Do you always need to have an attorney working with you for your divorce? Is it okay to represent yourself in some cases? These are hard questions that many people ask when they are going through a divorce, especially if they are worried about their expenses. In this two-part article, we’ll be looking at some different types of common scenarios to determine when you should use a lawyer is necessary and when you can use a paralegal for help.
Do You Have the Right to an Attorney?
One of the misconceptions that some people have is believing that they have the “right to an attorney” and that one will be appointed to them if they can’t afford an attorney because they’ve heard the phrase used on television. These are the Miranda Rights, but it’s important to note that these rights apply to criminal cases, not simply getting a divorce. You don’t have a right to an attorney, as there is not a “right” to legal counsel in family court. You can choose to hire them or not.
An exception to this would be if the Department of Child Services were trying to take away your children, for example. In those cases, you might be provided an attorney that can represent you.
It’s also important to keep in mind that in Arizona when you represent yourself in court, you are held to the same standards as an attorney. Still, 80% of people in family court represent themselves. This is certainly an instance when you should use a lawyer to ensure your own success.
The Emotions of Family Law
One of the biggest problems that come from trying to represent yourself when it comes to divorce and other family law cases is that there is a major emotional component. It can often be difficult for people to separate their emotions from the case, which can lead them to make bad decisions, to say the wrong things, and to put their case in jeopardy.
As a general rule of thumb of when you should use a lawyer, anyone who has trouble separating their emotions from their case will likely want to work with an attorney. It’s nice to have a third party that can help make decisions and keeps you on track. They let you know what things are relevant and that need to be told to the judge and which aren’t.
Do You Need an Attorney When You Have a Mediator?
One of the options that many couples choose to use is mediation, as it can help to reduce the number of issues and areas of disagreement in a divorce or another family law case. The mediator is typically an attorney. When they are hired as a mediator, their job is to ensure that both of the parties can find areas where they can agree. They work for both spouses to help get the problems settled.
However, if one of the parties has hired an attorney and that attorney is trying to help mediate the case, they are still acting in their client’s best interest. If your ex has an attorney that wants to help settle the case, you may want to hire your own attorney to help mediate on your behalf. It doesn’t matter how amicable the other party’s attorney might seem. It’s still an adversarial process. They represent their client, and you need someone to represent you.
However, some mediators do not allow lawyers in the room. You could take the information from the mediation and then have it looked over by an attorney, though. If you can’t have an attorney at the mediation, this is a good idea. Always make sure you are familiar with the process of the mediator before you agree to sit down in a room with them. You don’t want them to attempt to get you to sign any documents at the end of mediation that you don’t understand.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mediation, or divorce for that matter. Each divorce, case, and circumstances are unique.
Do You Need a Lawyer If Your Spouse Has One?
In some cases, you might discover that your spouse has hired an attorney to work for them for the divorce or family law case. Should you then consult with and hire an attorney of your own to handle your case? Perhaps you thought things were going well and you were agreeing, but your ex didn’t see it that way and they hired an attorney. Regardless of the reason, your ex now has a lawyer. What should you do? Most of the time, it will be in your best interest to work with an attorney. It can be difficult and intimidating for someone to try to represent themselves against an attorney who has a much deeper knowledge of the law and how the court system works. Having an attorney will help to level the playing field.
Is an Attorney Needed If You Both Agree?
What about those cases where you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to the divorce. Perhaps you both agree on everything from the division of assets and debts, parenting time, etc., and there are no conflicts. While these cases with zero conflict tend to be rare, they do exist. If you aren’t going to be going to litigation and you can get everything wrapped up quickly where everyone’s happy, you don’t need to have an attorney represent you in court.
In those cases, you could opt to prepare the documents yourself or have a legal document preparer take care of it for you. You could then simply have an attorney look over the paperwork to make sure that everything is in order.
What If You’re Going to Court, but the Other Party Won’t Show Up?
If you are at a point where you know that you have to go to court, but your spouse is not going to show up at the court for one reason or another, you likely don’t need to have an attorney there to represent you.
In Part 2 of the article, we will take a closer look when you should use a lawyer, as well as cases with high conflict and complex finances, as well as the difference between full and limited scope attorneys.