Friday, January 15, 2016

Do You Really Need a Lawyer?

I recently read a divorce article  on line that I really disagreed with. The premise was that smart people didn't need to hire a lawyer to get a divorce.

The author was probably basing her ideas on how divorce works in California.  It may work there, but I still see lots of problems with DIY.  Even in California with their regimented divorce process, there are still many cases where Collaborative Law can be very beneficial.  Here in Texas, there are even more reasons to hire a lawyer and use Collaborative Law.

1.  Texas divorce forms alone are not sufficient in complicated cases.  Where there are children, you want to have enforceable and appropriate orders for access, support and decision-making.   Just taking a chance with on line forms is not a good idea.  If your order isn't drawn correctly, it's worthless at best and potentially harmful to your interests.

2.  It is very common for a party negotiating without an attorney, to get bullied or bluffed into making a very bad agreement.  It could be paying too much or receiving too little support or not getting proper value for some assets or giving up rights unnecessarily.

3.  Incorrect assumptions are often made, to the serious detriment of one of the parties.  In Texas, for example, there's no automatic 50-50 division of assets or liabilities.   Also, retirement assets may be community property which generally should be divided, but they may include some separate property that was earned prior to marriage.  Plus, how do you deal with a house that's just in one party's name?  You need lawyers to help with these issues.

4.  Few couples can work through these problems just on  their own or with a therapist or financial professional.  Mediators can help some, but mediators can't give legal advice.  No matter how smart a person is, a lawyer is important when there are hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars at risk. Most people benefit from the team of professionals used in Texas:  two attorneys, one neutral mental health professional and one neutral financial professional.

5.  You can't rely on a Judge to correct any mistakes you make in negotiating an agreement.  Judges can't give legal advice and they generally won't point out your mistakes unless something is clearly illegal.

Best bet:  talk to a Collaborative lawyer before you start. Discus the different process options  for working out the terms of your divorce. You may decide to do it yourself, but you also find out that you need help.  It's better to discover that at the beginning rather than post-divorce when you are having problems.

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