You can handle some tasks without hiring a lawyer. Forming a corporation, filing a trademark application, requesting an employer identification number from the IRS can be handled by any layperson. But for some tasks, you benefit from the knowledge and experience of a lawyer.
For example, some people think they can write their own will to dispose of their property. Or they try to save money by representing themselves after an arrest. However, this is a mistake.
Another situation that calls for someone with legal training is a divorce. Hiring a divorce lawyer could be a wise investment. Even in an uncontested divorce, hiring a divorce lawyer could make a huge difference in the outcome.
Here are eight reasons you should hire a divorce attorney.
Lawyers spend at least three years in law school to learn the basics like contract law, injury law, and property law. Some students may take a course in family law, but most will not.
So how does a lawyer become a divorce lawyer? Most lawyers will clerk with a few firms while in law school to narrow down the areas they want to practice. Once they choose a field, the lawyer will join a law firm that practices in that field.
From that point, the lawyer will develop legal expertise on the job. As a young associate, the lawyer will probably spend 200 hours a month working on cases in that field. Even with all that experience, many firms will not trust the lawyer to take the lead role in a case for two, three, sometimes even four years.
Even when the lawyer has a few years of experience, the lawyer will have mentors and colleagues to consult when the lawyer runs into a novel legal problem. Over time, the lawyer will grow into a seasoned professional and an expert in the field. But this expertise was earned from experience rather than books.
A non-lawyer can read legal texts and state statutes. Legal forms, books, and online resources can give you the tools to file a divorce. You may have some knowledge, but you lack experience.
A lawyer has experience. An especially busy lawyer might file hundreds of cases every year. No amount of book learning, even by someone who attended law school, can rival this amount of experience.
Provide a Big Picture View
This level of experience gives lawyers an understanding of the intended and unintended consequences of what happens in a divorce. For example, child support and alimony will have income tax implications. So will a sale of the family home to divide up its worth.
A lawyer can also keep an eye on the divorce as you go about your life. Many transactions take on additional legal significance when you are going through a divorce. Making valuable asset purchases while your divorce is pending can put you in the cross-hairs of your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer. For example, if you buy a new truck during the divorce, you lose credibility if you try to argue you cannot afford alimony.
The legal view is not the only viewpoint that you gain when hiring a divorce lawyer. An attorney might see hundreds of divorces every year. The lawyer has seen what happens to families going through a divorce. The lawyer knows how divorce affects children and even pets, as the spouses fight over custody. The lawyer can provide valuable counsel about coping with divorce.
Most importantly, a lawyer may have creative solutions for the problems that arise in your divorce. For example, a lawyer might have suggestions for breaking a logjam over grandparent visitation or dividing up assets that are difficult to place a value on.
Protect Your Rights When Resolving Complex Problems
Certain problems that arise during a divorce can raise novel issues of law and complex issues of fact. Some examples of these complex problems include:
- Child custody and visitation arrangements where one parent lives out-of-state or outside the United States.
- Valuing a family business and dividing the marital estate to reflect the business’s value.
- Dividing a marital estate where one spouse has a 401(k) or another retirement account that cannot be liquidated without substantial penalties.
- Dividing property that cannot be physically divided, like pets, collectibles, and artwork.
- High net worth divorces where one spouse’s financial contributions to the marital estate outweigh the other spouse’s financial contributions.
- Dividing up the value of businesses that carry high liabilities and high debt, like private doctor and dentist practices.
In many divorces, child custody and property division are relatively straightforward. Children spend a roughly equal amount of time with each parent, and the property is divided roughly equally between the parents. Occasionally, however, the unique circumstances of the couple can raise complex legal and factual issues. By hiring a divorce lawyer, you have someone who can explain your rights to you and protect them while working to resolve the issues so you can complete your divorce.
Assistance Protecting Your Child’s Interests
Family lawyers are in a difficult position because sometimes family members’ interests conflict with each other. But in many cases, you and your children will have the same interest in making sure they grow up in a healthy and stable environment.
When resolving issues that affect the children, a court’s decision must serve “the best interests of the child.” This test reminds the judge that the child’s interests sometimes vary from their parents’ interests and that the child’s interests must be served even if one of the parents might be unhappy with the outcome.
A child custody lawyer can help you advocate for your child’s interests and craft a solution that serves the child. From ensuring the child can attend the top preschools to making sure the child support is adequate to cover the child’s financial needs, hiring a divorce lawyer can ensure you and your child get what you need.
Guide You Through the Legal Process
Your divorce lawyer will help you through the process. The role of a lawyer includes:
- Listening to your story and understand your goals: By understanding what happened and what is important to you, a lawyer can help you reach your goals.
- Providing legal advice and counsel: Hiring a divorce lawyer gives you access to the lawyer’s legal knowledge and experience. The lawyer can give you objective advice and counsel that presents you with your legal options and how each option will affect you and your interests. This advice and counsel will help you structure your transactions and choose a legal option that achieves your goals.
