One thing I usually tell potential clients in an initial consultation is this: you do not NEED a lawyer to get divorced. Many are surprised to hear this come out of a lawyer's mouth. However, I think it is better to give people information and let them decide their own course of action from a position of empowerment. That, and I am busy enough, I do not need to push my services on anyone :).
Like any Do It Yourself (DIY) Project, there are times when it is better to have a lawyer. Here are a few tips on how to figure out whether to DIY or call a pro:
When and how to DIY
The best situation for one to DIY a divorce is when the person is used to filling out forms and paperwork, has a simple case, has a basic understanding of the law, and the parties largely agree on things.
There are a lot of forms on the internet. You can pay for some, you can get many for free. For a divorce in Montana, the free forms are great. You must select forms that are specifically for Montana, as the law varies wildly from state to state. Here are the links to forms:
The Missoula Family Law Self Help Center has great instructions for how to fill out the forms. There are modifications depending on your jurisdiction. However, if you are representing yourself, the Courts are generally more lenient with you than if you are a lawyer.
Even if you want to hire a lawyer, it is not a bad idea to look at the forms, just to familiarize yourself with the process ahead.
When it is Best to Call in a Pro
Lawyers can offer many things to your case. Lawyers are specially trained, and offer a depth of education and experience with family law, customized parenting plans and property settlement agreements, training in negotiation, the list goes on. Besides those basic benefits of representation, these are some good indications that it is time to call in a pro:
1. If you do not want to fill out the forms and paperwork.
Some people simply do not want to risk filling out the forms themselves and screwing something up, or their case is a little complicated for what the public forms provide. In this case, a lawyer can help you.
2. If you are not comfortable filling out the forms and paperwork.
Maybe you want to fill out the forms and paperwork yourself. But you take one look at the forms and instructions and your head spins. It is ok. It is a lot to deal with, especially when you are already dealing with your marriage dissolving. If you do not feel comfortable filling out the paperwork, it is a great time to call in a pro.
3. If you are in over your head
Maybe you filed your case yourself, and things got too tough. You two can't agree on anything, you may be headed to mediation or to Court, and you do not know where to turn. Then, it is definitely time to get a lawyer. A word of caution, not all lawyers are thrilled to take on cases that you started yourself. Some will not do it. And, I cannot think of a single lawyer that will take on a case too close to the trial date. If you have a trial date and know that you do not want to represent yourself, get in with a lawyer ASAP, before it is too late.
If you know from the start that you do not want to represent yourself, and that your case will likely go to court, it is best to start out with a lawyer. That way you are covered and do not have to scramble too close to your trial date.
4. If you want to take advantage of Collaborative Practice
I have talked about Collaborative Practice before. If you and your ex do not want to go to Court, but you do not think you can sit down and fill out the forms together, Collaborative Practice would be a good fit, and you need professionals trained in Collaborative Practice to proceed.
Of course, there are a lot of good arguments for both ways to go, only you can decide what path is right for you. If you are interested in seeking counsel for your divorce, it is easy to set up a consultation with me through my website. Thanks for reading!