When it comes to a situation involving a divorce, few considerations are more important than deciding whether or not you want to hire a divorce attorney to represent you and your interests. No two divorces are created equal. No two divorces will offer the same fact patterns and circumstances. You and your spouse are unique. If you are fortunate enough to have kids I’m sure you would agree that they, too, are unique. So, your decision to hire a divorce attorney would be based on factors that are not shared by any other person going through a divorce.
You may be surprised to learn from a divorce attorney that you may not actually need to hire a lawyer. If your case is limited in terms of the issues at play then an attorney for either you, your spouse or both of you may end up just getting in the way. You and your spouse may be on good terms where it is entirely possible that you all can talk through your issues, do the work yourself to draft and file the documents and have a judge declare you and your spouse as no longer being legally married. That outcome is not beyond belief.
However, for the vast majority of our neighbors in southeast Texas (including you, possibly) it is a good idea to hire a divorce attorney before wading into the deep waters of legally ending your marriage. If the issues in your divorce are not complex, then the odds are good that they are at least too numerous for you to be able to devote enough time to all of them consider the responsibilities you have at home to your kids or at work to your occupation.
Likewise, you may not have a handful of issues at play in your divorce but if you have a few issues that are complicated, complex and/or potentially valuable then you will need an attorney to help guide you. Hiring an attorney is a short term investment in a process that can have long term ramifications for you and your family. You are not ceding ownership of your case by hiring an attorney. Quite the opposite. Good, experienced family law attorneys (like those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan) can guide you through a case and help you to avoid potential pitfalls that could damage your case and your life moving forward.
With all that said, I would like to share with you some information on why you should consider hiring a divorce attorney prior to beginning your Texas divorce. It’s my hope that these reasons convince you at least of the importance of having an attorney if not convincing you to go out and hire a lawyer outright.
Putting some distance between you and you and your spouse is not a bad idea
In all of the divorce cases that I have been fortunate enough to represent one of the spouses in, very few of them have involved two people who are on perfect speaking terms. In most divorce cases the two spouses are upset with one another for any number of reasons. The fact that a divorce calls on two people to work together and negotiate an end to their marriage is not ideal for two people who can’t bear the sight of one another.
That is where having a divorce attorney comes in handy. If you and your spouse are not exactly working well together as a team right now, each of you having a representative to communicate information and settlement offers is not a bad idea at all. The setting in which the benefit of having someone to fulfill this obligation is no more apparent to me than in a mediation setting.
Mediation is a process by which the two spouses in a divorce agree to have a third party intervene and attempt to help them settle on terms for their divorce. From children to child support to property to anything in between, mediation is the likeliest place for a divorce to mercifully end. Most of the time mediation occurs in an attorney’s office where one party (and their lawyer) are in one office and the other party (and their attorney) are across the hallway in another room. The two sides only interact with the assistance of a mediator.
However, I have been in mediation where the two sides are put face to face across the table from one another. Besides being awkward, all it takes in these situations is to have one spouse roll their eyes at the other in order to ruin all chances of settlement negotiations. The eye roll or other subtle gestures can show a level of disrespect or annoyance that ruins the chance at ever being able to work together to hash out a settlement.
Having an attorney ensures that you and your spouse are not put in a situation where your history and animosity towards one another will get in the way of achieving a just and equitable divorce result in a relatively short amount of time. Attorneys remove much of the emotion and vitriol from the divorce. While your attorney will advocate for you and will represent you and your rights, the attorney does not have the same feelings towards your opposing party that you do. That’s a good thing. This objectivity is what allows your attorney to guide you better through the divorce. Removing the emotional component to negotiations is the first reason why you should consider hiring a divorce attorney.
Getting a divorce means having to know the consequences of your actions
Think about your current job. More specifically, think about your first day working at that job. How did you do performing the essential tasks of that position? I’m willing to bet that your performance on day one is nowhere near as good as your performance on day 30. And on and on it goes. With experience comes better success at just about any endeavor we wish to engage in.
