Ignorance is the most common trap in the business of divorce, so becoming informed is crucial. However, friends, relatives and "common knowledge" are the worst and most expensive sources of advice. Use these for moral support, but when they give you advice, just smile and say "Thank You" but do not take it seriously. If you didn't get the advice from a reputable book or an attorney, don't trust it! Just because you like or trust someone doesn't make them right. And if you take bad advice, who pays the price? You do--perhaps for the rest of your life.
Millions of people have done their own divorces since self-help law was established in 1971, so you can probably do it too. If you do need an attorney for help, one of your biggest problems is going to be finding the right one. Not just any lawyer will do.
If you have trouble with some part of doing your own divorce, or if you and your spouse are trying to work out terms and get stuck, or if you need more information or legal advice, or for any reason at all, you may decide that a little time spent in conference with an attorney would be worthwhile. Instead of having a lawyer do the whole job, you might have him or her help you with just part of it. Some attorneys might not be willing to this. You have to shop around.
Shopping for an attorney is very much like shopping for melons. You have to check the prices and see if they "feel" right to you. You have the right to ask questions, look things over, and be choosy about whom you hire to take on such a major personal role in your life.
The best way to find an attorney is through some friend or trusted person who has had a satisfactory personal experience with one. But don't forget to check things out for yourself. Don't be intimidated. Call around on the telephone to find out how much an initial interview will cost, and how much the whole case might cost. See if you like the way the attorney and the law office staff treat you. If you only want some advice on part of doing your own divorce, ask ahead of time to see if they are willing to do this and find out what their rates are for consultations.
Most attorneys will do the first interview for nothing or for a very small fee, perhaps $15 to $25. Hourly rates run from $50 to $200 per hour, but $100 is pretty common. Price is not everything--it has to feel right. Talk to the attorney to see if you like the experience.
Why You Should Not Retain an Attorney
It is okay to use an attorney, but most people should never retain one in their divorce case unless there is a clear reason for doing so. When you retain an attorney, the attorney takes professional responsibility to act on your behalf--to represent you. You are literally handing over your power and authority to act.
Our system of justice is known as "the adversary system." It began in the middle ages when trial by combat meant that whoever survived was right. This approach to justice forms the basis of our legal system today. The attorney works in our system as a combatant, but that is not what you want for solving family and personal problems. Law schools do not require courses in counseling or communications. They teach aggressive and defensive strategy and how to get the advantage in every case. Lawyers are taught to look for problems, not solutions.
Lawyers are taught to act in ways that will complicate your case and make it worse instead of better. They tend to take cases into court quickly, even when that is likely to cause upset and make settlement more difficult.
Never forget that when you retain an attorney, the more trouble you have, the more money the attorney makes. That's hardly an incentive to keep things simple. But keeping things simple is what you want to have the best possible divorce.
Copyright 2005 Ed Sherman
Ed Sherman is a family law attorney, divorce expert, and founder of Nolo Press. He started the self-help law movement in 1971 when he published the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce, and founded the paralegal industry in 1973. With more than a million books sold, Ed has saved the public billions of dollars in legal fees while making divorce go more smoothly and easily for millions of readers. You can order his books from http://www.nolodivorce.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.