The potential anger and emotional turmoil shouldn't be underestimated either. But sometimes, you can't avoid a divorce. It can even be the best option for you. When going through the divorce process, you will likely need help and support. FindLaw can offer a self-help guide on getting legal help if you need to file for a divorce.
Few people enter into a marriage thinking they will get divorced. Divorce separates two people, literally and legally. It can be a slow and often uncomfortably formal manner. Divorce proceedings can be long, complicated affairs. It can be a rough and draining process. Proceedings may comb through the marriage in uncomfortable detail, from your marital relations to assets and property to what's best for the children.
Do You Need a Divorce Lawyer?
It's possible to get a divorce without an attorney. At a minimum, paperwork must be filled out and processed. You will need to pay a filing fee and make court appearances. Most states offer court forms and legal information for divorce you can download and print. This can be done without an attorney.
If yours is an uncontested divorce, you can file without hiring attorneys. An uncontested divorce is one where the divorcing spouses agree on all the issues involved. You must still file the appropriate paperwork, pay fees, and get court approval.
Maybe you already have a legal separation with most issues resolved. Or you have a prenuptial agreement that already has issues of property division detailed. Your divorce may not be difficult.
Some divorces are more complicated.
If your divorce is contested, you may need legal assistance. Divorces involving substantial financial assets or child custody issues might require help. People hire an attorney because they need an attorney, and this often applies to handling a divorce. If this describes your situation, it's probably time to find a lawyer.
If you have experienced domestic violence in your marriage or you are fearful of your ex-spouse, hiring a lawyer is a good idea. An attorney can help you file for a civil protection order. They can also help ensure child custody and visitation schedules take domestic violence into account and ensure everyone's safety.
Experienced divorce lawyers know the process. They can anticipate the major sticking points and should devote the time and energy necessary to bring your divorce to fruition. Many people don't want to or are unable to handle their divorce alone. That's what divorce lawyers are for.
Find a Divorce Attorney on Any Budget
Not everyone has the financial resources to hire an attorney. Thankfully, there are several low-cost to no-cost options you may have available.
- Local Legal Aid or legal services office: Legal Aid offices are nonprofit law firms that provide legal services for low-income individuals. They may be free to low-cost for clients. They often deal with various legal problems, such as foreclosure, eviction, food stamps and government assistance issues, domestic violence, as well as family law issues, such as divorce or child support. Find a legal service provider near you through lawhelp.org.
- State or local bar association: Local bar associations usually offer lawyer referrals and may know who can offer free legal help or reduced-cost legal help for you. They may be able to get you in touch with legal resources available in your area. Some offer self-help clinics and court forms if you choose to do your divorce without an attorney.
- Law schools: Most law schools have legal clinics that have pro-bono programs for various legal issues. These can include criminal cases, evictions, domestic violence, and divorces. These are staffed by law students who a licensed and experienced attorney supervises. There is typically a waiting list, and you may need to be low-income to qualify. But the services are free if you can wait.
- FindLaw: FindLaw offers a free database of attorneys. You can limit your search to your area and your legal needs. Many have websites you can view to determine if they might be a good fit for you. Often, the first consultation is free or at a reduced hourly rate. FindLaw also offers a vast library of helpful information to guide you with your legal needs. You can explore topics related to divorce here.
- ABA Free Legal Answers: If you aren't ready to talk to a lawyer in person but have questions, the ABA's Free Legal Answers program is here for you. Run by the American Bar Association, this service can answer legal questions for free. Licensed attorneys in your state answer your questions, and it is entirely online. However, not every state is represented. Explore Free Legal Answers to see if your state is covered.
Alternatives to Litigation: Divorce Mediation
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution. Mediation involves a neutral third party, the mediator, bringing together two disputing parties. The mediator helps them reach a mutually agreed resolution.
The benefits of divorce mediation can be considerable if you and your spouse can work together. You can settle on the terms of your divorce together rather than have a judge impose orders.
During mediation, you divide marital assets and property. You decide on child custody issues and child support. You can address a need for spousal support or alimony if you qualify. You both end the marriage in a harmonious manner.
It's often faster and cheaper than going through full divorce proceedings. Divorce through mediation can also prepare both sides for working together after a marriage ends. This can be particularly important when children are in the picture. Learn more about divorce mediation by checking out FindLaw's page Divorce Mediation Overview.
You Don't Have to Go Through It Alone. Get Legal Help
Having sound legal advice can be helpful if you are ready to file for divorce or just thinking about it. Speak with an experienced divorce attorney in your area. An attorney can review your case and provide some expert advice.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- You may not need an attorney for a simple divorce with uncontested issues
- Legal advice is critical to protect your interests in a contested divorce
- Divorce lawyers can help secure fair custody/visitation, support, and property division
An attorney is a skilled advocate during negotiations and court proceedings. Many attorneys offer free consultations.
Don't Forget About Estate Planning
Divorce is an ideal time to review your beneficiary designations on life insurance, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. You need to change your estate planning forms to reflect any new choices about your personal representative and beneficiaries. You can change your power of attorney if you named your ex-spouse as your agent. Also, change your health care directive to remove them from making your health care decisions.