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- USA Today
- The Washington Post
For most divorcing couples, the single best thing they can do—for the sake of their children, their future relationship, and their wallets—is to keep the process as civil as possible. Fighting about child custody, child support, or alimony in court guarantees big legal bills, bitterness, and anguished children.
That means that choosing the right lawyer is very important. You want someone who can help you keep things calm—but also protect your rights and those of your children. Many lawyers, whether or not they are also trained mediators, can help you negotiate with your spouse and work out the big issues of child custody, support, and property division. So when you interview lawyers, talk to them about negotiating a settlement rather than fighting it out in court.
Unfortunately, it's not always possible to keep a divorce amicable. If your spouse is being dishonest or vindictive, or there has been abuse, a lawyer can help you get protect yourself and your children. And if your spouse hires an especially aggressive lawyer, you'll need someone representing you who can fight back.
Do you and your spouse each need a lawyer?
If you and your spouse do agree on all the big issues, can you just hire one lawyer to draw up the paperwork, and save yourselves some save money and hassle? Because lawyers have a duty to represent every client zealously, one lawyer may represent both of you only if you and your spouse:
- agree on the major issues
- are confident you can work out any minor problems that come up
- understand that the lawyer cannot fully represent both of you under the circumstances, and
- just want the lawyer to do the paperwork.
You'll need to agree to these conditions in writing. And if a disagreement does arise, the lawyer will have to transfer at least one of you to another lawyer. Both of you may need to get new lawyers if it would be unfair for the first lawyer to continue to represent one of you.
Collaborative Divorce Lawyers
More and more family lawyers are trained in the techniques of "collaborative divorce." Each spouse hires an attorney, but everyone agrees that they will share information voluntarily and work cooperatively toward a settlement instead of fighting in court. The lawyers also agree that if the case can't be settled, you and your spouse must hire other lawyers to handle the litigation. This removes the lawyers' financial incentive to go to court--and encourages everyone to settle earlier.