When it comes to a divorce situation, a 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 uncommon. So, your decision to hire a divorce attorney would be based on factors not shared by any other person going through a divorce.
You may be surprised to learn from a divorce attorney that you may not 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 to 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 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 complicated, complex, or potentially valuable, 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. Reasonable, 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 some information on why you should consider hiring a divorce attorney before beginning your Texas divorce. I hope that these reasons convince you 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 precisely 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. Mediation is the likeliest place for a divorce to end mercifully, from children to child support to the property to anything in between. 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 to ruin all chances of settlement negotiations. The eye roll or other subtle gestures can show a level of disrespect or annoyance that destroys the possibility of ever working 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 hatred 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 abuse from the divorce. While your attorney will advocate for you and represent you and your rights, the attorney does not have feelings towards your opposing party. 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.
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 a clue of what to expect, but you have no firsthand knowledge. You may have some understanding 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 the wrong 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. There are two parts to this: knowledge of the law and understanding 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 understanding 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 the ultimate authority to hand down decisions that conform with the law. The judge in your case also has maximum power 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 the law is essential in divorce and knowing the process involved in a divorce case. You can have an outstanding knowledge of the Texas Family Code, but it is of little value to you if you can’t translate that knowledge into its practical applications. There is no more practical application of the law to divorce than knowing how to file and handle a divorce case.
The tricky 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. That is all boots-on-the-ground level experience that can only be gained from handling many divorces over the years. If you have never gotten divorced, never had any involvement in the courts, and have not worked in the legal system, you would have no reason to know much 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, you may waste a great deal of time. Divorces that go on for eight or nine months sometimes have no significant differences from a divorce lasting only three or four. Often, the only significant difference between the two is that one case had experienced divorce lawyers assisting the parties while the other did not.
Drafting the final paperwork to 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 layout 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 an excellent thing for your peace of mind to have a judge’s authority behind the things you can and cannot do with 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 directive is violated or not followed.
However, suppose you and your spouse cannot draft a final decree of divorce that effectively conveys the terms of your settlement. In that case, you may wind up in a situation where you have unenforceable orders that negate all that you sought to accomplish in the divorce. There is a science to how final orders are drafted, which you will not 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 communicate ideas well and 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 draft 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 to answer your questions and directly address any issues facing you and your family.