Should I Hire a Divorce Attorney?

Man and Woman Shaking Hands in Agreement.  Hiring a Divorce Attorney.
Hire a Divorce Lawyer: Typically a lawyer and client meet to establish representation

A spouse may think about getting a divorce.  Or, he or she may have been served with divorce papers.  In either case, a spouse may think about whether to hire a divorce attorney. How can a spouse tell whether this is a good idea?  Lawyers have a reputation for being expensive.  Along these lines, saving money is a valid concern during a legal separation or divorce. 

Typically, a “Do-It-Yourself” spouse has the potential to save money. If a spouse has the extra time, desire, skills, and required knowledge, ‘Doing-It-Yourself’ may be an option. But when it comes to divorce, do it yourself spouses can end up paying more in the long run.

Do I Have to Hire a Divorce Attorney?

No spouse is required to hire a divorce attorney.  In Minnesota, there is no law that requires anyone to hire a divorce lawyer. Accordingly, spouses have the option to represent themselves in court during a divorce. In this article, we’ve called it “do it yourself”.  The law calls it pro se or being “self-represented”.

However, if a spouse decides to represent him or herself in court, the judge holds that person to the same standards as any other licensed divorce attorney in Minnesota.  This is by Minnesota statute.

Pro se parties are expected to know and follow all court procedures and Minnesota laws. In addition, court clerks and administrators will not provide legal advice.  For example, they won’t say what a judge might do or what to say in court. 

What Does Self-Representation in a Divorce Look Like?  

A pro se party in a divorce may need to, among other things:

  • Properly draft, serve and file all necessary paperwork to the Court and the other spouse.
  • Appear in at least one divorce hearing.
  • Argue the case to a Judge following Minnesota’s court rules and procedures.  
  • Research previous Minnesota cases to determine likely outcomes and past judgments. 
  • Learn, understand, and apply Minnesota statutes on child support, spousal maintenance, and marital property.
  • Find and hire a third party, and participate in alternative dispute resolution if both spouses can’t agree on all issues.
  • Draft correspondences to the court and follow up with court clerks regarding scheduling, parenting education programs, and alternative dispute resolution.
  • Research, hire, follow-up with, document and file any information from third party experts to the court and other party. 
  • Keep, organize, redact and file all appropriate records and documents.
  • Work directly with a spouse to obtain all required documents, such as financial statements of bank accounts.
  • In the event a spouse isn’t cooperate, compelling the other spouse to provide the information.
  • Properly draft the final divorce decree and file it with the court.

Issues to Figure Out

Strategically, a spouse may need to argue the following issues, among others: 

  • Marital Assets: Like bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, automobiles, other vehicles, and personal property.  How will  marital assets be divided?
  • Marital Debt: Such as, mortgages, medical, and credit card debt. How will marital debt be divided?
  • Child(ren): Who gets to decide where they live, where they go to school, and their religious upbringing? How much time will each parent have with the children? Is child support needed? How much and who will pay child support?
  • Alimony, known as, Spousal Maintenance: Will one spouse or the other have to pay alimony? How much will be paid, and for how long? 

When Should I Get a Divorce Attorney? 

A pro se spouse is less likely to get what he or she is entitled to in the divorce. He or she may also not get all of the custody rights deserved. In addition, one spouse could end up paying more alimony than needed.  Or not enough.

These are just a few possible consequences.  In my experience, when I have represented a client and the other spouse was not represented, I have always gotten more for my client than I would have gotten if the other spouse had been represented.

Divorce can be expensive. There’s no denying this. Between court costs, legal fees, and the potential costs of different experts, costs can rise quickly. However, on the other hand, there is a lot at risk.  

On top of the emotional toil, the divorce process is time-consuming and interferes with daily life. A good divorce attorney can explain the process, help navigate it, and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, while still protecting rights. 

Situations Which Favor Hiring a Divorce Attorney:

  • A spouse already has a lawyer. 
  • The other spouse may manipulate or try to bully during the divorce.
  • The other spouse may not be honorable during or after the divorce.
  • Either spouse has had chemical or mental health issues.
  • Significant marital assets, such as retirement accounts or a home.
  • Significant marital debts, such as credit cards or student loans.
  • Minor children involved.  For many this is the biggest reason.
  • One spouse makes more money than the other spouse. 

In very simple cases, trying to go it alone may be a reasonable option. However, the more the above common situations apply, the more a spouse risks by not hiring a divorce attorney. 

For some spouses, a pros and cons list may help. In addition, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has highlighted some circumstances of when a spouse may want to have a lawyer , which may help to reach a decision.  

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.