Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Do I Need a Lawyer, And How Do I Choose?
With so much information available on the internet, many people question if they need a lawyer in a family law matter. There are no legal proceedings that require a lawyer. The availability of family law forms on the internet has made it far more common for people to be unrepresented. The problem with forms on the internet is these forms are not prepared with your facts in mind. Nor are there explanations of considerations that must be made if other circumstances exist which are not covered by the forms. It may seem like a very simple matter, to just check certain boxes on the forms, but it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you.
As a general rule, if retirement benefits are going to be divided, professional assistance is needed because a specific order, known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, is required. Many people may not even understand, after looking at forms, that they are entitled to share in their spouse’s retirement benefits. If real estate is owned, there are many considerations such as transferring of a deed, how a mortgage is to be held and terms of a sale that must be addressed. If spousal support is ordered, one of the most significant aspects of the order is whether the order is modifiable, and if so, under what circumstances. And, if you have children, you absolutely want to make sure that your rights are protected, and your children’s best interests are being served by the parenting plan. Without legal representation, these considerations may be ignored by an unrepresented person.
Every lawyer has been placed in the difficult situation of meeting with a client who concluded a divorce or dissolution without representation, and finds themselves explaining that their documents were not prepared properly and there is simply nothing that can be done to reverse the damage. Given that people are making decisions that affect their rights to their children and rights to support and or property, there is great danger in not understanding what you are signing, or what may have been overlooked.
Understandably, many people cannot afford legal fees. The problem is you likely can’t afford to go unrepresented, having no idea of what you have legally committed to, or failed to obtain from your partner. I encourage every person to at least consult with a lawyer to review any documents prepared on one’s own, or by their spouse, to make sure they understand what the documents provide for and what may be missing.
If you have decided you wish to be represented, the next question is how to select an attorney. First and foremost, it is recommended that you work with an attorney whose practice largely consists of family law. Ask the question – how much of your practice is family law? Believe it or not, if you know your spouse’s attorney’s name, ask whether the prospective lawyer has worked with him or her in the past. The worst thing you can do is to engage a lawyer who has bad blood with your spouse’s attorney – this will end up costing you money and aggravation. Trust your instincts when talking with lawyers. This is an important relationship you are investing in and you want to feel comfortable that your attorney is listening to you and clearly understanding your concerns and priorities. If the attorney takes days to respond to your initial phone call, this suggests you won’t likely get improved attention as a client. All of us have different styles and you must assess the style are you most comfortable with. Certain lawyers are known for being tough litigators. Others are known for their skill in keeping matters out of court. Try to assess your needs and comfort level with the person you speak to over the phone or meet with. If you have concerns at the beginning, raise them. If you feel you are not being kept informed of developments, tell your lawyer and ask for more involvement. If you are not comfortable with hearing from a paralegal or associate, rather than your lawyer, request more direct contact. This relationship is no different than any relationship – trust your gut and make your needs known.
In short, the decisions you make as to whether you will be represented, and if so, by whom, will impact the most important aspects of your life-your children and your financial security, so make these decisions cautiously.