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Do I need an attorney for my divorce?

Can I save attorney fees and costs by not using a lawyer?  The answer to the question as to whether or not you need an attorney depends upon how long you have been married and how complicated your family finances are.

There is a procedure sponsored by the courts called a "Simplified Dissolution of Marriage." It was designed for those people who get married and rather quickly discover that they made a mistake. There are no children and none are expected, there are few or no assets acquired since the date of marriage, few or no significant debts incurred since the date of marriage, and both parties can still earn about what they were earning before the marriage. In that case, the parties can agree in writing what each will take (as to assets and debts) when they separate. Then they obtain the proper form from the clerk of court's web site, fill it out, attach their written agreement, pay the filing fee, and file it with the court. They will be given a court date and the judge will grant the divorce after asking a few questions to insure that the agreement was freely entered into by each party.

I believe that it is a mistake to try to use this procedure if there are children or if the marriage has lasted several years and there are significant assets and debts incurred since the marriage. If you are lucky, you have never had to think about the laws governing the dissolution of a marriage.

Child support is dictated by statute and cannot be waived by either party. It is determined based upon the income of the parties and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. Calculation of the proper support can be complicated. If it is done wrong, the court can change it at any time. And if it is too low, the court can assess arrearages that must be paid. This is true even if both parents agreed to the lower amount.

In contrast, if one party or the other agrees to an economic result that is unjust or unfair, "I made a mistake" is not going to be a basis to get relief from the court. He or she will be forced to live with it unless there was fraud or coercion involved.

In summary, if there is not a significant financial issue and no children, it makes sense not to use a lawyer. But if there are issues of dividing up significant assets and or determining child support, not using a lawyer can be much more expensive than the attorney fees that were saved.

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