Family Law

What if My Spouse Has a Divorce Lawyer and I Don't?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney

Divorce is scary enough without your spouse’s lawyer intimidating you in court. Yet, some people choose to represent themselves in a divorce even when a spouse has hired a lawyer. You don’t need to hire an attorney simply because your spouse has one. However, in certain complex divorce cases, you’d be wise to seek legal counsel.

Can I Share a Divorce Attorney With My Spouse?

Divorce attorneys can’t represent both spouses in a divorce. If your spouse asks you to split the legal bill, don’t do it. An attorney hired by your spouse can’t serve your interests too.

Under limited circumstances, a couple can use one attorney to resolve their divorce. Specifically, couples who’ve already resolved their asset, debt division, and custody issues may want to hire one attorney to draft up a divorce agreement. But, the spouse who hires or “retains” the lawyer is the lawyer’s client. If you are the unrepresented spouse, be aware that the lawyer preparing the divorce agreement doesn’t represent you and cannot give you legal advice. One attorney may be enough for couples with simple divorces, but make sure you understand your legal rights if you’re the unrepresented spouse.

When You Should Hire a Lawyer

It’s wise to get your own lawyer if you have a high-asset divorce or complex finances. An experienced attorney will request documents and do the research necessary to get an accurate picture of your spouse’s finances. Ultimately, that information can lead to a fairer division of assets.

If you have children and you can't agree on a custody arrangement with your spouse, you should hire an attorney to help you sort this out. There are many factors that go into a custody decision. An attorney who understands the law can help you be successful in the custody process.

Finally, you may want to hire an attorney if you’re unsure about divorce procedure or want to better understand your legal rights. Some attorneys will work on a flat fee or limited basis if you’re on a tight budget. Also, you may qualify for free legal aid if you live at or below the poverty level, are disabled, or are a victim of domestic violence. Contact your local legal aid office for more information.

Mediation Using a Neutral Attorney

If you worry that an attorney will drag on the divorce process and cost you your life savings, then consider mediation. Mediation involves a neutral attorney who helps couples reach an agreement in a divorce. The mediator doesn’t represent either spouse and can’t give legal advice. Instead, mediators help couples identify the issues that need to be resolved and create an agreement that comports with the law.

Mediation is another alternative to handling a divorce on your own. Although there are a lot of self-help resources out there, divorce can be a daunting process. Mediation is confidential and even if you and your spouse don’t reach an agreement, you can still argue your divorce in court. The major drawback of mediation is that a mediator can’t advise you if you’re making a good decision – only your own attorney can.

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