Do I need a family law attorney? I get asked this question a lot. In Arizona you are not required to be represented by a divorce lawyer in family court. However, keep in mind that you are expected to know the law and rules of the court. Regardless of whether you plan to hire a divorce attorney to represent you or not, If you are going to family court you should schedule a consultation with an experienced divorce lawyer to review your case. The consultation will also give you a brief overview of the law and the family court process. After the consultation, you can then decide whether you will need an attorney or not.
I had an individual come see me who had represented himself in his divorce. He agreed to take all the debt and in exchange he would receive all the personal property. He thought that “personal property” included his retirement accounts. It did not and he ended up with all the debt and still had to divide his retirement accounts with his ex. By the time he came to see me his divorce had been finalized for months and there was nothing I could do.
Here are a few general guidelines to consider when deciding whether you need an attorney or not:
- Is the other side represented by an attorney?
If neither party is represented by a divorce attorney, the judge may be somewhat more lenient on the rules of evidence and what he/she will allow in the courtroom. If one party is represented by a divorce lawyer, the other party is usually doing a big disservice to his/her case to not hire their own divorce attorney. There are many deadlines in Court that if missed, can have a powerful effect on your case.
- Can your spouse afford an attorney but you cannot?
If your spouse controls all the money and you do not believe you will be able to afford an attorney, it is possible for the judge to order that your spouse pay your attorney’s fees before you even go to trial. You should speak to a family law attorney to see if this is a viable possibility for you.
- Have you fully considered the long terms effects of your agreements?
Even if you and your spouse are amicable and agree on how to divide everything and/or share decision making, child custody and parenting time, I strongly recommend that you have an experienced divorce attorney draw up your final documents for the court. Go over the agreement with the attorney so that you can make sure that you understand the implications of all of your agreements. For example, maybe you and your spouse are agreeing to split all the holidays with the children. While it may seem like that will not be a problem, what happens when it is Christmas Eve and you think it is your year to have the children? What will you have to show your ex spouse that it should be your parenting time and what time your parenting time is supposed to start and end?
If you are facing a divorce or a hearing in family court, set up a consultation with me or one of the family law attorneys at Rowley Chapman & Barney. A little money upfront can give you some peace of mind and may save you thousands of dollars down the road.