By Amanda Singer
One of the most common questions I hear people asking surrounding divorce is, “Do I need to hire a lawyer to get divorced?” Now the answer to this question might differ depending on who you ask, but as a licensed lawyer and a full-time mediator, the answer depends on the exact question you’re asking. If you said, do I HAVE to hire a lawyer to get divorced, then my answer would automatically be no because it’s not required. In fact, if you wanted to, you could go down to the courthouse and get divorced completely on your own without any attorneys, mediators, or other professionals. However, if you’re asking do I NEED to hire a lawyer to get divorced, as I will explore more here, the answer is it depends, as I’m sure you’ve heard many a lawyer say before. But the fact of the matter is it really does depend on your situation and what you’re looking for. As a mediator, I never tell my clients that they need to unless they want to or feel they need to. It should be their decision as to what will be in their best interest.
Part of whether you need a lawyer or not is going to first and foremost depend on what your situation looks like. Suppose you have no kids, assets, or debts and have been married for a brief period. In that case, going down to the courthouse and doing it on your own or just hiring a mediator to get everything done for you is probably going to be all you need, and you won’t need to worry about hiring a lawyer for your divorce. However, suppose you have a much more complicated situation, which could mean a number of different things, from a high conflict spouse to children, to numerous assets and debts, including businesses and real estate, to a longer-term marriage. In that case, doing it on your own isn’t going to work, and whether you need a lawyer will depend on what you’re looking for—the information or advice you want to have.
Now, if you choose to go through mediation with someone like myself, then it’s possible that you may not hire a lawyer at all and could work with the mediator. Now I know I technically am a lawyer as well. Still, when I’m wearing my mediator hat, I can’t wear my lawyer hat as well, so if you’re working with a mediator who is also a lawyer, you’ll need to know that they are only wearing one hat in that mediation. This means that the mediator cannot give you or your spouse legal advice since that may be different for each of you; however, they can give legal information and discuss with you what could happen in court. If you are looking for legal advice, this is one of those times when you probably do want to hire a lawyer to assist you through the divorce process, but that doesn’t mean you need to retain a lawyer to handle the whole case. You can still handle most of it through mediation and use your lawyer only when you need them for advice or to review agreements before signing anything. While I always recommend that my clients consult with an attorney to ask questions, get advice, and review agreements, it’s ultimately up to them. In some situations, you may choose to have a lawyer, and your spouse may not, and that’s ok. It’s not required that both people have a lawyer to go through mediation, but it’s always an option, and you can still get divorced without both of you having a lawyer for the divorce.
If there has been a history of domestic violence and/or you have concerns about your safety with the other party or there is a strong power imbalance, you may feel more comfortable having a lawyer to guide you through the process and even potentially join the mediation sessions. There are so many ways that you can have a lawyer as part of the process without having to litigate or have your lawyer handle the whole divorce. There isn’t one correct answer of how things should look and whether you need a lawyer to get divorced, but it is essential to make sure that if you hire a lawyer, you make sure that the lawyer understands the process you want to go through. If you don’t want to litigate and are focused on mediating, then make sure your lawyer understands their role and supports you with the path you want to be on. Additionally, it’s important to know that you don’t have to decide whether you need a lawyer at the very beginning. You and your spouse can begin the mediation process, and then you can determine if you feel that you need someone to support you through and provide you with legal advice or not.
If you’re looking for more information about whether you need a lawyer for your divorce, contact us, and one of our mediators would be happy to discuss your options with you and see what the right path would be for you. Call (858) 736-2411 to schedule your FREE virtual consultation today.