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Do I need to have an attorney to get a divorce?

UPDATED: February 20, 2013

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It is possible, and legal, to take on a divorce without the use of an attorney.  However, before you do so you should consider all the factors involved in your divorce before you make a decision.  Depending on the nature of your divorce, hiring an attorney can actually save you money in the long run by getting you a fair separation agreement.

Do It Yourself Divorce

When a marriage has been short, without children, and when there is no property or debt to be divided, a do-it-yourself divorce can be an excellent choice. Some state courts have special procedures for this kind of divorce that are usually streamlined and quicker than a divorce with more complicated issues. Find out if your state has such a procedure and whether your divorce qualifies. Even for a streamlined divorce, keep in mind that every divorce will have legal procedure that you have to follow.  If you choose to go through a divorce without an attorney, pay attention to the process and make sure you do everything correctly.

Why Hire an Attorney

There are some circumstances when a do-it-yourself divorce isn't a good idea. If the divorcing couple has been together for a long time, or has a great deal of marital property that needs to be divided, it is a good idea to consult an attorney.  Although the two parties can negotiate a division of property without an attorney, it is better to have lawyers involved to ensure a fair split.

Additionally, any time there are children involved in the divorce, a lawyer should be present.  Child custody and visitation can be complex and emotionally charged issues that require a lawyer to oversee.  An attorney can balance the interests of the divorcing parent with the best interests of the child and help the parties come to a fair custody agreement. 

If a divorce case ends up going to court or to mediation for any reason, it is a good idea to speak with an attorney.  Going in front of a judge, or negotiating with the other spouse can get complicated and an attorney is prepared to best represent your interests.  If the divorce escalates beyond a simple separation agreement, speak with a lawyer.

Finally, if there has been violence in the relationship, if one spouse has been dominant or psychologically abusive, or if one party is deceitful about assets and debts, then a do-it-yourself divorce probably won't work

Can Spouses Use the Same Attorney?

Spouses divorcing should almost always get separate attorneys.  For simple divorces, where you are not asking the attorney to advocate for either of you, you can use a single attorney for your divorce. Where there are complicated issues such as spousal support, child support, large amounts of assets being divided or difficult child custody decisions, separate attorneys should be utilized. Using separate lawyers does not have to lead to creating conflict where none existed. In fact, you can still save money on the divorce by keeping things straightforward with your attorneys and avoiding giving your attorneys excessive hours of drafting and re-drafting your agreement.

If you are starting divorce proceedings, you should always consider consulting an attorney to get a sense of what you are facing.  If you find your divorce will be complex, or you anticipate difficulties negotiating a separation with your spouse, then hiring an attorney will be worth the cost

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