Friday, September 18, 2015

"Why you need an attorney when filing for divorce"  

     As a general rule, I always recommend that people going through a separation or divorce obtain their own counsel.  There are so many issues that come up in these cases, all of which have their own individual sets of rules, forms and procedures.  Many people utilize a paralegal to prepare the basic forms, while others choose to proceed on their own.  Often in these cases, the person finds themselves without the knowledge of how to proceed, let alone how to finalize their case.  Court clerks and paralegals are both prohibited from giving advice to parties who need help navigating the system.  If the other party’s attorney offers to “walk you through” the paperwork, keep in mind that that attorney represents the other side and DOES NOT have your interests, nor those of your children, in mind.  Even the easiest and most agreeable of cases needs both parties to know the system to get all of the necessary paperwork filed and orders entered.  A qualified attorney who represents your interests is a MUST in order to preserve your rights.

While some magistrates or judges will assist a pro se party on the record, most will hold that party to the same standard as an attorney.  This means that the person will need to be aware of which issues to raise and when, which forms to file, how to figure out the mathematical formulas for child support, maintenance, property division and retirement distributions and how to apply the various standards of law; just to name a few.  There are issues that must be raised timely, or your rights will forever be waived and you will not be given the opportunity to revisit the issue.  It is easy to get flustered when you are in the courtroom, which can lead to not raising issues adequately or not raising them at all.  I can’t tell you how often a prospective client comes in saying that they felt like they weren’t heard or given a chance to explain or speak, and they felt steamrolled when orders were being entered.  There are often things that people are entitled to that they are unaware of or that they don’t think they qualify for.  The Court will expect you to know these things, and those things, if not requested or addressed by you, will be deemed to have been waived.  Particularly in cases involving children, there is a seemingly endless list of things which must be addressed.  It is the lawyer’s job to plan and prepare parties for every issue which can arise, both during the case, as well as for the years to follow.

   On a final note, the law is ever evolving, as are the temperaments of judges and the community.  As we learn more about psychology, physiology, addiction, abuse and child development, our definitions of the “societal norm” change.  These changes have a profound effect on issues surrounding custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance and property division.  Less than 20 years ago, it was unheard of for a father to gain custody of his children:  now it is commonplace.  Fathers are now on an equal footing with mothers when asking for things like custody and visitation.  An attorney will be in touch with the trends in judges’ rulings, as well as recent rulings which change how our laws are applied, and will be the best qualified person to ensure that your rights are protected and you are putting your “best foot forward”.

       In the legal arena, there is a saying that “You only get one bite at the apple”, which means that you will be given only one opportunity to address an issue and once the judge rules on that issue, it is considered resolved and will not be reviewed unless new evidence comes to light.  Your time in front of the judge will be very short and without legal training, you may not know what issues to address and when to raise them.  An attorney will have the training that will get and keep the judge’s attention and ensure that you have the best shot at obtaining orders that are in your and your children’s best interests.  Being represented will give you the peace of mind that your case is being handled correctly and you can breathe easier through what can be a very painful and emotional experience.  It doesn’t have to be… get help today.

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