The age-old question for any legal matter is “Should I just handle this myself?” The law allows anyone to represent themselves in court even if they are not an attorney. Being a licensed attorney merely allows you to represent other people in court. And, like everything else in the law, the answer is unclear no matter the situation.
On one hand, you absolutely have a right to be your own attorney. You may save quite a bit of money not having to pay your attorney. Sometimes, if a husband and wife are amicable, they can work cooperatively to draft family law documents without the need for an attorney. Self-representation may provide you the freedom to handle the case your way without intervention from a picky lawyer. Unfortunately, most of the time, the draw backs of representing yourself far outweigh the potential gains.
I know you are thinking it. “Of course, he’s going to recommend you have an attorney for your divorce. He’s an attorney!” And, while you are right, the complexities of family law and the potential ramifications of a single mistake make the savings of self-representation a major risk. Here are several reasons why hiring an attorney makes sense:
1) Court rules can be complicated, and every courthouse has their own local rules. Not understanding the nuances of the court rules can backfire with substantial repercussions as severe as jail.
2) The stakes are high. If your child is young, misunderstanding the process could lead to significant reductions in your parenting time or unnecessarily high child support for up to 18 years (or more!).
3) Difficulties in distinguishing between community and separate property. Washington law is tricky, and property is a major piece of leverage during a divorce. Mistaking separate assets for community assets could severely reduce your final allocation upon divorce.
4) The power and knowledge gap with other attorneys are considerable. If you are not represented, but your spouse has hired an attorney, you are immediately at a disadvantage. An experienced litigator can create a deal that looks favorable to you while really providing a great settlement to their client.
5) Deadlines! Many courts have a case schedule and trial deadlines. If you miss a deadline your case might be in big trouble. Lawyers know these deadlines and make sure they are followed.
6) Emotions run rampant. You are heavily invested in your marriage and children. This emotion often leads to a lack of objectivity. You might get so focused on fighting for the silverware that you end up wasting valuable effort that should have been focused on your children.
Hiring an attorney is a big decision. The costs of divorce can be daunting. However, working with proper, qualified counsel is one step you will not regret because it takes the burden off of you and allows you to focus on your life while the details are worked out for your divorce. At Magnuson Lowell, PS, we are happy to provide a complimentary telephone case evaluation. Feel free to reach out to one of our experienced litigators today!