Divorce Attorney: What You Need to Know
Many people handle represent themselves without retaining a divorce attorney. In California, 75% of all uncontested divorces are managed by unrepresented pro se litigants. Family mediation is also a process that is often handled by the parties without representation by divorce attorneys. Others decide they should retain divorce attorneys to review the draft of the Marital Settlement Agreement. If you have a pension or a large amount of property or income it is certainly advisable to consult an attorney before you sign a final agreement. An attorney can also be very helpful in advising you during the mediation itself.
You can save substantial legal fees in routine matters by finding a divorce attorney who will provide you with discrete services when you need it, and then handling the rest of the paperwork yourself using resources in this Web Site.
When Can You Represent Yourself
It is not advisable to represent yourself if you have a contested custody matter; if you have substantial property; or there is a dispute over pension rights. Self-representation works best for those with routine and uncontested legal matters and for those who can follow the instructions necessary to get from the filing of the complaint to the final hearing.
Only Hire a Divorce Attorney With Expertise in Family Law
A lawyer who normally handles personal injury law or corporate matters will not be of much use in a divorce since he or she may have little understanding of family law. Most states do not allow attorneys to state that they specialize in family law. However, firms are permitted to state that they limit their practice to family law, which means that they do not practice in other areas of the law.
Another indication that a law firm has expertise in family law is if the firm
is known to take on pro bono cases in family law. A pro bono case is a case that the firm takes on for no fee or a reduced fee because the client is financially eligible for such assistance under criteria established by a local or State Bar Association. You can also ask what percentage of the lawyer’s practice is devoted to domestic law cases
Always have a written agreement
Do not hire a lawyer based on an oral agreement. That only leads to misunderstandings. Instead, be sure the fee agreement (called a retainer agreement) is in writing and that you understand all of its terms.
Divorce Attorneys Usually Charge “By the Hour”
That means you are going to have to keep a sharp eye on the bill. Thus, do not accept a bill that reads, “fees for services rendered.” Rather, insist on a detailed monthly billing statement. If you find a mistake or there is a charge you don’t understand, bring it to the attention of your lawyer. Some lawyers are experimenting with a new form of practice called “unbundled” legal services.
These lawyers will charge you just for the advice that you need, usually on an hourly basis, to support you in your mediation and after as a pro se litigant. In this case, you will still file your own legal papers, but the lawyer will be available to provide you with legal advice if you need it.
Don’t Be Passive
Just because you have a lawyer, that doesn’t mean you do not have a job to do. You should ask questions and read the material in this web site so as to better understand the law and the process. You – not your lawyer – should make the ultimate decisions about how to proceed with your case. After all, it is your life and your future that is at stake, not your lawyer’s.
Questions you will want to ask your lawyer.
- How long will my divorce take?
- What is going to happen step-by-step?
- What is your best estimate of the fees that you will charge?
- What will be my other “out of pocket” expenses?
- Will “experts” such as an accountant be necessary? what will that cost?
- Will I be asked to pay the legal fees of my spouse?
- What are the problems in getting what I want out of the divorce?
- What is my child support obligation, if any?
In summary, if you retain a lawyer you could spend as much in legal fees as purchasing new car. Spend as much time ins electing a lawyer as you would if you were purchasing a new car. Buyer beware!!