A divorce is no different. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you want to approach it) you have likely never been through a divorce before. You may have an inkling of what to expect but you have no firsthand knowledge. You may have some knowledge of the law but have no specific knowledge of how the law impacts you and your situation. The bottom line is that what you don’t know, you don’t know. Ignorance of the law and the divorce process is a bad place to start your divorce.
However, by hiring a divorce attorney you can remove these restrictions and handicaps from your case. Your divorce attorney should be someone who has been through the divorce process before and can guide you through the process. To me, there are two parts to this: knowledge of the law and knowledge of the divorce process in Texas family courts.
Let’s talk about knowledge of the law first. If you enter into a divorce without a thorough knowledge of family law you are doing yourself a huge disservice. The law exists to help guide outcomes and modify behavior within the family courts. The judge in your case has ultimate authority to hand down decisions that are in conformity with the law. The judge in your case also has ultimate authority to hand down punishments if you or your spouse violate a family law or an order of their court.
Going into a divorce without the experience to anticipate how the law will impact you and your case can cost you a great deal of money, time with your children and the ability to influence your child’s life as closely as you would have wanted. Good naturedly throwing up your hands and saying that you didn’t know something may cause your conscience to feel better, but it is no defense in a legal sense. You certainly need to have at least a working knowledge of the Texas Family Code before beginning a divorce. The lack of such knowledge will likely cause an outcome that is far from ideal for you.
The other thing to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to hire an attorney is that not only is the law important in a divorce but so is knowing the process involved in a divorce case. You can have an outstanding knowledge of the Texas Family Code, but if you can’t translate that knowledge into its practical applications then it is of little value to you. There is no more practical application of the law to a divorce than knowing how to file and handle a divorce case.
The tough part to explain to clients is that there is no specific course a future lawyer takes in law school to learn how to handle the court related aspects to a divorce. That is basically all boots on the ground level experience that can only be gained from handling many, many divorces over the course of years. If you have never gotten divorced, never had any involvement in the courts system and have not worked in the legal system you would have no reason to know much of anything about handling a divorce case.
Whether it is filing documents, serving your spouse with notice of the lawsuit, ensuring that your case is mediated quickly and then ultimately setting up hearing and trial dates, having the experience of a divorce attorney in setting up important dates is crucial. If you have no experience with these things then you may find yourself wasting a great deal of time. Divorces that go on for eight or nine months sometimes have no significant differences from a divorce that lasts for only three or four. Often times the only major difference between the two is that one case had experienced divorce lawyers assisting the parties while the other case did not.
Drafting the final paperwork to a divorce is one area where a divorce attorney can come in handy
The entire purpose of a divorce is to obtain orders from a judge that will clearly and effectively lay out what your and your spouse’s legal responsibilities to one another and your children will be moving forward. Think of these as your “marching orders.” It can be a great thing for your piece of mind to have a judge’s authority behind the things you can and cannot do in relation to your property, your ex-spouse and your children. Rather than relying on a trust between you and your spouse, the court orders carry with them some degree of consequence if a particular order is violated or not followed.
However, if you and your spouse are not able to draft a final decree of divorce that effectively conveys the terms of your settlement you may wind up in a situation where you have unenforceable orders that basically negate all that you sought to accomplish in the divorce. There is a science to how final orders are drafted and that is something that you will not be able to duplicate no matter how hard you study information on the internet. A divorce attorney knows how to word certain aspects of a divorce decree to both communicate ideas well and to protect you moving forward.
Before you consider filing a divorce without an attorney, you should look to the end of your case. While you may be able to handle the initial stages of a divorce without an attorney, very few people are equipped to handle drafting a complex and lengthy legal document like a Final Decree of Divorce without the assistance of a divorce attorney.
Questions about hiring a divorce attorney? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the information discussed in today’s blog post please consider contacting the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we can answer your questions and address directly any issues facing you and your family.