EP 220: Do You Need A Divorce Attorney?

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In this episode and the next several episodes, I want to discuss divorce attorneys, and family law attorneys, and the details and choices amongst them. And how you can figure out whether or not you have a good attorney, how to find a good attorney to make sure your attorney is fighting for and advocating for you and the complexities of the attorney selection and just relationship management process.

I’m a huge fan of divorce attorneys and having them help represent you, but like in all industries, there are people who are really good at their job and some people who, let’s just say, politely, may need some improvement. And attorneys are no different. There are some excellent family law attorneys out there who will do a good job for you at a reasonable price. And there are some attorneys out there who will cause a mess of things, and you end up spending tens of thousands of dollars or more. And on top of that, not getting anything done. And I want you to avoid that scenario.

But in this particular episode, I want to focus on, do you need an attorney? And what situations that might exist where you don’t need an attorney to help you. And let’s just start with the basics. Do you need one? Well, your attorney is going to have, if you work with one, is probably going to have one of the biggest impacts in terms of how this divorce process goes for you. And same is the selection of the attorney of your spouse.

A good attorney or good set of attorneys, will keep things moving forward at a reasonable clip people will, of course, have disagreements, this is divorce, but they’ll do them civilly and you won’t end up spending more money and time and energy than you have to. And if you get a bad attorney, this process is going to be an additional nightmare on top of nightmares. Not only will you lose a lot in your divorce, and when I say lose a lot, I mean, money, time, energy, but the outcome will likely be pretty poor as well.

And so, you need to be very careful about who you choose as an attorney. And so, it’s one of the most important things that you can do when it comes to the divorce process. But some people ask me, I get this question all the time is, “Do I need an attorney or can I do it myself?” And I know a lot of people are hesitant to fork over thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to an attorney to help with their issues.

And sometimes, I get people who’ll say, “Well, my issues are pretty simple. I think I can handle most of this.” And a lot of times I’ll talk to you and say, “Yeah, you have a pretty good handle on things, but you should still consult an attorney or at least consider it.” And there are other times where people don’t really need that much legal help because they and their spouse agree on most of the issues.

And so, can they do it themselves? A few things I tell people when it comes to whether or not they need an attorney. The first thing, of course, is that divorce is complicated. There are a lot of details in order to come up with a divorce settlement, a divorce agreement, or ultimately if you are one of the handful of people who has to go to trial. I mean, there’s a lot of details involved even in the simplest of situations.

And you need to be prepared to have a handle on that and understand all of those complexities. The second thing is, it’s very, very easy to make mistakes in the divorce process. The mistakes that people think of, which are, are they getting the right financial deal for them? Did they structure a custody agreement the right way? Are they doing what’s within the bounds of the law when they come up with an agreement? Those are common things.

But there are also issues where did you fill out that divorce paperwork the right way? And is the clerk going to reject it? And you have to reject it after 60 days of it sitting there in the office and say, Oh, you didn’t fill this out correctly, and therefore you got to redo it and resubmit everything. And there’s a lot of just little details that add up when it comes to the divorce process.

The third thing is almost obvious, but it can be really hard to see the big picture when you are going through divorce. You’re in it. You are in the middle of this situation. This is happening to you, your life, your family, and everything that related to it. And sometimes it’s very hard to de-personalize and just make smart decisions. It’s very, very tough to make the best decisions for yourself oftentimes in an emotional process when you’re going through the middle of it.

And so, having someone like an attorney can provide you guidance from the outside to help you and keep you on the right path and make the right decisions. And then the last point I’m going to bring up is, regret is powerful. I’m going to bring up two more points. One is, regret is powerful. So this is point number four. What you don’t want to happen, and one of the most challenging things after this process is over, is looking back and saying, I wish I did X, Y, or Z. And it’s something that’s very, very common. Because life is complicated.

Divorce is complicated. We all get that. And you want to make sure that you’re covering your basis for everything that could happen later down the line and just during the process. So you don’t have these regrets six months later, a year later, five years later, when you’re looking back as to how you handled certain things in this process.

