friend used to sue her neighbor and the attorney has also done a divorce case here and there. You want to use someone who specializes in family law and has been there done that. You want someone who knows the court system, the judges, mediators, counselors, and other professionals you may need to complete your case. This is the rest of your life we are talking about and you don’t just want to use someone because they have a law degree or because they’re cheap.
If you can’t find any referrals, then go ahead and do an internet research. There are a lot of family law attorneys, but they are not all the same. If you can find a few who do free consultations, take advantage and interview them. It is important for you to be comfortable with this person and to feel you can trust them. You will be working with them for the foreseeable future, and you will basically be putting your financial and emotional life in their hands, so be sure the outcome will be worth the money spent.
Also, keep in mind that it is unethical for one attorney to represent both parties – the attorney is supposed to be working towards the best possible outcome for their client and work to resolve things in their best interest, if you are both his or her clients who do they remain loyal to? Never hire an attorney to work with both of you. However, if your spouse has hired an attorney and you choose to proceed without one keep in mind that you will be working directly with this attorney and they cannot give you legal advice. They will of course be working in their client’s best interest and you may feel pressured and end up signing something that isn’t best for you or you don’t completely understand. I believe it is better to either both have an attorney or not.