If you are getting a divorce, do you really need a lawyer? Increasingly, people are saying no. In some states, the number of people seeking a divorce without lawyers is reportedly as high as 70%.
Is this a good idea? It depends. If you have a very short marriage; no children; few assets and both spouses can provide for their own support, your divorce might be simple, and you may be able to safely get it done on your own. However, if you have children and/or important financial issues, getting a divorce without legal help can be very costly.
In my experience of watching thousands of divorces over the past 30 years, I think 90% of the people going through divorce would benefit from some legal help. The real question is deciding just how much is the right amount. Many divorcing people are, understandably, afraid to get lawyers involved at all, fearing that once you get a lawyer on board, they will be on a slippery slope in which legal costs will rapidly spin out of control. It is true that this can happen, but there are ways to prevent this danger.
Most people don’t realize that there are ways to hire attorneys in a divorce and carefully manage your costs. Part of the key is to understand the difference between a retained attorney and a consulting attorney. A retained attorney is someone you hire to serve as your “attorney of record”, meaning that they are identified, to the court and to your spouse as your legal representative throughout the divorce. Retained attorneys generally have a responsibility to take all actions necessary to comply with court rules and move your case forward, and therefore, costs can be hired. On the other hand, a consulting attorney is an attorney who works with you, as a consultant, and will only perform the specific tasks that you authorize. (This is sometimes referred to as unbundled legal service since you are choosing select specific legal services rather than the full “bundle” of things that retained attorneys have to do.)
There are, of course, pros and cons of hiring an attorney as a consultant that need to be carefully considered before choosing that option. The biggest danger of having an attorney as a consultant only, is that you do not truly have someone representing your interests. You are essentially representing yourself. Nevertheless, if you are interested in containing costs, it is important to have this option fully explained to you before you proceed.
There is also a third option, called Collaborative Law that can, in some instances, combine the best elements of full retained representation and having a consulting attorney. A Collaborative Attorney is an attorney retained for settlement purposes only. The Collaborative Attorney would be your attorney of record and will fully represent you through the full negotiation of your case. However, because both Collaborative Attorneys sign an agreement not to go to court, you do not have the danger that the attorney will be forced to incur hours on your case that are outside of your control. To learn more about Collaborative Law go to www.collaborativelaw.org.