South Bend / Mishawaka – Many people today question whether or not they need an attorney to get a divorce due primarily to the cost. Attorneys are expensive and almost no one has a budget that includes this expense. In fact, most married couples have a difficult time balancing the day-to-day costs of working and raising a family. The highest costs of living include housing, utilities, food, and transportation. Imagine what happens financially when a couple splits apart and then they both face paying their own housing, utilities, food, and transportation, especially when the couple’s incomes vary substantially! This financial crisis creates double expenses without a corresponding increase in monthly income for either the wife or the husband. So how could you afford the added cost of each hiring your own attorney and survive? More importantly, why would you?
Let’s first address why you should consider this cost. The reasons are many, and the list is long. In almost every major decision, you and your spouse have opposite interests. You both desire the most assets to keep. You both want the least debt afterwards. You both want to maximize your time with your children. And, you both have very little idea what the law permits or how to apply it to your own circumstances.
In addition, most married couples differ dramatically on their ability to negotiate. Divorce brings with it huge and often devastating emotional reactions that cause an inability to focus, an inability to be impartial, and an inability to be rational, especially in the first six to twelve months after filing for the divorce. Most families cannot survive financially, not to mention the emotional harm, for that length of time.
The next question to answer is how can you afford this cost, and is it worth it? As stated earlier, most couples cannot “afford” this cost because it is not budgeted, and it is costly. Most attorneys will permit payment plans and payment by credit card to spread out the cost. The law also permits the judge to apportion attorney fees between the parties based on each individual’s earning capacity or the assets they may receive; however, it is totally discretionary with the court based on specific factors listed in the law for the judge’s consideration. However, just as in criminal cases, people may need to seek financial assistance from family or friends, especially at the beginning when the vast majority of the fees are incurred.
As to whether or not this cost is worth the expense often depends on the quality and efficiency of your attorney. However, the emotional scars are permanent to families and the “price you pay” is not always in dollars and cents. If one spouse dominates the process unfairly, the other will suffer in every phase of their life, making it much more difficult to get “back on their feet” and move forward.
The process of divorce also carries with it mistrust, greed, lack of full disclosure, and lack of cooperation between spouses. An attorney should provide the tools and experience to overcome most of those problems, and our courts and laws provide fair and impartial rules to resolve your case fairly. However, if you do not know the rules, or do not know how to effectively negotiate from a position of knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, you will most likely find out later – after it’s too late – that you should have been represented by an attorney.
Yes, it is perfectly legal to represent yourself in a divorce. However, in my 37 years of experience, approximately only 5% of those cases have a “fair and balanced” result. Keep in mind if you choose to do so, a judge cannot give you legal advice throughout the process. You will be “on your own” making life-changing decisions. You may save yourself some money in the short term; however, there can be devastating permanent emotional and financial costs to your future and to your family’s future to consider that you may regret for the remainder of your life.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only, and does not contain, nor should be construed as containing, legal advice.