Can you handle your own divorce proceedings with no attorney involvement? In many cases, you certainly can. In fact, if there are no minor children in the marriage and you own very limited assets, most attorneys would probably agree that this might be the best solution, especially if it is an amicable divorce. Recent statistics on different types of divorce show that more than half of all the family law cases filed in Colorado involve at least one party who chooses to represent themself.
What You Need to Represent Yourself
If you do choose to represent yourself, dissolution packets are available at your local court clerks’ offices for a small fee. The packets include all the basic pleadings that are required in a dissolution action. Instructions are also included. In addition, you can download free forms through the state judicial website.
If you choose to divorce on your own, the process may look like the following:
- You or your spouse files the petition to divorce at your local court office.
- Your spouse is served with the divorce papers and court summons.
- You and your spouse may require mediation or alternative dispute resolution to come to an agreement.
- There is a mandatory 91-day waiting period after the divorce is first filed or the papers are served. Depending on court schedules, it may take longer than 91 days to see a judge.
- At the hearing, the judge will make orders for alimony, child custody, child support, property division, and other matters.
What Can a Lawyer Do for Me That I Can’t Do Myself?
The attorney’s role in a dissolution case is far more complex than knowing how to read and apply the law. The attorney will guide you through the legal process and attempt to keep you from making rash decisions, which you may later regret. The attorney is your advocate; they represent your interests, protect your rights, and tell you upfront what your legal options are.
When you retain an attorney, you are paying for their expertise in many areas. An effective family law attorney will not only know which statutes to apply to your case to achieve an “equitable” settlement, but will also typically have had years of experience dealing with the complexities involved in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, including parenting issues, real estate, pensions, investment plans, tax laws, evaluating assets, etc. Moreover, if the attorney does not have first-hand knowledge of a particularly difficult issue, she will typically have the resources to quickly find someone who does. In the event that your case becomes contested, a good attorney knows the “ins and outs” of court proceedings, including experience with the judges and magistrates who preside over domestic cases.
In addition, a good attorney will maintain emotional distance and keep a “level head” in the midst of the emotional turmoil of divorce. Because of the intense emotional factor, even divorce attorneys are known to retain other attorneys to represent them through a divorce. It is far too often that parties find themselves agreeing to terms of a separation agreement just to “get the divorce over with” because they want to move off the emotionally uncomfortable spot they are on.
Attention to Detail
Worse yet, pro se divorcing parties may not pay attention to the finer details of an agreement because they believe they can trust their spouses to make the “correct” decisions, or because they believe they can rely on verbal agreements. Alternatively, it is very common for the parties to not know all of the specifics that should be addressed in a settlement agreement. An attorney will help you consider the present and the future while negotiating an agreement.
“But My Cousin’s Neighbor’s Aunt Told Me……”
We all know someone, or more likely several people, who have been through the divorce process. Many of these individuals have well-intentioned advice regarding your situation. Some people may even believe they can tell you what the outcome of your divorce should be and that you should not settle for anything different.
Your friends and family may try to tell you what “the law” is regarding settlement and custody disputes, or they may urge you to find the nastiest, most aggressive attorney money can buy. While it is understandable that these individuals want to help you, you should proceed with caution when taking the legal “advice” of a non-attorney.
Every divorce is different, and therefore what happens in one situation will not happen in a different situation. There are many factors that come into play when, for example, settlement and parenting issues are decided. A good family law attorney will be able to analyze all these things and recommend the strategy that may be most helpful.
Moreover, if you do decide to use an attorney, be sure to find someone with family law expertise. While NO attorney can make absolute promises about how your case will turn out, your chances of having a reasonable understanding of your rights will be better if you consult an experienced family law practitioner. And, when hiring an attorney, always remember that not even the nastiest or most aggressive attorney can guarantee an outcome. All proceedings are dictated by the laws of the State of Colorado as interpreted by the presiding judges.
In addition, a good family law attorney will know what actions are most appropriate in your case, when it makes sense to argue aggressively and when it is better to reach a compromise. The attorney will know the current laws, where a friend or family member may be relating stories of outcomes that were based on laws ten years ago. Even in just one or two years, a lot can change regarding domestic law. Every year new laws are passed or changed in order to reflect the changing society.
How to Choose the Right Attorney for My Divorce
Choosing the “right attorney” can be a frustrating proposition. After all, it isn’t every day that you need a divorce attorney. It is, however, important that you find an attorney who you are comfortable with and with whom you can establish a good working relationship. Throughout the process you will need to maintain effective communication with that person. The attorney needs to have a clear understanding of the specifics of your case, as well as your goals for the outcome. During the process, you and your attorney should be functioning as a team. It may be advisable to interview several attorneys in order to find one whom you feel comfortable with. You may also want to ask to meet the attorney’s assistant or paralegal since this person will be working on your case, and it is likely you will be speaking to him or her frequently during the course of the case.
When you retain an attorney, you will be required to enter into a contract with him or her. You will be asked to sign a fee agreement. ALWAYS read this document. If there is something that you do not understand, or are not comfortable with, discuss it with the attorney.
However you choose to proceed with you dissolution case, please remember that it is not an easy time, and it may help to attend counseling sessions or a divorce workshop to help you stay emotionally stable. Divorce is not a “winning” situation, but where faced with this sad reality, you owe it to yourself and to your children to know your options and protect yourself as much as possible.