If you are here, it is because you and your soon-to-be ex are (unlike most divorcing couples) on good terms. Now you are trying to figure out if you should hire a lawyer because you are getting along and want to keep things as friendly as possible. The short answer is yes, you should hire an attorney. Before you close this page to look for self-help guides, I encourage you to read why having a lawyer is essential, even in friendly divorces, and how their help can often keep things amicable.
Even though there is a public misconception that once lawyers are involved, the fighting begins, that is inaccurate in most cases. Most of the time, when a potential client tells me they are on good terms, that is excellent news, and we can work towards settling the case without stressing that every issue will be litigated.
Your ability to remain on good terms with your soon-to-be ex depends mainly on the emotions and interactions outside the legal process. Your lawyer’s job is to give you the law and offer settlement options in your best interests.
But If I Hire a Lawyer Won’t That Cause Us to Fight?
A reasonable family law attorney can keep things friendly between you and your partner. I know you are asking yourself, how? Hiring a lawyer removes the emotions from the legal steps that have to happen to finalize your divorce, such as dividing up your property and agreeing on child custody. As you know, the decision to follow through with a divorce is a hard and emotional choice because no one gets married to get divorced. So, when you hire a lawyer that is on the same page with you about settling on good terms, then the lawyer works to help you understand your rights while working to achieve your goal of settling on good terms. This means your attorney will talk with you about the options the law gives you while also keeping in mind that your partner could become upset when clients want only what the law provides them.
You can remain friendly while asking for what you are entitled to under the law. Most people found it helpful to have an attorney so that they could blame me for the position taken. I have found that sometimes what the law requires is very different than what the other party wants.
That is why you should hire a lawyer who talks with you about all your options and tells you when pursuing something may upset your partner but also strategizes how to present the idea so that it does not cause a huge fight.
I have also had cases where clients do not want to settle on what the law provides because they think it is fairer, and a lawyer can also help you get that done.
Knowledge is power, so knowing what you can get and making an informed decision is much better than staying friendly and unknowingly leaving a lot of assets or money behind. Having counsel also helps you to remain on good terms after the divorce if you do not feel like your partner hosed you.
If I Hire an Attorney Will I Have to Go to Court?
First, let’s clear up this misunderstanding: if you do not have attorneys, you will not have to go to Court. Every divorce must go through the court process to get the divorce legally finalized. You can find that in our Guide to Divorce if you want to read more about the process.
Now that you know that you have to go to Court, let’s look at the real questions that you have about hiring an attorney, which are:
If I hire an attorney will this cause more court hearings?
If you hire an attorney, the chances are greater that you will have fewer court appearances because the attorney(s) will file Status Reports with the Court to keep it informed of the progress of your divorce. The Status Reports avoid the Court ordering that you and the other party attend a hearing to update the Court. Most importantly, if you hire an attorney and settle your case without going to a trial, you will likely never set foot in a courthouse.
Why should I pay for an attorney if we agree on everything?
Listen, I know attorney fees are expensive, and you are already trying to navigate a new normal as a single-income household. However, I have unfortunately met with many people that make much more expensive mistakes when they do not have an attorney. Most of the time, I sadly see these people after they proceed without an attorney, and the costs to them that come from making a lousy agreement are far more than if they hired an attorney at the beginning of their case.
One Example of a Costly Mistake
You decide not to hire a lawyer and try to stay friendly, so you agree not to ask for maintenance or alimony in a written agreement with your ex-spouse. Later you figure out that they should have paid you thousands of dollars for at least half the length of your marriage. Now what?
Most of the time, you are stuck with that lousy agreement. Most people do not know they cannot change these decisions. Sadly, I have seen people leave thousands of dollars on the table because they did not know everything they needed to make that informed decision. Again, knowledge is power.
If I hire an attorney will we have to go to trial to get everything done?
You most likely have only ever heard horror stories about divorce. It is similar to childbirth; you rarely hear about the great labors, only the ones that make you scared to even think about kids. The same is true for divorces. Not everyone uses the kids as pawns to be revengeful or get the property they want. In most cases, even if tensions are high and people are angry, people settle their divorces outside of Court without going to trial. If you are on good terms, it is unlikely that you will go to trial.
If I Want an Attorney How Does That Work?
If you want an attorney to help you with your divorce while working to remain on good terms, then you must meet with the potential attorney and discuss ways that start cases in a friendly way and keep it that way.
For example, if both of you want a divorce, then you can file a Joint Petition. This means you file it together, so neither party is in that awkward situation of getting served divorce papers. Another example is that while your partner might not want the divorce, you are still on good terms and do not wish to have them served with papers; an attorney focused on limiting conflict will work with them or their attorney to have them sign a waiver to avoid that and keep things friendly.
You will also want to ask your potential attorney how they approach negotiations and if you know that your soon-to-be ex will not hire an attorney, you will want to hire someone that can talk with them without causing an issue.
Now that you have read through this, you know that by hiring an attorney, you are not ending your chance at a “friendly” divorce and that, most of the time, the choice to hire counsel will help and protect you.
If you’re contemplating a divorce, friendly or not, don’t hesitate to consult with an attorney to know your rights and develop a strategy for finalizing the divorce.
Jamie Paine is a Shareholder at Griffiths Law. She is an experienced attorney that focuses her practice on family law. With Jamie’s years of experience as an attorney, she has successfully negotiated and settled numerous domestic relations cases with favorable results for her clients. Jamie’s keen negotiation skills help to alleviate clients’ stress during this stressful process.