Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Should You Hire an Attorney for Your Divorce?

I'm sure you expect me to say "yes". I am an attorney after all. And guess what? You're going to be right.

Lots of people hesitate to hire an attorney because they feel that we make things worse - not better. They worry that a lawyer will add conflict and make things worse. That's sometimes true.

But generally, I think we bring a lot to the table. We have the training and skills to make things go more smoothly. Most importantly, we know the danger zones and can help you avoid making expensive mistakes.

Here are some of the most common mistakes that people make when they don't have a lawyer -

Mistake Number 1 - They forget to divide assets - they may not even realize there is an asset to divide. The most commonly overlooked asset is the retirement plan - especially pension plans that do not have an account balance and will not pay out any money for a long time. Sometimes these are the most valuable things a family owns and they don't get divided.

Mistake Number 2 - Some assets require a special process to be divided. With the pension plans I mentioned earlier, I've seen lots of mistakes. Some people, for example, suggest that they will divide the plan by borrowing against it. Big mistake. There are much better ways to divide the plan using special federal laws that make the division a tax free transfer. That's just one example of an asset with a special process for division. There are others.

Mistake Number 3 - You may draft a document that is unenforceable. Some people fail to do what they agreed to do. When that happens the document needs to be binding and enforceable. There are right ways and wrong ways to draft these documents and you need to be sure it's done properly.

Mistake Number 4 - You may assume that property division is required to be 50/50. That's not always the case. In many instances property can be divided in some way other than an equal split and you might have been the beneficiary.

Finally, Mistake Number 5 - This is the biggie. When you don't have an attorney you fail to take advantage of years of experience from someone that has done this many times before. I've been a Raleigh divorce lawyer for more than twenty years. I've learned that there is a sense of security in knowing that you have someone on the team that can guide you and help you be objective and rational. Having that person on board, and trusting their advice, helps you reach agreement faster and with less anxiety and stress.

I always like to ask for help from someone that has done it before not matter what I am doing. I get help when I go backpacking, when I buy a house, when I make decisions about raising my kids. Divorce is difficult. This is the right time to get some help.

If you are worried about a lawyer taking things in a direction you don't like then remember who's the boss. You are hiring the lawyer. You get to make the calls. You are the decision maker because you are the one that has to live with the divorce settlement after it's all over. You are the decision maker - not your lawyer.

Get the help and advice you need and manage your lawyer so that things are handled in the manner you wish to have them handled. Again, you are the boss. After all, you're the one paying the bills.

Speaking of paying the bills - you may have some anxiety about legal fees. You may not have cash available right now due to the expense of separation. This is a time to seek help. I've had clients go to parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends and get financial help. I've had clients get bank loans, credit card advances and 401(k) loans to get through this period. There are options. Talk them through with your lawyer.

This is a tough time - maybe the toughest thing you will go through. Get a lawyer on your team - someone you trust and can count on to help you through the process. One way to get to know a lawyer better is through their website especially if it offers a video that gives you a sense of the lawyer before you commit to a meeting.

Arthor: Lee S. Rosen is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of Rosen Divorce in North Carolina. Rosen Divorce is the largest divorce firm in the Southeastern United States. For more information visit


  1. If you have no children, property or alimony issues and have been separated for more than a year, you may be able to do it by yourself. If there are any issues regarding a child, property, etc. call a lawyer fast.

  2. I agree. Legal services can help you if you have no children and have lived apart for a long time. Nothing to fight about.

  3. I live in SC and the house which is owned jointly is in NC. I am told that I might have to get a NC attorney to settle the property before the divorce is final here is SC. Sounds crazy. People here in SC get divorces all the time and property settlements which are out of state.

  4. There are some cases like child support and property settlement and this can be settled by the professional legal divorce attorney.

  5. Having a divorce attorney will definitely help you in your legal procedure as well as the lawyer will guide you to take correct steps. He will represent you in the court during your divorce. Thanks for providing us the useful tips, it will help many people.

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