18 Apr Do I Need A Divorce Lawyer?
There is no question that hiring a lawyer can be expensive. Moreover, it is almost always impossible to predict how much you will end up paying your divorce lawyer, since there are so many factors that can affect the overall cost of your divorce. These days, it can be enticing for divorcing couples to handle their divorce themselves, since there are so many resources available online.
Handling your divorce yourself can be an attractive choice if you and your spouse agree to a divorce and have no assets to divide. However, in these situations, I would still generally recommend hiring an attorney to handle the paperwork. Pennsylvania law imposes strict timelines and waiting periods, and paperwork requirements can vary from county to county. It may make sense to hire an attorney even for one of these simple divorces, since a divorce attorney will be familiar with the Pennsylvania rules and the rules of court in your particular county.
While hiring an attorney for a “simple” divorce will still cost you money, it may end up being a small price to pay to avoid the headache of possibly overlooking one of the technical aspects of the paperwork. Many attorneys can have their paralegal or younger associates handle these types of divorces, and some attorneys will work with you to find a fee structure that makes sense for your case (we do!).
For a more complicated divorce, I would always recommend hiring an attorney (and I’m not just saying that because I’m an attorney!). Getting a divorce is hard enough, and it can be made exponentially harder by not knowing how to go about this process. Worse, you could end up accidentally waiving your right to something you would have otherwise been entitled to, had you had an attorney helping you navigate the process. These rights can include your right to alimony, or your right to the equitable share of a spouse’s 401(k) plan.
That being said, it is not a requirement that both spouses have an attorney; one spouse can have an attorney and the other spouse can represent him or herself (this is known as representing yourself pro se). It is important to note that even if both sides agree to all aspects of a divorce, one attorney cannot represent both spouses – this is against the Rules of Professional Conduct. If one spouse has an attorney and the other does not, the attorney will generally communicate directly with the unrepresented spouse.
A common misconception is that hiring lawyers means the divorce will be contentious. A divorce, support, or custody case may still be quite amicable even though both parties have decided to retain attorneys because the attorney is there to keep their client informed about his or her respective rights. Moreover, in almost every case, the lawyer is there to help facilitate settlement of your divorce, not to fight in court.
Another benefit of having an attorney represent you in your divorce is having someone who will communicate with your spouse for you. You may never be able to completely cut off communication with your spouse, especially if you have children together, but it can be beneficial to be able to tell your spouse that you wish to discuss certain things through the attorneys only, such as financial matters.
Ultimately, I have observed that a divorcing couple will often be happier with the outcome of their divorce if they clearly understand their legal rights and obligations, so that they understand what they are getting and what they are giving up. Otherwise, if you don’t have someone to clearly explain what you are entitled to under Pennsylvania law, you may always be left wondering if you got a bad deal. Worse, you could end up finding out many years later that you actually got a bad deal, at which point there is usually nothing that can be done.
A middle ground between representing yourself pro se and hiring an attorney is hiring an attorney to help advise you on certain matters related to your divorce, while you formally represent yourself (we offer this service, see our pricing page for more information). Whether you decide to represent yourself pro se, or whether you decide to hire an attorney for full or limited representation, it is always a good idea to have an initial consultation with an attorney to give you an overview of these options and the divorce process in general.