10 Reasons You Need a Divorce Lawyer
I recently overheard someone telling group of people how they could not trust lawyers, how lawyers would cheat them and how they should rely upon the company they speaker belonged to instead. That conversation got me thinking about why people need not just any lawyer, but a good divorce lawyer.
Backyard AdviceYou should not rely on what you've heard from friends about separation and divorce. Unless that friend is a licensed attorney, he/she is not authorized to practice law. Your friend's knowledge will be limited to his/her particular experience, that experience is limited to the facts of his/her case and the law as it was at the time. Things change. The law changes. Any change in the facts or in the law will change the outcome. Your friend lacks the knowledge and experience to give sound practical legal advice.
Identifying IssuesThe sooner you consult a lawyer, the sooner you will learn what you need to know to protect yourself and your children and property interests. Sometimes people have o idea how to go about identifying the issues they need to discuss even if the separation is an amicable one and the parties anticipate a "friendly divorce." A good, experienced divorce lawyer can assist you in identifying the issues you need to discuss with your spouse to achieve a comprehensive agreement and global settlement. Over the years, there have been numerous times when we were able to point out to clients areas they had initially overlooked and issues which should be included in their settlement discussions, such as life insurance, health insurance, and children's educational needs.
To Share or Not to Share?Do we need separate attorneys? Can't we just share? 40 years ago when I first began practicing law, it was strictly forbidden for a lawyer to represent both sides to a divorce, no matter how "friendly" it was. There are some limited circumstances in which dual representation might be allowed, provided there is full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and a waiver of conflicts with informed consent by both parties. these situations are limited and in the event that unhappy differences or disputes should arise, the attorney must end the representation and both parties must seek new counsel. We rarely agree to dual representation; we represent our clients zealously within the bounds of the law and the conflicts in representing opposing sides are too apparent for us to agree to do so. If your spouse already has a lawyer, that means, he/she already knows is/her rights, duties and responsibilities under the law. In our experience, spouses will think nothing of misrepresenting the law to gain advantage in the negotiation.
Recently a client told me that her husband who remains in the marital home told her that she was now his "landlord" and therefore she could not re-enter the home without his consent and presence and that his lawyer said so. Everything he told her was wrong. He also told her that they did not need to use lawyers and if she insisted on getting one, that he would find something wrong with each draft and run up her legal fees. She was glad she chose to get her own lawyer and advice,
Do You Feel Lucky?Going to a court hearing in a pending divorce without a lawyer is like playing Russian Roulette. How lucky do you think you are? Would you preform surgery on yourself or would you seek out a qualified surgeon? Why do you think that you know enough to represent yours elf in court? Do you know what your rights, duties and responsibilities are? The judge won't help you out if you don't know what you are doing. There are rules of evidence and rules of procedure that govern hearings. You need someone on your team that that knows the rules of the game. You will need someone to prepare you for your testimony in court so that you don't put your feet in your mouth up to your hip bone. You will be bound by the things that come out of your mouth in court.
Recently we spoke to a man who incurred spousal and child support obligations of $4300 per month. The court issued an order based on erroneous exhibits filed by his wife's attorney and based upon things he said in open court as to his income which were not accurate. A skilled trial attorney can get you to say things that you don't mean to say, especially if you have not been prepared for your testimony.
Too Little, Too LateGoing to see a lawyer after you have already signed papers or participated in depositions or hearings on your own is like closing the barn door, after the cow got out. Just because you were not represented does not mean that you can get out of a bad decision or bad deal you may have made or get out of rulings the court made when you were unrepresented. The time to get advice is before you sign, before you go to court. In fact, you should get advice as soon as you receive legal notice of a pending lawsuit against you.
If you are reading this and you have already signed papers, you should still consult with a good experienced divorce attorney to have the papers explained to you and to see if there are any loopholes which may be used to renegotiate terms more favorably to you or to insist upon "clarification" of the agreement. The attorney can also explain the consequences of having signed the paperwork.
If you are reading this and you are in the midst of a divorce, you should seek an immediate consultation with a experienced divorce attorney to see if there is any legal basis to suppress depositions that may have been taken or other steps that may be taken to protect your rights. Be sure to take all of your documents with you to the consultation. We have successfully reopened a case for a client because depositions were taken too early. In your case it may be too late to do anything, but you should at least talk to a divorce attorney right away to be sure.
