Do I need a lawyer?

If you don’t like lawyers, you are definitely not alone.

Question: “What do you call three hundred lawyers chained at the bottom of the ocean?”
Answer: “A good start!”

Yes, there is a reason that the legal profession has become the brunt of bad jokes. But a good lawyer is a good start for your family law case.

One question that almost everyone asks in one way or another is, “Do I really need a lawyer for this case?” I always answer that question this way, “Do you get married and divorced every day?” If so, then you probably don’t need a lawyer. But if you are like most in the world, you don’t make a habit of getting married and divorced on a daily basis. You probably don’t run to court to argue over your children or your assets every chance you get. You probably did everything that you could do to avoid getting to this point—the point of facing a situation that would require the services of a qualified, seasoned attorney. So, yes, whether you are dealing with a legal dilemma, a legal situation, or a full-blown legal crisis, it is too important to simply “wing it”.

A prospective client recently came to me with a set of forms that he downloaded for $100 from the internet. He came to me after the judge handed them back to him (in front of the other fifty or so people in the courtroom at the time) and told him that no judge would sign these fill-in-the-blank forms when a child’s life and wellbeing are at issue. This unfortunate client had wasted a tremendous amount of time, resources, and capital. He had spent $100. He had spent hours and hours of time filling out these useless forms. He had expended tremendous political capital with his soon-to-be ex-wife negotiating a settlement (who based on the judge’s statement believed that she could now get a better deal and now wanted to back out of the agreement). He had missed significant time from work to go to court. By the time you add it all up, he spent MORE time and money trying to handle his family law case on his own than he would have by simply hiring me to guide him in negotiating a settlement, to draft the forty pages of documents required by the court, and to appear for him in court…and he wouldn’t have been embarrassed on court day…and he wouldn’t have lost his settlement with his soon-to-be-ex-wife!

Marriage and divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, visitation, division of marital assets, and allocation of marital debt are the kind of issues that require good, legal counsel. If I have a toothache, I go to the dentist—and I go before it becomes a full-blown abscess. If I have appendicitis, I don’t try to cut my appendix out with a sharp kitchen knife and a few shots of whiskey. I go to a professional surgeon, who uses a fully equipped operating room. I go to a surgeon who uses the services of an anesthesiologist, who specializes in the area of sedation. I go to a surgeon who has competent and trained support staff…and then I down the whiskey.

In much the same way, the divorce that you are facing and the terms upon which you settle will affect the course of your entire life…and often the lives of your children as well. I often hear, “But we have everything settled…Why do I need a lawyer for this simple divorce?”

A young lady named Susan came into my office last year. She was a successful business woman who was well versed in contract negotiations. She had handled her divorce three years previously on her own, but now she wanted to sell the marital home that she was awarded in the divorce. The only problem was that the buyer’s mortgage company would not permit closing to proceed because the divorce documents weren’t clear enough for the mortgage company. The divorce documents did not contain necessary language that clearly and legally conveyed the house to Susan, so she could not satisfy the buyer’s bank that she had full authority to sell the house. And do you think that her bitter ex-husband was willing to assist her in selling the house? No way…he was bitter that she was making a profit on the house only to move on to a higher-paying job in another state. It cost Susan twice as much time and money in court to rectify the issues caused by poorly written documents that she found on the internet.

Long story short, family law cases may often seem simple on the surface, but “the devil is in the details”. Family law cases involve some of the most important decisions that you will ever make in your life. It is worth a little bit of money to save a whole lot of headache in the future. Like my grandfather used to say when encouraging me to properly maintain my car, “Jake, you can pay me now, or pay me later.” And, of course, when I failed to maintain the car, I discovered that the “pay me later” option was much costlier.

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