That question is probably swirling in the minds of everyone who is thinking about getting a divorce, modifying their divorce decree, or reaching agreements with their spouses or soon-to-be spouses. The simplest of answers is an emphatic –NO. You are not required to hire a divorce attorney to protect you.
CONSIDER THE ISSUES
The more complicated answer is that it depends on what is at issue. The best analogy of whether or not you need a lawyer for your family law matter is when you have a health concern. If you have a sprained toe, your life experience has taught you that you can wrap the toe next to it until it heals, and then you don’t need to go see a healthcare professional. On the other hand, if you have a major fracture and your bone is sticking out, then you immediately go to an emergency room with a highly trained specialist to take care of your severe injury. When you have episodic pain in your stomach and all of the over-the-counter medicines don’t seem to help, you would best be served by going to a specialist to find out if your problem needs medical attention or simply a single consultation to help you resolve those issues without further medical intervention. That is exactly the kind of analysis that you should go through in determining whether or not it’s a good idea for you to seek family law counsel for your family law matter.
Couples that have no assets that are jointly owned: no employee benefits, no joint debts, and no children could very easily find the forms that will allow them to represent themselves in concluding their marriage in a divorce.
A case involving abuse, financially complex business ownership, evaluation with the characterization of property owned before marriage with sophisticated tax consequences, or any other complex financial and family issues quickly deserves a specialist that knows how to address the multitude of intersecting, overlapping, and conflicting issues that arise in those cases.
If your case is not that complicated, you have some children, you have a house and employee benefits do you need a lawyer at that time? You think you and your spouse will probably reach agreements on most issues. It is like a patient with a stomach problem. The best advice is to consult with an attorney who is skilled in assessing the issues involved. The best option may be to hire an attorney in a limited engagement capacity. What does that mean to you? It means that you could simply have an attorney to review your documents such as a petition and your decree for a specific fee.
DIVORCE WITH CHILDREN
With children at issue, decisions need to be made as to three areas of significance.
- Who makes the decisions about the children, where they live, where they go to school, what doctors they see, what treatment they receive, and a myriad of less frequent but sometimes important parenting rights.
- When does each parent have time with the children? What is the schedule? Is it the standard possession order that is presumptive by Texas statutes or is it more crafted to fit the specific needs of your family?
- How do we handle the financial needs of your children? Is it the standard support calculated pursuant to the Texas Family Code or do special considerations need to be put in place so that your children are well cared for in a clear, unambiguous manner.
Sometimes couples have an “uncontested” divorce. There could be issues that need to be addressed and resolved. Whether you and your spouse can make agreements on your own or if you need legal guidance is case and fact-driven. Employee benefits earned during the marriage are community property and subject to division. Most employee benefits have tax consequences. The marital home enjoyed by both spouses is of special significance because of potential mortgage liability and any capital gains if the basis in the property is significantly lower than the current value. This is one of those situations that it might be best for a spouse to seek a consultation with a knowledgeable practitioner skilled in assessing the different issues to guide the client to a solution that is in the best interest of the children, the client, and the family.
It is wise to seek guidance from a lawyer if only for a consultation, to learn you do not need their services further, and to determine what your best course of action should be. It is never a good idea to resolve your relationship in a vague, blind, and uninformed manner any more than you would do surgery on yourself.