In Minnesota, there is no law that requires you to hire a family law attorney in a family law case. Therefore, you always have the option to represent yourself. So why should you hire a family law attorney?
In order to answer this question, I’ve looked at cases I’ve had with pro se litigants (parties who represents themselves) and represented litigants (parties who have an attorney). I compare my experiences in both.
Also if you’re wondering whether you can or should represent yourself, check out our article, “Should I Get a Divorce Lawyer?” The article explains what to do if you represent yourself and what issues to address. However, here are some reason to hire a family law attorney.
Reasons to Hire a Family Law Attorney
1. Bully Prevention
“You’ll never see the kids again!”
“You’ll be lucky to end up with anything!”
“I’m not giving you a cent!”
Often, when a party makes outlandish threats it’s out of frustration with the situation. Otherwise, it can be an attempt to intimidate or based on a complete misunderstanding of the law. This happens much more often when the other party doesn’t have a lawyer. Because, the other party thinks he or she can get away with it.
Unfortunately, one spouse may get silenced into submission. He or she may erroneously believe that such comments are true. If he or she doesn’t agree, something worse could happen. Or he or she simply can’t stand their other spouse any more. However, an attorney helps keep the other party, his or her lawyer, and any of their weak claims in check.
In addition, in cases of domestic abuse or with a combative party, an attorney provides a filter. In other words, the other party will contact your attorney, rather than communicate directly with you. This way, the attorney absorbs the other party’s hostility and acts as a buffer.
Also, in cases when the other party is represented, with an attorney you don’t have to worry about having to talk directly with the other party’s attorney. (MRPC, Rule 4.2). When direct communication is no longer effective, an attorney shields the blows and calmly negotiates on your behalf.
2. Legal Protection & Advocacy
Family law is complicated. For example, you have to study hundreds of statues, stay abreast of changes and the legal climate, and know the outcomes of past court cases. Therefore, it’s easy to see how someone could get taken advantage of when the other party is making threatening claims.
After all, most individuals don’t have any legal knowledge or experience to fall back on. Why would they? It’s even easier to get taken advantage of if the other party is represented. He or she has talked with his or her attorney. However, such threats are not nearly as nerve-wracking when you have an attorney there to tell you what’s realistic and what’s not, and how you can protect your rights.
Besides knowing the law and past verdicts, you also need to know what Judges care about. Many times, when a pro se party presents an argument to a judge, he or she does so in more of a laundry list type-fashion. He or she states any facts that may be important.
Unfortunately, a pro se party may end up presenting facts that actually work against their case, simply because he or she didn’t know any better. In addition to incriminating one’s self, these mishmash of facts aren’t tied into a cohesive theory. You want to answer the Judge’s question, “Why should I give you what you’re asking for?”
These days, Courts are overburdened. Budgetary cuts have translated into more work and less available resources. For Judges, this often means a jam-packed calendar with a grossly unrealistic caseload. Therefore, Judges today simply don’t have the time to do their own job and yours.
Also, when you’re not prepared, when you don’t follow court procedures, when you don’t present the legal grounds for your argument, etc…it comes off that you don’t care or worse, don’t respect the Court.
If you don’t care, how do you get an overworked Judge to care? Ultimately, if a Judge believes that you’re wasting his or her valuable time, you lose respect and credibility. Therefore, you should do everything possible to help the judge, help you.
When you hire a family law attorney he or she knows what you’re reasonably entitled to. Also, he or she knows what sort of issues to be prepared for and how to challenge false allegations on your behalf.
In addition, a lawyer knows and presents the most important facts, in an organized fashion for the judge, and in a manner that argues why you should get the outcome you desire. This direct and efficient arrangement is helpful to the Judge and tends to be the most persuasive.
3. Proper Legal Documents & Court Procedure
An attorney follows proper procedures. For example: drafting, filing, serving documents and meeting deadlines. In Minnesota, pro se litigants are held to the same procedural standards as attorneys. Therefore, if you don’t draft a document correctly, or properly serve a document, or file it within deadlines, a Judge has the discretion to exclude any or all of those documents.
As you have seen above, a pro se litigant is also expected to follow the proper rules of evidence and format for presenting a case to the Judge. If evidence is not presented properly, the Judge can exclude it. Therefore, don’t make the grave mistake of underestimating the significance of properly handling your case and following correct legal procedures.
4. Peace of Mind
A divorce or family law case adds a lot of stress. This is on top of what is already likely a contentious and emotional family situation. A lot of this stress comes from the individual’s lost sense of control, coupled with an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. For example: Uncertainty in regards to what’s going on, what will happen next, what a document from the other party means, and what to expect during the legal process.
However, it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Instead, an attorney can help you understand the other party’s legal requests. He or she can explain what and why the other party is doing what they’re doing and provide you with legal options. In addition, with a family law attorney you don’t have to worry about signing or agreeing to something that you don’t understand or end up regretting later.
