Are you considering divorce as well as the possibility of representing yourself in a case? Money conscious and do-it-yourself Texans have pondered this possibility for many years. Getting a divorce is tough enough, but the idea of having to hire an attorney to represent you in that divorce adds insult to injury in the thoughts of many people in your position. I can completely see why you would want to forgo the expense in trouble of hiring an attorney if at all possible. Why have someone else done it for you when you can do it yourself?
This is where the reality of a divorce confronts our perceptions of both the legal system and attorneys. Whereas your perception of lawyers in the court system may be one thing, the reality may be completely different. That is what I would like to discuss with you in today's blog post. I believe that part of our mission here on this blog is to dispel rumors and myths surrounding elements of Texas family law. I can think of no more important myth than that surrounding pro se or self-represented divorce. What may work out for some may not work out for others. Read on to find out where you fall in between the two extremes.
Do you need an attorney to represent you in your divorce?
This seems like as good a place as any to begin our conversation. Realistically, do you need an attorney to represent you in a divorce case in Texas? The simple answer is no. There is no requirement in the Texas family code for an attorney to file and proceed with the divorce. Each of you is legally capable of performing the steps an attorney would be you to be represented. A judge will not throw you out of their courtroom or try to do anything underhanded to prevent you from proceeding without counsel. Every day at the courthouse, you will find people without attorneys representing themselves in divorce cases.
However, as with many things under the law, the devil is in the details. Although there is no requirement for you to be represented by an attorney in your Texas divorce, there certainly are circumstances that would benefit from an attorney's experience and knowledge. This is where we need to begin the discussion. It would be best if you found out for yourself whether or not your divorce is 1, in which no representation is necessary. I will tell you that most divorces would stand to benefit from having an attorney's representation. That's not just me as a divorce attorney telling you this to encourage you to hire myself or a colleague, my actual belief.
On an elementary level, let's examine some everyday activities that we encounter in our daily lives. I'm willing to bet that you do not pull your teeth or fill your cavities. When we had the ice and snow storm a couple of months ago, I'm willing to bet that you didn't tear out drywall in your house and replace any burst pipes. Once the transmission goes out in your car, I'm willing to bet that you don't do a thorough examination yourself with the vehicle and then replace the transmission if necessary. The fact is that nowadays, most people do not do it themselves on big-ticket, more important items.
Let's compare these examples to representing yourself in a divorce case. If you trust professionals almost every day of your life to perform certain actions on your behalf, why wouldn't you trust an attorney to do the same? There is little downside to hiring an attorney to represent you in your divorce. I can say with all honesty that I can't think of many divorce cases that I'm familiar with that would have benefited from no attorney having been involved. Lawyers may get a bad rap in our society, but we put clients first and engage in cases to help our community. You may think that sounds too good to be true, but I can assure you it's not. All you need to do is speak with one of the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan to see just how true that statement is.
My rule of thumb when it comes to hiring an attorney for divorce
whether or not you need an attorney for your divorce depends largely on the circumstances of your case. While the divorce process is the same for every person who files in Texas, the circumstances of those cases will be different depending on who you are, who your spouse is, who your children are and what your overall circumstances can be. This is where your divorce could differ significantly from your neighbors or a person living across the state. You need to evaluate your case based on your circumstances and your needs.
This means that you cannot necessarily take the advice of even a well-meaning or trustworthy friend when trying to compare your divorce to theirs. Their circumstances may have been completely different than yours, and you may find that each of you has something different to deal with that your friend does not. That doesn't mean that you should seek advice or perspective from people that you trust, but it does mean that you need to take what your friends and family say about divorce with a small grain of salt.
The first question you need to ask yourself when determining whether or not you need an attorney to represent you in your divorce is whether or not you have children. This is not a question that should take that long for you to answer. Parents going through a divorce have so much at stake in their case that it would be a tremendous risk not to have an attorney representing you along the way. The myth that you can effectively represent yourself in a divorce with children is the first myth that I would like to tackle in today’s blog post.
Myth #1: There’s no risk in representing yourself in a divorce with children
Have you had a friend or family member tell you that nothing is inherently risky about representing yourself in a divorce with children? It would help if you were wary of doing so, no matter how well-meaning your friend or family member tells you this. The fact is that your children are the most important part of your life. Going into a divorce case that will decide your custody, visitation, possession, and support is a tremendous risk to take. There are so many moving pieces in a divorce involving children that going into a case without counsel exposes you to a great deal.
Let's begin by examining something that is not even explicitly part of your divorce with children. The relationship with your kids, depending on their ages, may be a risk during a divorce. This is true no matter how strong your relationship with them is. The fact of the matter is that your circumstances are about to change, and so are theirs. When circumstances change, children tend to feel vulnerable and look to their parents for affirmation and guidance. That you may not be able to be physically present to provide that reassurance to them should give you pause.
Have you begun to consider which parent, you or your spouse, will leave the family home after the divorce is started? Did you know that this decision has significant impacts that can determine the custody arrangements with your children, your ability to keep the house after the divorce, or even your ability to protect your property in the home? Right from the start, your decision whether or not to leave the family home could become one of the most influential that you make at any point in your case. Making the wrong choice for your circumstances could severely hamper your ability to achieve your goals in a divorce.
Next, are you knowledgeable about the different components of conservatorship and custody in Texas? Do you have a plan in place to achieve goals when it comes to your children in the divorce? Do you even have goals for your children, or are you merely participating in the case and hoping to make it through in one piece by the end? While you may be able to file for a divorce without an attorney and you may be able to get divorced without an attorney, your relationship with your child may begin to deteriorate during the divorce and into your post-divorce life if you are not careful.
Negotiating with your spouse on a possession/visitation schedule for your post-divorce life is one of the most important aspects of a divorce case. How you structure your time, pick-ups/drop-offs, and the other elements of possession are important. Figuring out these logistics will play an important role in how your relationship develops and matures with your children and whether or not your chances are high as far as returning to court for a subsequent modification or enforcement case.
Probably the most significant issue facing families going through a divorce in Texas who have children is what role you will take on in parenting your children after your case. Most families are engaged in joint managing conservatorships where you and your co-parent will share parenting responsibilities, time with the kids, and decision-making capabilities. Exactly how those rights will be divided up between you and your spouse is up to the strength of your circumstances and how well you can present evidence to a judge, if necessary, however, if it is incorrect to assume that you will have to go to see a judge conclude your divorce.
Myth #2: Your divorce isn’t likely to go before a judge, so there’s no need to hire a lawyer
Indeed, divorce cases do not often go before a judge to conclude the case. Television and movies may lead you to believe that a heated courtroom battle results from every divorce case. This is not close to accurate. You may never step foot in a courtroom for the duration of your divorce. However, that does not mean that the need to have an attorney represent you in your divorce is any less.
Settlement negotiations may feel like less is at stake when compared to a bench trial. Still, the orders that come out of informal settlement negotiations mediation will have the same effect as those derived from a courtroom. Just because you aren’t negotiating your divorce in a fancy courtroom does not mean that you should not treat the opportunity to settle your case before a trial. The reality is that you need to be prepared 2 negotiate as well as possible in mediation no matter the circumstances of your case.
The benefits of hiring an experienced family law attorney are not limited to their experience in a courtroom. An attorney will help you to organize your case for settlement negotiations and especially in settings like mediation. Mediation is the last and best chance you will have to settle your case before a trial. You will want to avoid the risk and uncertainties surrounding a trial in favor of a mediation setting where you and your spouse can work together in a more comfortable environment to settle your differences and work out solutions that work best for you and your children.
By not understanding the extent to which mediation can impact your life and the preparation necessary to go forward with a strong case-end mediation, you are doing yourself a disservice. While you may have the best of intentions when it comes to preparing for mediation without an attorney, there is no doubt in my mind that an attorney will be able better to prepare you for this stage in the case. We'll set you up not only to come out of mediation with a settlement agreement that suits you well but also one that will limit your need to ever go back to court on an enforcement or modification case.
Myth #3: lawyers cost too much money to hire
I think this is probably the most significant myth that you will encounter or may believe at this time regarding divorce attorneys and your specific case. More than any other factor that I've encountered when it comes to folks in our community and a divorce is the belief that hiring a divorce attorney will cost an arm and a leg. The irony of this is that pretty close; all it takes is a simple phone call in a meeting your voice well cost and how the attorney bills. Your ability to figure out what attorney bills or changes in how they do so is not beyond your grasp. All you need to do is be curious and ask questions.
Family law attorneys bill by the hour and typically charge an upfront retainer which you can view as a down payment. That retainer will retain the services of your attorney for the duration of your divorce. Throughout the case, you will make periodic payments to your attorney based on the work that must be done. Typically speaking, the more work that must be done, the more a divorce costs because you are paying the attorney to perform functions and services on your behalf in the case. The attorney bills you by the hour, and the result of that is the more billing that is done, the more your case will end up costing.
However, something important to note is that while costing you some money in the short term, an attorney can end up saving you money in the long term. We have already discussed how an attorney can help you bye better, ensuring that you do not have to come back to court in the future to modify or enforce the order that results from your divorce. This is a serious benefit of having an attorney. One time is enough to go through a court case involving your children or any other matter in the divorce. By getting it right the first time with an attorney, you can avoid problems that require a second or third case in the future.
In the short term, many clients of the Law Office of Bryan Fagan hired our office to assist them with the divorce after trying to do so independently. These folks learned that while a divorce may not be rocket science, it can be tricky depending on your circumstances. If you do not have the time to devote to your divorce, you almost certainly cannot adequately represent yourself. The mistakes you make in the short term must be corrected before your divorce can be completed. The time spent correcting those mistakes will cost you time and cost you money as well.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, 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 in person, over the phone, and via video. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great opportunity for you to learn more about Texas family law and how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.