We have a simple, uncontested divorce – do I really need a lawyer?

Yes. No. Maybe.  To be honest, I’m not really sure.  What I do know is that lots of people make the mistake of waiting too long to call a lawyer – like when things have gone bad and there is nothing that we can do to help.  I’ve written previously about this here.  Here is another article that talks about when you should hire a lawyer.

For example, today I received a call from a man with an out of state custody matter.  He lives in North Carolina, but got divorced elsewhere.  His ex-wife filed for a custody modification (she still lives in another state).  He should have at least called a lawyer as soon as he was served with the paperwork requesting the modification.  At that point, he would have had options.  The lawyer could have assisted him in mapping out a strategy to deal with the modification request.  The ex’s burden of proof (i.e., what evidence she has to show to a judge) would have been discussed.  A history of the custody situation would have been gathered.

With this information, his attorney could have attacked the legal filing with counterclaims, moved to dismiss it entirely, or at least (if he couldn’t afford or didn’t want to hire an attorney), guide him in the right direction and tell him what to request at mediation (which is compulsory in the state where he got divorced).

Unfortunately, this particular individual did none of these things (at least he didn’t indicate he did).  He went through mediation unrepresented.  The case was referred to a hearing in front of a magistrate – which he attended over the telephone without counsel.  Now, he has an order from the magistrate that he (shocker alert), doesn’t like, with 5 days to file written objections.

In this case, yes, this person needed a lawyer.

If you don’t know whether you need a lawyer or not, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s really at stake? In other words, what is the legal cost of divorce?
  2. What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t have counsel?  Do I even know what the worst case scenario is?
  3. Is the custody of my children at stake? (Lots of couples split and amicably agree to co-parenting schedules – which could greatly decrease the costs associated with hiring a lawyer).
  4. Does hiring a lawyer make sense financially?  Think about the divorce lawyer as a cost associated with the transaction that is your divorce.  The more you have or earn, the more you need a lawyer.  If a divorce lawyer is going to cost you $10,000 and you are splitting up a $1 million plus marital estate, then your transaction cost is roughly 1%.  If you sell a house worth $300,000, the realtor and closing fees are 3-6% (roughly $9,000 – $18,000).  On the other hand, if you have no kids, no assets, and you and your spouse have similar incomes, then paying $10,000 for a lawyer may be an expense that you can avoid.
  5. Are you comfortable negotiating directly with your spouse?
  6. Are you going to be asking for or paying spousal support?

The divorce laws in North Carolina are complex.  Going it alone can be difficult, but many people choose to do it themselves.  Lots of other people hire a lawyer to help them.

The only way to know whether you really need a lawyer is to call them and ask some questions.  If you are comfortable with the lawyer, schedule an initial meeting.  This will typically set you back $250-400, but the advice you get may save you thousands of dollars later on. (Effective April 1, 2014, our fee for an initial consultation is $325).

If you have further questions, or would like to schedule an initial divorce assessment with our firm, please call us at (919) 460-5422.

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