June 1, 2022
Yes, You Do!
In the American legal system, individuals always have the option of representing themselves. But as Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit points out to anyone appearing in family court without a lawyer, you must follow the same rules and file the same forms as a divorce attorney.
The judges in St. Petersburg expect you to know the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of Evidence if you represent yourself.
There are other reasons to have a lawyer represent you in your divorce. According to a widely respected study from 1967, divorce is the second-most stressful event you can experience in your life
During this time, you need not only a divorce lawyer’s skills and knowledge but also someone who can guide you with a steady hand and a level head through the stresses and emotions of a divorce.
Here is why you should hire an attorney for your divorce.
The Roles of the Lawyer
The U.S. legal system is adversarial and relies on precedent to determine case outcomes. Each side advocates its position by arguing that statutes and prior cases support that position. A neutral judge or jury sides with one party based on the strength of the arguments.
Within this system, a lawyer performs several functions:
A lawyer must listen to a client and identify the relevant facts in the client’s story. The lawyer must compare the client’s facts to the fact patterns in prior cases.
The lawyer evaluates the client’s legal situation by determining the likelihood of success and identifying whether the client has any other legal options for achieving their goals. The lawyer must have a frank, honest, and objective discussion with the client about the strengths and weaknesses in the client’s case
Divorces involve property with sentimental value. They can also involve hostile emotions toward the spouse. Having an objective evaluation of what you can realistically expect will help you temper your emotions.
Lawyers help clients understand their rights and responsibilities under the law and advise how the client’s decisions might benefit or harm them legally. The lawyer works as an objective advisor with only the client’s interests to guide the advice.
In addition to legal advice, lawyers can give practical advice to the extent they know and understand its implications. For example, when a divorce attorney advises the client about property distribution in a divorce, the attorney can consider which assets the client might have an easier time selling.
Lawyers negotiate and draft agreements. Although negotiation is not strictly a legal skill, lawyers can use their understanding of what a party can claim under the law to try to get the best possible deal for their clients. Lawyers also draft agreements so the client can enforce the deal.
Negotiation skills are critical since most cases require some compromise. For example, you and your divorce attorney will need to compromise over child custody and visitation, because both parents want to spend as much time as possible with their children.
Lawyers learn how to communicate persuasively. Your lawyer needs to make persuasive arguments to your spouse, your spouse’s lawyer, mediators, juries, and judges.
When acting as an evaluator and advisor, your lawyer must give you objective advice. But when acting as an advocate, your lawyer must assert your position with passion while remaining within the bounds of the ethical rules.
Divorces will resolve four issues that could affect the rest of your life:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Spousal support or alimony
- Property division
If you and your divorce lawyer cannot negotiate a compromise on these issues, your lawyer will need to fight assertively to get you the best possible divorce terms.
Practical Benefits of Using a Divorce Attorney
In addition to the legal roles your lawyer fulfills, you get some practical benefits when you hire a lawyer for your divorce. Some examples include:
Buffer Between You and Your Spouse
Whether you or your spouse initiated the divorce, you probably have many powerful emotions. These emotions can cause you to do or say things you might later regret, particularly when it comes to the divorce’s terms.
If you choose to cut off communication with your spouse, your lawyer will act as the intermediary between you and your spouse (and your spouse’s lawyer). This will protect you from doing or saying anything that might affect your rights in the divorce. It will also help you preserve your emotional and mental health as you go through the process.
Divorces involve many personal facts. You will spend a lot of time explaining the history of your marriage, your family dynamic, and your future goals with your divorce lawyer.
Through it all, your lawyer will listen attentively. While some of the information will go unused in the divorce, much of it will help the lawyer develop a strategy and look for evidence to help your case.
Voice of Reason
Your initial instinct in the divorce might be to take everything in the marital estate and leave your ex-spouse penniless. Or you might go too far in the other direction and give up the fight for what you legally deserve, to the detriment of you and your children.
Your attorney must always follow your instructions. But the lawyer must also look out for your interests. The lawyer will act as the voice of reason, advising you not only on what you can reasonably pursue but also on what you should reasonably expect.
Hiring a Divorce Attorney
Before you decide whether to hire a lawyer for your divorce, you should meet with a few lawyers to discuss your case. Most offer a free initial consultation. During this meeting, you can discuss your legal options and what the lawyer can do for you.
You might find a lawyer who will provide exactly the services you need and the support you want as you go through the divorce.
To discuss your divorce and how a lawyer can guide you through it, contact an attorney for your free initial consultation.