One of the age old questions in the law is: do I really need an attorney before I file a lawsuit or respond to a lawsuit that has been filed against me? Lawyers, it goes without saying, do not have a great reputation in our society. Whether or not that reputation is deserved or not I will leave up to you. Regardless, I think most people would prefer to not have to interact much with lawyers- that is, until you need their help in some regard. I get the impression that many people are surprised after meeting one of our attorneys that we are regular people just like they are.
So, the question remains as you begin your own family law case: do you need an attorney to represent you? Whether yours is a divorce, a child custody case, a modification, an enforcement or a grandparent’s rights case, you need to know what your options are as far as representation. Can you adequately represent yourself in one of these kind of cases, or if you represented yourself would you have a fool for a client (as the old saying goes)?
Pro se divorce: Can you handle it?
To start off with, you do not need to be represented by an attorney to file any family law case. You are legally able to represent yourself in one of these cases. If you choose to move forward without counsel you would be known as a pro se party. Keep in mind that you are not given any assistance by the judge, the clerk or anyone else because you have no attorney. The legal bar is not going to be lowered just because you have no attorney.
Some people file for divorce without a lawyer. In some cases you and your spouse may have made a promise to one another that you would not be filing for divorce and then hiring lawyers. Your divorce would be simple and amicable. No need to hire lawyers to complicate things or add costs to an already costly process, you figure. This sounds ideal but the devil, as it so often is, is buried in the details.
For instance, I can tell you from experience that many of the family law clients that our office is fortunate enough to represent in their cases initially began their cases by representing themselves. After a while of self-representation they find, however, that their lives and the difficulty of their cases make it impossible for them to properly advocate for themselves. This is understandable given that these folks (like you) have their own jobs and own lives to worry about on top of their divorce or child custody case.
The end result is that you spend time, money and effort in an attempt to represent yourself in a legal case only to find out that you need to hire a lawyer anyways. This can be a bitter pill to swallow and one that tastes awful on the way down. While there are very few errors that cannot be undone, sometimes the fact that you have used up a lot of time needlessly at the beginning of a case is enough to make you roll your eyes in disgust.
That would be my first point: hiring a child custody lawyer would allow you to save time, minimize mistakes and avoid costly errors at the beginning of your case. Now, on to my second point of this blog post.
Child custody is complicated: how invested will be you be in learning Texas family law?
In case you haven’t noticed, most lawyers on television are filmed in front of a bunch of law books. In the year 2020 there isn’t all that much need to search through legal reference guides for information given that we have the internet. However, lawyers like to give off the impression that we are extremely learned and scholarly- which, to a degree we are.
Do not let our attempts to emphasize our braininess cover up the fact that we do a lot of research, reading and analysis as a part of representing clients just like you in courtrooms across the state of Texas. You need to be prepared to do the same amount of work to prepare for these hearings and trials- and then work a whole lot more on top of that. Keep in mind that your lawyer does this for a living. She doesn’t also teach school, sell computer equipment or do anything else. She is an attorney and you are not.
Texas family law cases are a mixture of law and fact based analysis. The Texas Family Code provides lawyers and judges with the basis from which they make decisions and argue cases. Judges know the code backwards and forwards and expect anyone in their courtroom to possess a similar amount of knowledge. Since you and I have already established that you will not get any special treatment because you are not an attorney, then I recommend a lot of nights spent reading the family code.
The other thing that you need to keep an eye on is that family court judges are given a great deal of authority to make decisions in regard to cases based on their own judgments in relation to a case. They can use their experiences and to judge the specific facts that you are presenting to him. The family code is important but the judge can make their own impressions for the most part.
So, this is one area that you can spend all night reading up on but you cannot reproduce. You need to have been in family courtrooms for a long time in order to learn how a family court judge is likely to view a set of circumstances. There is no substitute for experience. You would likely say the same thing about whatever line of work you find yourself in. The same can be said for family attorneys. We have a great deal more experience than you do when it comes to being inside a courtroom. How will you make up for this if you decide to represent yourself?
Negotiations with your opposing party is where an attorney can make a real difference
Many people are led to believe that their case is likely to be decided in a trial. I think television and movies make it seem like it is inevitable that a judge will bang their gavel, issue some tersely worded decisions and then leave you and your opposing party to make sense of what was said. While this makes for good courtroom drama, the reality is that you may never see the inside of a courtroom as a result of your family law case.
Where you really earn your money as an attorney is during the long stages of negotiation that occur in between any trips that you need to make to the courtroom. Courtrooms are where you may picture your attorney doing most of their work, but the reality is far from that. Yes, family law attorneys are in the courtroom often. However, it is when they get back to the office and engage the opposing attorney with phone calls, emails and the like where your case actually moves closer to being resolved.
For instance, did you know that by attending mediation your family law case increases its chances of being settled dramatically? If you don’t believe me, find out from your judge how many times you will be made to attend mediation prior to ever being allowed inside their courtroom for a temporary orders mediation or final trial. The simple truth is that mediation allows you and your opposing party to negotiate with one another in an atmosphere the lends itself to settlements.
However, a settlement is not automatic even in mediation. Your attorney will do a great amount of preparation to help you get to the point where a settlement is possible. In relation to your kids, your attorney will come up with multiple ways to negotiate custody arrangements, visitation agreements and even child support figures to be used to push your opposing party to a position that is favorable to you. Your attorney will also have a plan in place to introduce evidence in court should settlement negotiations not result in the finalization of your case in mediation.
That experience that your attorney has which we just mentioned will pay dividends in mediation. He or she will see your situation, fall back on similar experiences that she has had, and then help you to settle your case with proposals that you would never have been able to come up with due to your inexperience in the area of family law. This is nothing to be ashamed about but it is something for you to consider. Do not let a chance to save yourself from a trial happen just because you were not willing to hire an attorney to help you. Think of it as a short term investment towards your child’s long term betterment.
Child custody lawyers help you close out your case and protect your future
Suppose that you have been able to successfully avoid going to a trial in your child custody case. You have now negotiated a full fledged settlement on every issue in your case. You may feel like the wind is at your back- which it is. However, there is still work to be done in the form of getting those agreements into writing. An order will need to be drafted that sums up the agreements that you and your opposing party arrived at.
You will either be the party who is charge of coming up with the initial draft of that order or you will need to be the reviewer of this document. Either way, it pays to have an attorney at your side no matter which side of the ledger you fall on. Allow me to explain why.
If you are in charge of drafting an order you will need to take all your settlement agreements and break them down into a format that is fit for a judge to sign. Your mediated settlement agreement will not be written in order format. It is up to you to create the language for the order. This is important given that the judge not only will have to sign them to complete your child custody case, but will have to enforce those orders at a future date if you or your opposing party violate the orders.
An order is unenforceable if it is not clear and does not lay out for the parties what their responsibilities are. What you would be left with are orders that are not worth the paper that they are printed on. All of your hard work in getting your case to its end could be wasted if your court orders are not reflective of the mediated settlement agreement.
On the other hand, if you are the party who is responsible for reviewing the order drafted by your opposing party you need to make sure that he or she is not trying to pull a fast one on you by slipping language into the final orders that was not agreed upon in mediation. If you sign the agreement then you have agreed to be bound by it. Having a child custody attorney means that you will have someone with legal knowledge who can review the language, negotiate on alternative language and eventually have an order fit for signature ready to be presented to you.
Questions about hiring an attorney? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material presented in today’s family law blog please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.