If you’re thinking about getting a divorce or you’ve been served with divorce papers, how do you know if you should hire a divorce attorney or not? Lawyers have a reputation for being expensive and saving money is a valid concern during a legal separation or divorce.
Typically, anytime you “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) there’s the potential to save money. If you have the extra time, desire, skills, and required knowledge, ‘Doing-It-Yourself’ may be an option. But when the stakes are high and you can end up paying more in the long run, then ‘Doing-It-Yourself’ isn’t so appealing.
Do You Have to Hire a Divorce Attorney?
“Can you do-it-yourself and not get a divorce lawyer?” The short answer is, Yes.
In Minnesota, there is no law that requires you to hire a divorce lawyer. Therefore, you have the option to represent yourself in court during your divorce. When you represent yourself in court, it’s referred to as pro se. The latin translation being ‘on one’s own behalf’ or ‘for himself’.
However, the courts can impose restrictions on pro se litigation. For example In re Burns, 542 N.W.2d 389, 390 (Minn. 1996), the Court held that the Hennepin County District Court was justified in imposing a one-year restriction on a pro se litigant’s communications with the court due to a series of “disruptive proceedings” brought by that party.
If you decide to represent yourself in court, the judge will hold you to the same standards as any other licensed divorce attorney in Minnesota. Meaning, you’ll still be required to know and follow all court procedures and Minnesota laws. In addition, court clerks and administrators will not provide legal advice to you. For example, they won’t tell you what a judge might do or what to say in court.
What Does Representing Yourself in a Divorce Look Like?
Procedural Jobs You’ll Have
You will need to, among other things:
1. Properly draft, serve and file all necessary paperwork to the court and your spouse.
2. Represent yourself in at least one divorce hearing and argue your case to a Judge following Minnesota’s court rules and procedures.
3. Research previous Minnesota cases to determine likely outcomes and past judgments.
4. Learn, understand, and apply Minnesota statutes on child support, spousal maintenance, marital property, etc…
5. Find and hire a third party, and participate in alternative dispute resolution if you and your spouse cannot agree on all issues (unless there is domestic abuse in the relationship).
6. Draft correspondences to the court and follow up with court clerks regarding scheduling, parenting education programs, alternative dispute resolution, etc…
7. Research, hire, follow-up with, document and file any information from third party experts, such as house appraisers to the court and other party.
8. Keep, organize, redact and file all appropriate records and documents used in the case.
9. Work directly with your spouse to obtain all required documents, such as financial statements of bank accounts.
10. Properly draft the final divorce decree with your spouse and file it with the court.
Substantive Issues You’ll Need to Figure Out
Strategically, you’ll need to prepare for and argue the following issues, among others:
- Marital Assets: Like bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, automobiles, other vehicles, personal property, etc… How will your marital assets be divided?
- Marital Debt: Such as, mortgages, medical, and credit card debt. How will your 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 you have with your children? Is child support needed? How much and who will pay child support?
- Alimony, known as, Spousal Maintenance in Minnesota: Will you or the other spouse pay alimony? How much will be paid, and for how long?
When Should I Get a Divorce Attorney?
If you represent yourself you likely will not get everything you’re entitled to in your divorce. You may also not get all of the custody rights you deserve. In addition, you could end up paying more alimony than you need to. 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, the costs can rise quickly. However, on the other hand, there is a lot at risk.
On top of the emotional toil it takes on you, the divorce process is time-consuming and interferes with daily life. A good family law attorney can explain the process, help you navigate it, and get you through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, while still protecting your rights.
Check out 8 reasons to hire a family law attorney to learn more about what a divorce lawyer is going to do for you and your case.
Common Situations Which Favor Hiring a Divorce Attorney:
- Your spouse already has a lawyer.
- You expect your spouse to argue with, manipulate, threaten, or try to bully you during the divorce.
- You don’t trust that your spouse will be honorable and try to do the right thing during or after the divorce.
- Either you or your spouse has had chemical or mental health issues.
- There are significant marital assets, such as a house.
- There are significant marital debts, such as credit cards or student loans.
- There are minor children involved.
- One spouse makes more money than the other spouse.
In very simple cases, where you’ve only been married a year, there are no children involved and you don’t have significant marital assets or debts, trying to do it alone may be a reasonable option. However, the more you answer ‘Yes’ to the above common situations, the more you risk not hiring a divorce attorney.
Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether you need to hire a divorce attorney. Perhaps, making a pros and cons list will help. In addition, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has highlighted some circumstances of when you’ll want to have a lawyer , which may help you make a decision.
Lastly, if you have concerns about finding the right divorce attorney for you, the additional articles below come recommended: