These days many individuals going through a family case try to handle the matter without the assistance of an attorney. They feel that it is better to try and settle the matter without spending large sums of money on legal representation. In all honesty, simple divorces can easily be handled by the parties. Simple divorces are cases in which there are no minor children and no real assets or liabilities to divide. There is a great deal of assistance through the courthouse or the internet to “walk you through” the process. However, sometimes people can be as they say “penny-wise and pound foolish”. In an effort to save money on attorneys’ fees they may wind up giving up too much or perhaps not receiving his/her share. An individual who represents him/herself is held to the same standards as a licensed attorney. A judge will not give an individual the benefit of the doubt, just because an attorney is not sitting by his/her side in court. This can often present a problem in a more complicated case.
I have reviewed Marital Settlement Agreements or Parenting Plans often which were entered into without the assistance of counsel. Often these individuals come to see me after the fact, to request assistance in attempting to “get them out” of the Agreement. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to undo what has already been done. A Marital Settlement Agreement, Parenting Plan or a Mediation Agreement has the same validity as any binding contract. In addition, as I previously stated, individuals are expected to know the law and it is not an excuse to later say “I wasn’t represented by an attorney”.
I have often been told by individuals, who had initially attempted to represent themselves, that judges don’t seem to listen to them in court. Now, this could simply be a matter of perception or a true statement. It may also be because non- lawyers are not familiar with the rules of evidence and as such, certain testimony may not be permissible. A court proceeding is controlled by rules of evidence and rules of procedure, which are in many ways illogical and foreign to the average individual.
Many attorneys offer free initial consultations and those that don’t usually charge a nominal fee for the initial meeting. If you have any doubts about the law as it pertains to your situation, it would be in your best interest to consult with an attorney. However, an attorney cannot ethically represent both parties in a divorce and therefore can only advise one of the parties. Therefore initial consultations should take place without your spouse.
Lastly, if you have considerable assets such as real estate or a business; or you anticipate a time-sharing issue, you should definitely consult with an attorney to discuss these matters. A little bit of experience can go a long way and ultimately save you money.