Isn't a Lawyer a Lawyer? (A Rose by Any Other Name...)You may know a lawyer who closed on your house. While you cold go back to that lawyer about your separation and divorce, it may not be in your interest to do so. There's a saying that if the blind lead the blind they both fall in a ditch. Would you go to a podiatrist (a foot doctor) about an eye infection? You could, both doctors went to medical school. The question is the question is how much, if anything does he/she remember about eyes? Is he/she current on the medical literature pertaining to eyes and eye disease?
I have seen horrendous separation agreements prepared by lawyers who do not devote at least a significant portion of their practice to family law but were trying to accommodate a friend or relation in their time of need. Actually, a lawyer should decline a case, if he/she does not believe that he/she has the knowledge and experience to handle it or that he/she is not willing to acquire the knowledge necessary to handle it.
It takes a significant amount of time to keep up with all of the changes in the law that affect separation and divorce. Think about it. Every week somewhere there is a court either federal or state making a decision that could affect your situation. Every week that the legislature is in session, whether Congress or the General Assembly, they make decisions that Could affect your situation. An experienced divorce attorney should make it a point to review new cases and statutes looking for those that affect family law practice. All of the best family lawyers do.
Pre-Paid LegalIf you have paid for this service, then certainly you can talk to one of the participating attorneys. But unless the attorney is an experienced divorce lawyer with a significate portion of his/her practice devoted to separation and divorce and related issues, you should give serious consideration to looking outside of your prepaid plan. Has the lawyer written any books or articles on separation, divorce or related issues that are published. I am not a participating attorney in a pre-paid legal plan. The best divorce lawyers are not To my knowledge there are no fellows (members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers) who participate in a pre-paid legal plan. If you are reading this and have personal knowledge of a fellow in the AAML and also a participant in a pre-paid legal plan, please let me know the name of the attorney so I can verify the information and update this guide.
Think about what is at stake the custody and support of your children, the division of assets you may have worked your entire married life to accumulate, including your home, pension, savings, military retirement and/or 401k. Do you really want to cut corners when it comes to your kids? Your home? our pension? Your retirement?
A Ship Needs a NavigatorIf you think of your legal case as a ship, the client is the captain of the ship and the client's attorney is the navigator. The navigator doesn't decide where to go, but he/she does map out the best course to arrive at the destination. Divorce is difficult even "friendly" divorces is not easy. It can be an emotional rollercoaster. You need emotional psychological and legal support. In choosing to separate and divorce, you will be faced with important decisions that will affect you, your spouse and your children not only now but I the foreseeable future. Passione an run hot during this difficult time and you need a clear head. You need a team of individuals including someone knowledgeable in separation and divorce law to help you see clearly and navigate the difficult and sometimes angry waters of separation an divorce.
Not having a good divorce lawyer at the planning and separation state leaves your without the sound advice and rational third party perspective you need to make decisions which can bind you for life. Not having a good divorce lawyer at the divorce state leaves you without the knowledge, experience and advocacy of a good experienced divorce attorney. It leaves you at the mercy of your spouse and your spouse's attorney. Neither your spouse nor his/her attorney is there to show you mercy. You need someone to fight for you when you cannot fight for yourself. You need someone to hep you understand what is going on and how to act in the storm.
You need someone who can help you be pro-active and not simply re-active to steps that your spouse takes. You want a team to support you, a team which can and should include your pastor, rabbi or spiritual advisor, your therapist or counselor, your CPA or tax adviser, your extended family ad friends, and a good experienced divorce attorney.
You Need an AdvocateYou are going through a traumatic experience. Divorce is one of the most difficult experiences in life, second only to the death of a spouse. You need someone who understands what is at stake and will advocate for your interests with not only knowledge and experience but passion and feeling. When you interview attorneys, find out why they practice family law and what motivates them in advocating for clients. What is it that makes them passionate advocates? I recently spoke with another tiral attorney who does not generally handle divorce work. He usually handles criminal and traffic defense and civil suits for money damages. He told me that he was forced by the poor economy to take a contested divorce case. Divorce and family law are not his first choice of trial work. He is doing it now solely for the money. Is that the motivation you would want in your attorney? Or would you rather have a lawyer who has made a conscious decision to focus on family law and uses his/her life experience such as knowing what it is like to be a child of divorce, or having experienced separation and divorce, to relate to the circumstance of your case and to advocate for you with passion and conviction.