BIRK’S BLOG

by Douglas Birk

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog does not offer legal advice and the information listed here is for generalized informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or a legal recommendation. Assessing an individual’s legal case involves a careful and complete evaluation of case specific facts and the legal options or possible legal outcomes for individuals will vary significantly. For legal advice, please consult with an attorney.

Prospective clients will often ask whether he or she needs an attorney to handle a “simple” divorce. Today, many of the standard forms you need to file for divorce are easily accessible online and with high court filing fees there is an understandable temptation to avoid legal fees.

However, divorces are rarely “simple.” Generally, if your marriage lasted longer than one year and produced any significant assets, liabilities, or children, you should carefully consider consulting with an attorney even if it is only to get some general guidance about the potential issues that might be at stake in a potential dissolution proceeding.
One reason to hire an attorney is because a lawyer can help you understand your options. To reach any type of equitable agreement between parting spouses, you have to be able to make an informed decision. In family law, the issues that are often the most emotional and painful in your marriage may have no legal consequence in a divorce proceeding. The truth is you simply can’t know what you don’t know. For example, the information you put on a joint dissolution agreement can have collateral consequences on your future ability to modify spousal maintenance, custody, parenting time, or child support. This information is usually not outlined in any of the forms you can access online, and the Court itself is restricted, by rule, from acting as an advocate for any one party in a dissolution proceeding.

However, the most important reason to consider hiring an attorney is your health. The emotional toll of a divorce, even one in which the parties at the onset are amicably splitting up, is significant. During the litigation and emotional recovery period following a decision to divorce, it is nearly impossible for someone to be detached and objective regarding the legal decisions you will be asked to make. These decisions that can have a significant bearing on your future standard of living and, if applicable, your children’s best interest. A good lawyer allows you to focus on healing versus responding to other emotional pressures such as ongoing communication from your spouse.

Further, a lawyer can make a profound difference in many family law cases because of the nature of family law. Why? Family law generally affords tremendous latitude to the Court to make decisions that appear “equitable” or operate in the “best interests” of the children. These specific terms have legal significance and the ability for a party to address the Court utilizing the same language the Court is tasked by law to use in reaching its decisions in family law cases is an important component to framing your case and prevailing in any action.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, look for a lawyer who is experienced, charges reasonable rates, and appears interested in reaching a fair outcome with the least amount of incivility and costs. Most family law cases settle at different stages of negotiation, often after mediation. Be wary of lawyers who strongly advise in the initial consultation to litigate every aspect of a case, or start talking about going to trial, during your initial consultation.

Of course, every situation is different. In some cases, you or your spouse might not be able to afford a lawyer. In such situations, please check with your local county library and ask if there is any free legal assistance. Often, lawyers will help answer your basic questions and may be able to explain the forms you are asked to fill out by the Court.

For a free consultation, call Doug Birk at Miller & Stevens law office (651-462-0206).