And one of the things, I’m shifting gears slightly as I make this next comment, but one of the things I talk about in my document review appointments all the time is, making sure the what-ifs are covered. And when I think of some of the best attorneys that I know, I mean, there’s a lot of factors that make great attorneys, but one of the defining characteristics is they’re really, really good at understanding the what-ifs.

So, what if you can’t sell a house in the agreed timeframe? What if someone doesn’t agree or doesn’t follow through on this child support agreement? What if the custody schedule needs changing? What if someone gets sick, or a child gets sick, how is that handled? What if there’s an issue with the split of the retirement account? And really good attorneys can anticipate, and plan for, and write in documentation, and help you negotiate, what if, scenarios that are very favorable for you and make the longterm process of this divorce smoother.

And then the last point I’m going to bring up, is that you need to protect yourself. There’s just a lot of details, as I’ve said before, in terms of divorce process, and you don’t always know where you might be going wrong, where you could get a better deal, or where it’s okay to give up a little bit, this is a negotiation.

And you want to make sure that the agreement you are coming to is a fair agreement for all parties. It’s not about “screwing your spouse.” That’s not the goal here. The goal is to come up with a solution that both of you can live with for the rest of your lives. It’s not going to be fun. It’s not necessarily going to be perfect. But the goal is to get to that point and get to that point sooner over later at a reasonable cost. And a good divorce attorney can help you do that.

So, that was all-pro attorney, of course. And I’m going to be getting into lots of different details to think about when it comes to an attorney. But what situations might you not need an attorney, or need very little legal help? And I have just three scenarios. And even in all three scenarios, if I were writing this down, I’d put a little asterisk next to it, to say, yes, but still, you might want to contact an attorney.

But three things to consider, the first is that, if both of you have a very clear picture, both of you as spouses understand your assets and your debts. You have a clear understanding of where the money goes, what’s there, you agree upon all the values of things, and there’s not going to be a lot of disputes about it, but if you know it, that’s a good checkmark that you might not need as much legal help.

The second thing is that you and your spouse don’t have complex custody issues. If you have any kind of custody issue or it’s going to be a discussion or a potential conflict later, get an attorney to work it out for you. Because there are just so many details.

I mean, I’m a financial specialist, by no means am I a custody specialist, but from working with enough attorneys and reading enough agreements, I can tell you there are so many details that attorneys know and have worked through over decades, in terms of getting the right custody schedules, and handling all the complexities of raising kids and co-parenting, that they already have planned that oftentimes someone who’s just trying to do it themselves doesn’t know. But if you don’t have custody issues or the kids have grown, maybe you don’t need as much legal help.

And then the last point is, if you and your spouse can work out a reasonable settlement, then, by all means, save the money. I said, for all of those points is there’s an asterisk. I’m going to get into some options in future episodes as to different ways you can use attorneys without going all in and necessarily writing a 10, 25,000, $50,000 check for each of you to get the appropriate legal help that you need.

But one of the things is, is the more that you can agree upon yourself, between you and your spouse, and the less fighting there is, the less help you’ll need from an attorney. And so, that’s something to think about as you choose. Now, the nature of this podcast and the nature of what I do, unfortunately, I don’t get to work with too many people who are in ideal scenarios.

It happens every week, but the vast majority of people are in very complex financial circumstances and are not in full agreement with their spouse, which is why they’re listening to this podcast or you contact me and we do a coaching call. But when you can, particularly for the people who are early in the process or haven’t filed yet, I always say like, “Look, if you can work out a lot of this stuff in advance, you can minimize the need for attorneys down the line and the cost you’re going to have to pay as it goes through this divorce process.”

So, a lot of things to consider in just a short amount of time. I also have a great section, not to over-promote my book, but in my book, Divorce and Your Money: How to Avoid Costly Divorce Mistakes, there is a ton of information on how to choose an attorney in there, because it’s one of the most important things that you can do during your divorce process. And I will be talking about a lot more in future episodes.

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