These days, it’s easier than ever to file for divorce. You can find the forms online, fill them out yourself, and, if you follow the proper procedure, end your marriage. This do-it-yourself approach works like gangbusters in some situations, but not in others. At some point in the process, you need to ask yourself: Should I hire a divorce attorney?
Should You Hire A Divorce Lawyer?
You have a lot of choices to make during this time, and deciding whether or not to hire a divorce lawyer is a big one.
By this stage, you’ve probably asked yourself many questions, like why are you staying married? Can you save your marriage? If divorce is really the best option? It’s important to contemplate these topics.
But the question of whether or not to hire a divorce attorney generally comes up after the decision has already been made to divorce or separate. Maybe you filed for divorce, maybe it was your spouse, or perhaps it was a mutual decision.
The DIY approach works great in many cases. That’s part of why it’s become so popular. But it also tends to be a better fit in straightforward situations. This usually means shorter marriages without children, with little shared property, and where you agree on everything.
Related Reading: Pro Se Divorce: What Is DIY Divorce?
What Factors Complicate Divorce?
It is still possible to handle more complicated divorces on your own. But remember, the more complex things become, the more potential hazards you face. Ending a marriage affects custody, your finances, and much more.
The more complicated your situation, the more you’re likely to benefit when you hire a divorce lawyer. While you can handle the details of your split yourself, having representation benefits you in a number of areas.
Division Of Property & Assets
The more assets you have, the more complex the division of property becomes. This includes homes, cars, bank accounts, and even retirement benefits. Oregon is an equitable distribution state. That means the courts view property as belonging to the spouse who earned it. However, that doesn’t mean divorce divides everything gets along those lines.
The court aims for each spouse to emerge on relatively even financial footing.
Ideally, courts want both parties to enjoy the standard of living they had while married. It’s possible for spouses to work together to divide assets. However, the more conflict you have, the more problems usually arise. You may want to hire a divorce lawyer to help ensure the agreement is fair and balanced.
Related Reading: How Are Businesses Divided During Divorce? Can You Protect It?
Having children complicates divorce proceedings in many cases. Custody battles often grow heated and contentious. Again, it is possible to work out a parenting plan between you and your spouse. But in these situations, things get hectic and tangled in no time.
Having representation helps in many ways, and this may influence your decision to hire a divorce lawyer or not.
In child custody cases, the court’s overriding mandate is to do what’s in the child’s best interest.
Enlisting an attorney experienced in his area often proves hugely beneficial. Not only does having a third party help calm down raging emotions, but a professional helps develop a strategy to protect your rights as a parent.
Related Reading: How Legal Marijuana Impacts Child Custody
When you have children, child support usually comes into play. How this affects you generally has a lot to do with the custody situation. In general, the parent with the most overnights receives the payments from the other.
There’s a formula for determining child support that accounts for need, income, and many other factors.
These payments cover the costs of caring for the child in question, both regular expenses and also unexpected costs. This includes but isn’t limited to:
- Medical care.
- Any other necessities.
Related Reading: Fathers’ Rights and Child Custody
While child support has a formula, spousal support is less systematic. When determining whether or not to award spousal maintenance, the court weighs many elements. They consider, among other factors:
- The length of the marriage.
- Any continuing health concerns.
- Future employment opportunities and earning potential.
The court doesn’t award spousal support in every case, and it can continue indefinitely or only last for a limited time. Ideally, an attorney with experience will prevent you from paying more than you can afford, or ensure you get enough to meet your financial needs.
Related Reading: The Cost of Divorce: What You Need to Know
The DIY approach may result in a quicker, cheaper split than if you hire a divorce lawyer. That said, it may also lead to unexpected issues in the future.
As we’ve said, the division of property, child custody arrangements, spousal support, child support, and other areas get complicated. They also have a huge financial impact on your life moving forward.
Divorce settlements are complex legal documents. It’s all too easy to sign on the dotted line and not truly understand what it says.
A judge won’t generally approve a divorce settlement that skews too drastically in favor of one spouse or the other. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely fair or as equitable as it could be.
Once the court issues a divorce decree, they’re difficult, not to mention expensive, to modify. If you hire a divorce lawyer, they can help head off potential disasters ahead of time.
If you do go the DIY route, consider consulting an attorney even if you don’t hire a divorce lawyer for the entire case. They can explain your rights, point you in the right direction, and make sure you know exactly what you agreed to.
Knowing When to Hire A Divorce Attorney
Besides the factors listed above, there are a number of other additional questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to hire a divorce attorney. Answering these smaller questions often helps reach a decision on the big one.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and it certainly doesn’t cover every scenario. However, by the end, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of your needs.
