Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer?

At one time, the answer to, do I need a divorce lawyer, was a resounding, “yes, of course you do.” The partnership of divorce and lawyers was taken for granted, like peanut butter and jelly. Today the answer is not so clear cut. More people than ever before can (if they choose) file for divorce without a lawyer.

Until quite recently, the option to pursue a do-it-yourself divorce was more or less limited to those with very simple, straightforward divorces – few assets, no minor children and agreement on all fronts. Everyone else was still thought to need a divorce lawyer.

divorce-decreeIn recent years this has changed considerably. There has been a boom in organizations set up specifically to help more people file for divorce without a lawyer. For instance, people with children, larger assets or specific areas of disagreement or concern.

As a result, there’s now a huge number of people stuck between those who definitely don’t need a divorce lawyer and those who definately do. In other words, the answer to do I need a divorce lawyer is now more likely to be “maybe, maybe not” rather than a straight yes or no.

So how do you know where you fit in – if you need a divorce lawyer or not?

A good starting point is to look at the two ends of the spectrum – those who definitely don’t need a divorce lawyer and those who probably do.

The answer to do I need a divorce lawyer is almost certainly “no” if:

You have modest or negligible assets, have not been married long enough for your financial and other affairs to become totally entangled, have no children or no minor children, and no disagreements regarding your divorce – it will not be contested by either of you in any way.

The answer is almost certainly “yes, you need a divorce lawyer” if:

There has been abuse in the marriage, of substances and/or people, if you or your spouse are in the military, pending bankruptcy, suffering from mental health problems, incarcerated or pending trial, strongly suspected of hiding assets or have a history of evading financial obligations.

On the whole, these are situations which may be far more complex than the parties realize. They have or may have an impact that can be difficult if not impossible for laypeople to foresee, understand or manage successfully without expert help.

However, the need for a lawyer in these cases does not necessarily extend so far as needing a lawyer to manage your entire divorce. The key need is to uncover any “hidden” issues or considerations before proceeding with a divorce. (Make sure you find a good divorce lawyer with some expertise in your “risk area.”) After consultation, a lawyer may well advise that, all circumstances considered, you can in fact go ahead and file for divorce yourself, if that is what you want.

For everyone else, the answer is “maybe, maybe not.”

If you fall into this category, you most likely have a mixed bundle of simple and not-so-simple circumstances. Whether or not you will need a divorce lawyer will depend largely on the nature of the not-so-simple issues and the likelihood that you and your spouse can reach agreement, or at least be willing to try.

As mentioned above, a great deal of free and low-cost help with do-it-yourself divorces is now available so take this into consideration. It is also important to know that the same type of help is now available from divorce lawyers too.

After considering the above – your circumstances, your capacity to work together and available help – there are four possible outcomes:

  • You feel you can overcome tricky issues and file for divorce yourselves, without any help.
  • You can overcome tricky issues with the help of free and low-cost self-help divorce services available, and then file for divorce yourselves.
  • You can deal with tricky issues by hiring a divorce lawyer to help with those issues alone, and file for divorce yourself.
  • Your circumstances and/or ability to work together are such that you need or prefer to retain a divorce lawyer to manage your entire divorce.

You may notice that much of the advice you may read or have read already elsewhere is much more black-and-white than the advice offered here.

In part this is because it errs on the side of caution, and fair enough. Whatever you feel your options are, it is never a bad idea to consult with a lawyer to ensure there are no hidden dangers in the route you prefer to pursue.

Otherwise, a great deal of advice on this issue is simply out-of-step with current options which have grown in response to demand – demand for the control and other advantages of a do-it-yourself divorce but not at the expense of expert advice if and when needed.

The bottom line is, today far fewer people need a divorce lawyer and of those who do, many do not need a lawyer to manage their entire divorce.

Copyright 2009 – [php snippet=1] Molly Laws
exclusively for

Posted in: Divorce Steps and Planning

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