By: Paula Lennon
Takeaway: Some couples can divide amicably and fairly. Many can’t, and that’s where they get into trouble.
So, the life-changing words “I want a divorce” have just been uttered – or texted, instant messaged or emailed. Whether this statement came totally out of the blue or felt inevitable, the question for you, the soon to be divorced ex, is “What do I do now?”
There is a possibility that you and your spouse can calmly sit down and agree to go your separate ways without any major disputes. In an ideal world, you will amicably arrange for the division of the spoils and part on good terms without bothering to unfriend on Facebook and unfollow on Twitter.
In fact, some couples are indeed able to reach this respectable position, particularly where their lives have gradually drifted apart and there is no animosity or cheating to contend with. On the other hand, you could have been blindsided by a request for a divorce and agree to go along with your spouse’s initial demands in the forlorn hope that it will never really happen anyway.
Regardless of how the subject of divorce arises, the process itself can be quite complicated and the do-it-yourself method may not work out well for everyone. Here are eight signs that you need to hire an attorney to help. (Get more tips in How do I know when I need a lawyer?)
If you have been stunned by the receipt of divorce papers you should certainly consult a divorce lawyer. The divorce process has been initiated without your knowledge or input and you will now need to play catch up. Chances are that your spouse has already taken advice from an attorney in order to draw up the papers. You will need to take legal advice on what your move should be, including whether to sign the papers or contest the divorce. You may not be in the right frame of mind to think about what is right for you in these trying circumstances. Fortunately, that fits an attorney’s job description to a T.
Your Spouse Has Hired a Lawyer
If your spouse admits to having already hired a lawyer, but insists that you do not need to because it will cost too much, and his or her lawyer has everything covered. Remember that an attorney has a duty to act in his or her client’s best interests; therefore, your spouse’s attorney has no obligation to do right by you. That’s why you need to retain your own attorney to ensure that you do not get taken for a ride.
It’s a Bitter Divorce
If the divorce is going to be a bitter one, you will probably know it, particularly where there have been constant arguments in the past coupled with a blunt refusal to attend marriage counseling. Divorce proceedings that commence as a result of perceived or real infidelity have a habit of turning quite nasty.
There Could Be a Custody Dispute
If you and your spouse have children and there is likely to be a custody dispute, agreeing to terms around custody or visitation are essential for the well-being of your entire family. It is an unfortunate reality that children often become pawns in a divorce, so you should try to avoid this at all costs. The alternative may involve frequent, time-consuming and expensive trips to family court as well as to child psychologists.
You Have a Lot of Assets
If you have assets, such as bank accounts, investments (stocks and shares), the family home, or a business, you may need a lawyer to help ensure these are divided fairly. In general, the more substantial the assets the more important for you to have an effective divorce attorney. Your attorney will investigate the nature of the assets and try to achieve a fair division of the assets, whether ownership is stated to be joint or individual. It may be necessary for your attorney to hire a business appraisal professional to calculate the combined value of all of your assets. (Learn more in How is property divided in divorce?)
You Have Other Contentious Issues to Work Out
If you have other likely sources of dispute you need to have accounted for in a manner that is fair to both spouses, such as child support and/or spousal support, a divorce lawyer can help. Your lawyer will have years of knowledge and experience in dealing with divorces and will often be in a position to address unforeseen complications as and when they arise, including the need for court motions.
Your Relationship Included Violence or Domestic Abuse
Fear and intimidation are known reasons for a weaker spouse to agree to the unfair demands of a dominant spouse. Your attorney can ensure that your psychological well-being and physical safety are taken into account during the divorce process. This may require that a restraining order or order of protection be issued against your abusive spouse.
You Hate Paperwork
If you are not confident dealing with vast amounts of paperwork (including financial documents) and do not have prior experience in how to read and understand them, a lawyer can be a helpful asset in a divorce. If you are not good at completing forms, time keeping or adhering to deadlines set by courts then you need to hire someone who is. It is important that you have your case in order. If not, your spouse or his or her attorney will have the upper hand and you may not achieve a fair outcome.
What If I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?
If a shortage of money is causing you to consider doing it yourself, you should investigate whether you are eligible for legal aid. In addition, domestic violence organizations may be able to put you in touch with attorneys who will work pro bono or at a reduced cost. Even if you do not have children or many assets, it may still be useful to have a lawyer review your documents and guide you through the divorce process