Are You Ready to Divorce?
Infidelity, abuse, financial betrayal, and more. Marriages end for many reasons, but not all of them are dramatic. Often relationships just don’t work out or people drift apart over time. You may roll your eyes and say, “Duh,” at this statement, but you need to consider whether your marriage is truly over and if you’re ready to walk away.
The answer to this question is different for everyone, and though it may sound obvious, it’s an important one to ask.
Related Reading: 4 Divorce Tips and Strategies
Does Your Spouse Have a Divorce Lawyer?
Did your spouse hire a divorce lawyer? If so, it’s most often in your best interests to hire one of your own. At least do the legwork and explore your options.
We commonly compare representing yourself against an experienced attorney to a beer league softball player getting into the batter’s box against an MLB pitcher. Sure, they’re technically the same game, but not really. It usually puts you at a serious disadvantage.
Related Reading: Preparing for Your Initial Consultation With a Divorce Lawyer
Do You Understand the Legal Paperwork?
You have numerous outlets where you can download forms, fill them out, and file them yourself. But do you truly know what you’re signing? Legal language and paperwork are notoriously complex and specific.
If you make a mistake it can damage the outcome or even invalidate the entire process.
In many cases, it’s worth the expense to hire a divorce lawyer to guide you through the ins and outs. Or at least to examine the paperwork before you finalize things. That alone often saves people money and headaches.
Related Reading: How to Divorce in Oregon: Forms and Filing
Is Your Divorce High-Conflict?
Most people don’t end a marriage because everything is great. Divorce is an emotional and tumultuous experience full of bitterness, resentment, and conflict.
People don’t always think straight or consider the consequences of their actions. A divorce lawyer provides a steady hand and rational opinion in chaotic times and keeps you from making rash decisions based on anger.
Related Reading: Is January Really Divorce Month?
Can You And Your Ex Communicate?
One common side effect of conflict in divorce is it often becomes difficult to communicate. If you can’t see each other or speak without fighting, how can you effectively negotiate the terms of your divorce?
Again, experienced representation helps keep situations calm and serves as a buffer or go-between for warring exes who can’t be in the same room.
Related Reading: How Adultery Really Affects Divorce
Do You Know What You’re Entitled To?
Do you know what you’re legally entitled to? Every situation is different, but you have rights to a portion of shared assets. When you have kids, you also have parental rights.
If your spouse has a pension or other retirement account, guess what? You may have a legal claim to a share of that in the settlement.
Divorce comes with a list of rules, regulations, and laws. Many of them are obvious and well-known, but others aren’t. People often give up or miss valuable items because they don’t know their true worth. (For example, did you know airline miles are sometimes divisible?)
If you hire a divorce attorney, they clue you into things you didn’t know existed and keep you from leaving assets on the table.
Related Reading: Financial Mistakes During Divorce
Is Your Divorce Complex?
Do you own multiple homes, keep a fleet of expensive cars, or have multiple children of various ages? While it is possible (again, there’s that word) for you and your ex to hammer out a divorce settlement on your own, the more factors you have to consider, the trickier it becomes and the more potential pitfalls you face.
It’s all too easy to make costly mistakes. Once the documents are signed, it’s a pricey slog to change them. So it’s best, not to mention easier, to do things right the first time.
Related Reading: Legal Marijuana and Child Custody
Is That Divorce Settlement Fair?
Divorce has a huge impact on your financial future. It’s important to handle your business so you don’t kick off this new phase of your life in the hole. You can’t just agree to a proposed settlement in order to be done with the process faster.
What you need is to be certain a settlement is fair and gives you what you need. When you hire a divorce lawyer, they ensure an agreement includes what it should, that it’s the best you’ll get, and whether or not it’s fair.
Related Reading: What’s the Average Cost of Divorce in Oregon?
Can Both Spouses Use The Same Divorce Lawyer?
The short answer to this question is: no, you can’t both use the same divorce lawyer.
You’re not legally required to have counsel to divorce, but if you do, you and your spouse each need your own.
Ethical rules—and in most cases, state laws—prohibit attorneys from representing clients with competing interests. And few situations so clearly present a conflict of interest as working for both sides in a divorce.
Even seemingly innocuous questions have different answers for each party. If you ask a question, the response may be different than if your spouse asks the same one, and it’s an attorney’s job to make the language in any documents benefits their client.
No matter what decision you ultimately make, just remember that ending a marriage impacts every facet of your life. With that in mind, it’s almost always in your best interest to hire a divorce lawyer. It seems and often is expensive. No one denies that. However, in most situations, experienced representation only benefits you and your case.
Related Reading: How Is Property Divided In Divorce In Oregon?