5. Qualified & Objective Support
It’s typical to turn to family and friends in time of need. However, an attorney should be your sounding board when it comes to legal decisions involving your case. Even if they have gone through similar situations, they don’t know all the details of your case. Legally, they don’t necessarily know what was best for best for you.
Family and friends can be a great support during this time. However, they are not qualified to provide legal advice. Therefore, seek a professional who is licensed and practices family law, otherwise you’re just putting yourself at risk.
In addition, a lawyer represents your best interests, but is not personally involved in the situation. Often, a lawyer has the ability to see the full picture and can provide a cool head. An attorney uses legal knowledge and experience, rather than idle threats, name calling, or other negative behaviors. Family members sometimes, often unintentionally, can make situations worse.
As a result, a family attorney is often in a better position to negotiate for your rights and resolve family law issues. Lastly, strong emotions can cloud judgment, making it difficult for us to make decisions, and inevitably keep us entangled and fighting a losing battle.
To illustrate, high emotions can push a party to seek trial even when it’s not in his or her best interests. Perhaps the value of objective and qualified support is best illustrated by the fact that even attorneys hire attorneys and don’t represent themselves in their own cases.
6. Financial Security
When you hire a family law attorney, you’ll have legal fees to pay for those services. However, hiring an attorney can ensure that you’re financially savvy and often ends up saving you money in the long run. Here’s how:
1. Paying more than you need to in child support, or not receive enough child support.
2. Paying more than you need to in spousal maintenance, or not receive enough spousal maintenance.
3. Having to go back to court to fix mistakes that you made in your divorce decree or custody order. In my experience, this is the single-biggest cost-savings.
4. Your marital assets and property may not get divided fairly.
5. Be in debt because you gave away too much marital property, or creditors are coming after you for your ex’s loans.
6. Need to take time off of work in order to meet deadlines in your case, research the law, and learn Court procedures.
7. Go all the way to trial when you could have avoided it had you known the law.
8. Missed out on having the other party pay your legal fees.
An attorney’s knowledge and experience, familiarity with Court procedures and policies, and access to several resources allow him or her to do things in less time than it would take you.
You’ll need to study family law, learn court procedures, and research what, how, and when you need to do. For example, you’ll need to set aside specific time to:
- Work on your case,
- Keep track of deadlines,
- Promptly follow up with correspondences from the Court and the other party,
- Present requested files and paperwork to the other party and court,
- Possibly hire a third party, such as an early neutral evaluator or real estate appraiser and then get all the necessary paperwork and documentation to that third party.
- In addition, you may have to backtrack and re-do something due to it not being properly done the first time.
Whereas an attorney does this for a living. Therefore, he or she has had the opportunity to learn and develop a system to streamline the process and be as efficient as possible.
In addition, the attorney may be familiar with the Judge and/or other party’s attorney, already know of third parties that may be advantageous to your case, and has an organizational system to track the next tasks so that the case is constantly moving forward, deadlines are being met and paperwork and correspondence sent is being traced. Lastly, for many clients an attorney’s guidance can reduce the length of the process by providing focus and promoting follow through.
8. Avoiding Future Conflict
This goes under ‘an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure’ category. It is critically important and yet is often overlooked by self-represented parties.
If issues aren’t properly addressed in the divorce decree, custody and/or support order, etc… problems and disputes arise in the future. These future conflicts can result in costly post-decree or order-modification litigation.
Instead, there are preventative measures that an attorney can take with you the first time around. This ensures that there are no loose ends and that all the bases have been covered. In fact, many post-decree and order-modification cases could have been avoided. An attorney who properly drafted and reviewed the documents and corrected errors may have helped.
In addition, an attorney can bring up possible future scenarios Then, he can discuss how such scenarios would likely be resolved. An attorney’s knowledge and past experience permits him or her to present possible scenarios that the client would not otherwise have considered.
Next, the attorney works with you to ensure that those scenarios are addressed in the Order the first time around. Otherwise, any scenarios not addressed specifically in the Order, by default are handled according to Minnesota law, and require a court order to change.
avoiding future regrets
Also, when an issue isn’t properly addressed in the Order the first time, it leads to another argument between the parties. In essence, it reignites the tension and causes disruption to the family all over again.
Even worse, it could end up an issue that haunts you. For example, you can end up permanently giving away certain rights in a divorce decree or custody order, and as a result, make it so that you’re unable to ever ask the court for a modification. Once you end up in this situation, unfortunately there is nothing an attorney, a Judge, or the law can do for you.
Ultimately, whether you need a family law attorney or not is only a decision you can make. Regardless of what you decide, it’s important that you make an informed decision that’s in your best interests.
For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page. If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.