Do I Need a Lawyer?
Getting served or being told you are going to be involved in a legal case can be intimidating and stressful. When the case is your divorce or custody matter, it's not only about going to court but will probably include the most personal and important aspects of your life. At a time like this, you may wonder—Do I need a lawyer?
Have you Been Formally Served?
If you are served with a divorce or custody action, the law limits the time you have to file a responsive pleading. If you don't respond, it is possible for the other side to go to court without you and get a judgment in the case. At a minimum, if you are served or receive divorce or custody documents that appear to be official, you should consult with an attorney to learn more about what these papers mean and your obligations under the law.
Does the Other Side Have an Attorney?
When you represent yourself in a divorce or custody case, and your ex has an attorney, you are likely to be at a significant disadvantage. Although you may be able to look up laws and court procedures, the attorney will know how to use them to his client's benefit. Additionally, you could be served with discovery or a motion to which you have no idea how to respond appropriately. Further, family law is complicated, and what may appear to be a fair agreement to you could be problematic down the road. If the other side has an attorney, you should consult with counsel to consider your next steps.
Won’t the Judge Check the Agreement?
When both sides represent themselves, there is a common misconception that if the judge signs their agreement, that means that he or she has confirmed that it is legally sound. While the judge will make sure that specific important provisions are in your document, it is up to you to make sure the right language is present and enforceable. For instance, you are your ex may divorce believing that one of you is geographically restricted to the state when it comes to moving with your kids, only to find the words you used are not valid and can't be enforced by the court. The judge will not check your work for you, and it is assumed that if you sign an agreement, you read it and made sure it was correct. Having an attorney prepare and review any agreement can help make sure it is drafted correctly and can be relied upon in the future.
Family law cases can vary in complexity, but it is usually a good idea to start with talking to an attorney so that you can understand your case and the possible consequences. Attorney Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law has extensive experience assisting clients in examining their situations and determining the most appropriate supports to have in place.