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Do I Need a Lawyer?

There's no legal requirement that you hire a lawyer for your divorce. This page is all about the advantages and disadvantages of using attorneys in divorce, together with some alternatives for affordable legal help if you're interested.

You can get divorced even though neither of you hires an attorney. You can order the forms and do it yourself if you and your spouse are working to save money.

If you need legal advice and want to avoid hiring a lawyer, check into Prepaid Legal Plans. You can get unllimited advice from a lawyer in your state (along with lots of other benefits), and the cost is about $26 per month.

More and more states are lowering the procedural barriers to help people who want to file their own simple uncontested divorce. Arizona, for example, has set up a self-service center designed to allow couples to file their own divorce. The decision of whether and how to use a lawyer in divorce is strictly up to you. In most cases, it's not just a matter of having a form to fill out. Rather, it's the knowledge of what action(s) are needed, as well as what issues might be present in your divorce that might require special handling.

A lawyer can help you deal with the legal issues surrounding your divorce, issues you might miss if you tried a do-it-yourself divorce. Also, in all but the shortest and simplest of marriages, there will be an item or two whose ownership needs to change - and a lawyer is set up to help you deal with that as well.

A lawyer is particularly important when you and your spouse have been married for several years, and your ownership of family assets has become entangled. It's also important to get help if you and your spouse have owned one or more assets that have increased in value . . . that's because you may be facing some tax issues that you need to handle carefully.

If you've decided to hire a lawyer for your divorce, take a look at the questions to ask your lawyer

Just because you need to consult with a lawyer from time to time does not mean you need to retain a lawyer. There's a big difference. When you retain a lawyer (I call them "gladiators"), you make a large deposit up front, and the lawyer takes control of your case. To read this in all its stark reality, check out the Open Letter From Your Divorce Lawyer.

If your spouse has hired a lawyer for an uncontested divorce, what you probably need is just somebody knowledgeable to think it all through from your perspective. You need them to look over the papers, talk with you about your primary concerns, and make sure you haven't overlooked something important.

Increasingly, people going through divorce are taking advantage of a concept called unbundling. It may not be the most appealing-sounding term, but it describes well what happens. The idea is that you don't just hire a lawyer and turn everything over to them. Instead, you stay in control. You hire a lawyer for what you need the lawyer to do, an accountant for what you need the accountant to do, a financial planner for what you need the financial planner to do, and so on.

Many lawyers and financial planners are set up to work with you as a coach to help you think through issues in this way. Your coach meets with you when you need information. You can call him or her with a quick question when you need it, and the coach will give you information. Typically, your coach will be available to file documents or argue your case for you if that later becomes necessary, but that will require that you formally engage the coach as your lawyer.

Whether you're going to retain a lawyer or just use him or her as a coach, there are some questions you'll probably want to ask. These will give you a good idea of the approach the lawyer takes to his or her practice.

The web abounds with sites offering directories of lawyers available for you to hire. The most comprehensive I've found is www.lawyers.com, which is owned and operated by Martindale-Hubbell, which has been the industry leader in legal directories for decades.

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