Whether you need an attorney will depend upon many factors, such as how comfortable you feel handling the matter yourself, whether your situation is more complicated than usual, how much opposition you get from your spouse, and whether your spouse has an attorney. It may also be advisable to hire an attorney if you encounter a judge with a hostile attitude, or if your spouse gets a lawyer who wants to fight. There are no court appointed lawyers in divorce cases, so if you want an attorney you will have to hire one.
A very general rule is that you should consider hiring an attorney whenever you reach a point where you no longer feel comfortable representing yourself. This point will vary greatly with each person, so there is no easy way to be more definite.
A more appropriate question is: “Do you want a lawyer?”
One of the first questions you will want to consider is: How much will an attorney cost? Attorneys come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and price ranges. For a very rough estimate, you can expect an attorney to charge anywhere from $150 to $1500 for an uncontested divorce and from $1000 and up for a contested divorce. Lawyers usually charge an hourly rate for contested divorces, ranging from about $100 to $500 per hour. Most new (and therefore less expensive) attorneys would be quite capable of handling a simple divorce, but if your situation became more complicated, you would probably prefer a more experienced lawyer.
Advantages to Hiring a Lawyer
— Judges and other attorneys may take you more seriously. Most judges prefer both parties to have attorneys. They feel this helps the case move in a more orderly fashion, and both sides will know the procedures and relevant issues. Persons representing themselves very often waste a lot of time on matters that have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the case.
— A lawyer will serve as a “buffer” between you and your spouse. This can lead to a quicker passage through the system, by reducing the chance for emotions to take control and confuse the issues.
— Attorneys prefer to deal with other attorneys, for the same reasons listed above.
— You can let your lawyer worry about all of the details. By having an attorney you need only become generally familiar the law and legal procedure, as it will be your attorney’s job to file the proper papers in the correct form, and to deal with the court clerks, the judge, the process server, your spouse and your spouse’s attorney.
— Lawyers provide professional legal assistance with legal problems. In the event your case is complicated, it is an advantage to have an attorney who is familiar with your case. It can also be comforting to have a lawyer to turn to for advice, and to get your question answered.
Advantages to Representing Yourself
The following are some reasons you may want to represent yourself instead of hiring a lawyer:
— You save the cost of a lawyer.
— Sometimes judges feel more sympathetic toward a person not represented by an attorney. Sometimes this results in the unrepresented person being allowed a certain amount of leeway with the rules relating to court procedure.
— The procedure may be faster. Two of the most frequent complaints about lawyers received by the bar association involve delays in completing the case, and failure to return phone calls. Most lawyers have a heavy caseload, which sometimes results in cases being neglected for various periods of time. If you are handling your own case you’ll be responsible for moving it through the system.
— Selecting an attorney is not easy.
You may want to look for an attorney who will be willing to accept an hourly fee to an answer your questions and give you help as you need it. This way you will save some legal costs, but still get some professional assistance.
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