- Developing a legal strategy: Once you choose your legal options, the lawyer develops a strategy based on those options. For example, a lawyer can explain the difference between legal separation and divorce. Once you select between them, the lawyer can develop a strategy to implement a separation or divorce while still protecting your rights and interests.
- Manage your case: A vastly underrated service provided after hiring a divorce lawyer is managing and organizing your case. Lawyers usually employ a staff that keeps track of evidence, correspondence, and deadlines. Your case file could contain thousands of pages of bank statements, pension statements, and other financial records. Your lawyer could write hundreds of letters to your spouse’s lawyer. A judge may set dozens of dates for motions, hearings, and a trial. A lawyer’s staff manages all this information to make sure that nothing is lost and deadlines are met.
- Advocate for your position: If there were no judges, juries, or opposing lawyers, a lawyer’s job would be easy, but the U.S. legal system is adversarial. This means that each party with an interest in the outcome of the case presents their arguments. Then, an objective fact-finder and decision-maker chooses a path supported by the law and the facts. For our adversarial system to work, you must have an advocate to present the law and facts that favor your position. For example, the issue of alimony can be particularly contentious. However, an alimony attorney who understands the factors used to award alimony and determine the amount can advocate for you whether you are the spouse charged with paying alimony or the spouse entitled to receive alimony.
Most legal cases are resolved through negotiation. Many cases never reach trial, and a settlement is reached in which both parties are equally satisfied or dissatisfied. Settlements, however, take hard work and a lot of negotiation.
Most lawyers, even divorce lawyers, seek to preserve civility during litigation. No one benefits from animosity. Lawyers might work together or against each other in future cases, and being reasonable is a way to maintain relationships as long as it does not prejudice the clients. At the same time, divorcing spouses may cross paths again. Working out a solution to their legal issues can reduce the potential for animosity.
Lawyers develop negotiating skills over years of practice. Like legal advocacy, negotiation cannot be learned from books. Rather, negotiating skills are developed through experience. Lawyers spend a lot of their time negotiating, drafting, and enforcing agreements. They learn what works and what does not. They also learn how to reach terms that can resolve an issue.
Negotiating on behalf of a client usually requires:
- Understanding what is important and unimportant to the client.
- Figuring out what is important and unimportant to the opposing spouse.
- Discussing the issues with the opposing lawyer to see if there is overlap in their positions.
- Determining if there is a way to satisfy both spouses’ interests.
For example, suppose you want to undertake a kitchen remodeling project in the family home to increase its resale value. How should the parties contribute to pay for the project? A skilled negotiator might realize there are several solutions to this project and try to determine if there is one that satisfies both parties interests. For example:
- Each party contributes equally to the project, and when the house is sold, the parties split the sale proceeds equally.
- Each party could contribute to the project and when the house is sold, each party first recoups its contribution first, then they split the sale proceeds equally. This allows one spouse to contribute, for example, 80% of the costs and the other to contribute 20% of the costs, but know they will be made whole when the house is sold.
- One party pays for the project and recoups the cost of the project when the house is sold. The remaining sale proceeds are split equally between the parties. This works if one spouse lacks the disposable income to contribute to the project but agrees that the project will increase the sale value of the home.
By hiring a divorce lawyer, you can often cut down the issues to be fought over by negotiating a resolution to the issues where the parties’ interests overlap.
Help Planning Your Other Legal and Financial Moves
During and after your divorce, you will need to begin your transition to post-marriage life. This will include rearranging your financial and legal affairs to account for your change in legal status from married to single or divorced. For example:
- You will probably need to meet with an estate planning expert to make sure your kids are taken care of after your death.
- You will also need to adjust your will to exclude your ex-spouse as an heir if that matches up with your plans. Or, if you are still in an amicable relationship, designate your ex-spouse as an heir to your estate.
- You may need to transfer assets held jointly into your sole name or your ex-spouse’s sole name.
- You will need to change the beneficiaries on your financial accounts.
- You can update your advance healthcare directives and durable power of attorney to determine how much control your ex-spouse has in your healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated.
Whether your divorce lawyer can help you directly or refer you to someone else, a divorce lawyer can also help you structure your post-marriage financial affairs. Since divorce can be financially disruptive, you may temporarily need to find apartments for rent. However, with time, you will rebuild your personal and financial life.
An accountant can help you keep track of all your obligations and make sure your taxes are filed properly. A financial planner can help you save money and even generate investment income. As you regain your financial footing after divorce, you can begin the next step in your life’s adventures.
Hiring a divorce lawyer when you and your spouse decide to split up is the best legal and financial move. Especially with children and shared property in the mix, divorce can become complicated. Hire a professional who understands the complexities of the process so they can help you through it seamlessly.