by Ed Sherman, Divorce Expert Attorney
Divorce is one of the most difficult things you may ever go through, but after more than 30 years of helping millions of people get better divorces, I can tell you with certainty that there are several things you can do to reduce the pain, conflict and cost. Unfortunately, the legal system, and most lawyers who work in it, is not focused on helping you have a better divorce. Here are five things lawyers don’t want you to know about divorce. Understanding these issues can help you overcome the obstacles that make divorce more difficult than it needs to be.
You, not some lawyer, should be in control of your divorce
The worst thing a person can possibly do in any divorce is to go see a lawyer without any information or preparation and just ask for a divorce. You are likely to end up in some sort of uncontrolled battle where the lawyer is in charge of your divorce—and your life—and you are not. Your case is likely to get stirred up into increased conflict, which is great for the lawyer’s bank account, but can lead to uncontrolled legal expense for you. The only way to protect yourself is to learn how to take control of your divorce.
You can do your own divorce without retaining a lawyer
Since I wrote the first edition of How to Do Your Own Divorce in 1971, millions of people have saved billions of dollars in legal fees doing their own divorces, so you probably can too. Because the legal system is an adversarial system, it can’t help but make things worse. Working outside the legal system is the way you get a low-conflict, low-impact, higher quality divorce.
To stay outside the legal system, do not retain an attorney. Neither spouse should retain one. The key word is “retain.” I’m not saying you should never get help from an attorney if you want it, just that you should not retain an attorney unless you have no other choice. Retaining an attorney means turning over both your responsibility for your case and control of it. The attorney represents you. You sign a retainer agreement, then you pay $1,000 to $5,000 “on retainer” and your attorney has now taken over control of your case. This is what they mean when they say, “I’ll take your case.” And they do take your case—right into the high-conflict, low-solution legal system. They have to; it’s the law.
Why you should NOT retain a lawyer for a divorce
When you retain an attorney, the attorney takes professional responsibility to act in your behalf—to represent you. You are literally handing over your power and authority to act. Standards of professional conduct require any attorney who represents you—even one with a good attitude—to act in ways that will complicate your case and make it worse. Attorneys tend to take cases to 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.
You can solve problems and save big money by becoming informed
Usually, people start their divorces without bothering to find out anything about the rules, where they are going, or how they will get there. This is understandable considering the upset of divorce, but it’s a very dangerous and costly mistake! Perhaps the single most important factor in getting a smoother and cheaper divorce is starting off with the right information and having the control over your life this gives you. If you don’t know what to expect from the law, you might be expecting some kind of help you can’t get from an attorney—or you might expect too much from the kind of help you can get. Or you might not be expecting enough. If you go into a lawyer’s office and you don’t know anything, you could end up wasting lots of money finding these things out.
You can save lots of money by organizing your own facts
If you do go to a lawyer without any preparation ahead of time, the lawyer has to first find out about your case, so you sit there for $150 an hour (at least) telling your life’s story because you don’t know what’s really relevant to the legal issues. Then the lawyer has to sort it all out and untangle your story like a ball of twine. Or maybe you’ll clam up, leaving the lawyer to dig your story out of you—at $150 to $350 an hour. Then you need to ask a lot questions so you can find out what your rights are, and find out what’s going to happen, and then you probably have to go home and dig up a lot of information and documents, then take it all back for another office visit. This takes a lot of time—at about $150 to $350 an hour.
If you have all your information and documents organized and prepared before going to see a lawyer, you would just hand it all over and not waste much time on the facts. You would tell the lawyer just what you wanted, and you would not have to ask dumb questions or feel helpless. You’ve just saved yourself hundreds to maybe thousands of dollars. And what effect do you think this has on your lawyer? Well, the lawyer is very aware of dealing with a client who knows what’s what—and you’d better believe that makes a big difference. You’re going to get a whole different kind of treatment—better care and more respect.
I teach you how the divorce process works, how to decide if you even need a lawyer, how to choose and use one if you want to, how to organize your information and documents, and much more in my book Make Any Divorce Better.
Copyright 2006 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 www.nolotech.com or by calling (800) 464-5502.