Archive for September, 2015

Do I Need An Attorney?

This question is almost universal with those going through a divorce. They are overwhelmed with the situation, the change in life and the fact that this is the ultimate in negotiations that anyone might face. The couple wants to get this right. So what is the answer to this important aspect? The true answer is that it depends…and here is why.

Most people can relate to the process of renovating a house. You have seen it on cable or the web and have probably been entertained by what people have to go through. Those headed into the renovation have a couple options:

Do it yourself. You act as your own contractor and do the work yourself. You do the architectural plans, get the necessary approvals, pull the needed permits, perform the demolition, do the work, have the inspections completed, do the clean-up and approve the final results. That is all done yourself. Any errors or delays along the way are yours alone and you are responsible.

Get some help. You could once again act as the general contractor and sub out what you cannot do to specialists. You then complete your part of the tasks that you are capable of doing. In this situation you most likely will also need to be aware of the permit issues. You will need to know if the subcontractors are doing the work up to standards and you will need to coordinate that work with anyone else that you might hire (as well as your own work) to make sure that you meet deadlines. In this case any inspection you need will most likely have to be called for at the completion of each stage which will add time and, if there are loans in place, costs to the project.

Get a general contractor. Under this method you hire a person that is capable of coordinating the entire process, assumes responsibility for completion to code and to your standards. S/he will also most likely be an educator in that they will help you understand the steps in the process with the intent of helping you to get exactly what you want. S/he will also point out flaws or problems with any aspect of the construction that might present particular problems and / or may have alternative solutions. The expertise of the general contractor might end up saving money overall or at least reducing the level of frustration and time you might expend in the process. They will act as your guide through the morass of the construction world.

Divorce, from our experience and view, is a similar process….

Do it yourself. You will need to understand the forms, the requirements of which form to file and why it is used. You might be able to use the free services offered by the court. But they do not take on any responsibility for the outcome. The forms, if not completed correctly may either be returned or, if correct for the court but incorrect per your desired result, leave you with an unintended consequence.

Get some help. You can use a service to file your paperwork. Once again, while they can do the mechanical movement and completion of paper, you need to know if it is what you need to arrive at your intended result. They cannot provide any legal advice. They can say what a form is but they cannot explain how it will specifically work in your situation. This is particularly true of the marital settlement agreement. The service cannot change an outcome if something is filed based on your instructions and it is not an outcome that you desired.

Hire an attorney (Your Divorce General Contractor). Here you get someone that knows the language of the courts, s/he will be able to advise you about results and can assure you that you are getting exactly what you are seeking. One attorney cannot represent both parties as clients. But one attorney can advise a couple about the process and draft the legal marital settlement agreement based on the instructions of the couple. The attorney cannot advise you about the issues as your personal legal counsel (that is a conflict of interest) but they can act as that “general contractor” that can get you through the process as efficiently as possible.

Many couples will use a mediator in addition to the attorney to prepare the couple for the actual work with filing of documents and preparation of the Marriage Settlement Understanding (MSU) that is used to generate the final Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). Mediators tend to be less expensive than an attorney while the couple hashes through the main details for the MSA. While they cannot provide legal advice, even if they are an attorney, mediators are knowledgeable as to the process and can assist to economize limited resources.

Back to the original question…. Do I need an attorney? That depends on how much you know about the process, the courts and the law as it pertains to you. It also depends on whether you can look at a form or document and be able to discern if it is correct or not.

Our recommendation is that you consider using counsel to assist you in this important matter of the compliance filing. It does cost more, but given the potential consequences down the road, it is worth your consideration.