Divorce in the 21st Century: Do you Still Need a Lawyer?
The internet has made a lot of things easier to do without the help of a professional, like buy life insurance or book a vacation. Many websites and services have made it easier for people to “be their own lawyer,” too. Do you still need a lawyer to divorce, or can you get this done on your own?
Spoiler alert: we are a law firm, so naturally we recommend having a lawyer in most circumstances. But our recommendations for how you should use a lawyer, and our reasons why you should, might surprise you.
The Secret Divorce Lawyers (Usually) Won’t Tell You
In the past, if you needed a divorce, you went to a lawyer’s office, signed a retainer, and your lawyer took it from there. You signed the papers he told you to sign, and showed up in court when he told you to. Your lawyer was in the driver’s seat, and billed you for the ride.
Some lawyers still operate that way, but many are open to what we call a more “client-centered” approach. That is, rather than squeezing you into some template of “how divorce works,” they look at your individual circumstances and help you to have a divorce process that works best for you and your children.
There are some really good things about this client-centered approach. Number one, you get more input into the process rather than feeling like you’re just surviving it. Number two, when you get a say in the process, you are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.
Number Three is that a divorce process focused on your needs may cost less money. There are a couple of reasons for this. When the process is focused on your needs, there is often less conflict and hostility—and conflict and hostility usually result in attorney action and higher legal bills. Also, when the divorce process is focused on what’s best for you, your attorney will help you understand what parts of the process you can handle on your own. In this way, you may be able to solve hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal costs.
An attorney whose primary interest is inflating your legal bill doesn’t want you to know that. An attorney who wants you to have the best possible divorce will work with you to both reduce conflict and your legal costs. While that may seem like a purely altruistic thing, we have found that it is also a good business practice: when we help our clients to have a good divorce experience and outcome, they often refer their friends and family to us. It ends up being a win-win.
Depending on your needs, you may have an attorney handling nearly every aspect of your case, or reviewing your paperwork and preparing you for court hearings, or simply looking over a settlement agreement you and your spouse have made before you submit it to the court.
It is true, though, that we rarely advise anyone to go without legal counsel altogether. The right legal advice at the right time can save you much more money in the long run than it costs in the short-term. Look at it this way: you probably don’t cut your own hair, even though, technically, you could. That’s because you know you are more likely to get the result you want when you use a professional with the skills and perspective to do a good job. If you are willing to pay for a good outcome with something as temporary as a haircut, why wouldn’t you pay a reasonable fee for something that could affect your life profoundly for decades?
When You Absolutely Should Have an Attorney for Your Divorce
One thing that many couples can do to reduce costs in their divorce include gathering financial paperwork so that it will be easier to calculate child support, spousal maintenance, and property division. (A lawyer can request these documents through the discovery process, but you can reduce the costs of discovery by tracking down a lot of information yourself).
Another thing you may be able to do is to negotiate as much of your divorce settlement as possible with your spouse. If you and your spouse are able to talk, you may be able to hammer out many details, even if you can’t agree on everything. Bringing in your lawyers to help you resolve only those issues you can’t resolve on your own, and to make sure the agreement is fair and complies with the law, can also save time and money.
However, there are some circumstances in which you should definitely have an attorney, and in which the attorney should probably be more involved in your case. These include:
- If there has been domestic abuse, including threats of violence if you don’t do what they say, or if false allegations of abuse have been made against you;
- If your spouse has threatened to leave with your child or threatened a custody battle;
- If one spouse has an addiction;
- If you suspect your spouse of wasting or hiding assets;
- If there is a family business to be divided, or other significant or complex assets
- If your spouse has a lawyer (no matter what your spouse says, their lawyer is legally required to represent their interests—not yours).
If you have questions about what you need an attorney for in your divorce, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation. We will be candid with you about what we can do for you, what you can do on your own, and how to keep your costs down in a Minnesota divorce while still getting a good outcome.