I was recently asked do I REALLY need a lawyer if I’m getting divorced? Well, the legal answer is no you are not legally required to have an attorney represent
you in court for your Minnesota divorce. However, in my 12 years’ experience as a divorce lawyer I will tell you the people who should not at the very least, hire an attorney a document review, are very limited. Here are the people who don’t need to hire a divorce lawyer:
- You don’t have children with your spouse.
- You don’t own real estate or a home.
- The marriage is short-term marriage (say less than 1 or 2 years)
- There are no medical conditions of either spouse.
If you don’t meet these requirement you are doing yourself a major disservice by not having an expert review your case. Why? Well, believe it or not, Minnesota Divorce law is pretty complex. You have alimony, division of property, child support, physical and legal custody, and parenting time issues to name just a few of the areas of law that, to be blunt, you don’t know about unless you’re a divorce lawyer.
Let me give you a couple real-life examples that I have run into very recently:
Example 1: Couple gets the free divorce papers on line and fills them out. They agree they will have joint custody and the parenting time will be as they decide, but don’t put any specific times down. They don’t list holiday times or if the children will spend time with the other parent during the summer months. It’s all very amicable at the time and the couple believes they will be able to work together for the next 18 years. Along comes a new spouse and suddenly the father hasn’t seen the children in 4 months. They come to me and we have to file a variety of motions and affidavits trying to undo the mess they made in their handwritten divorce decree a few years earlier. Bottom Line: Dad didn’t see his child for 6 months, it costs thousands to fix the problem and the level of animosity is much greater than if they had just dealt with this issues a couple years ago.
Example 2: Farmer comes to me after not hiring an attorney for his divorce (but his ex-wife had one). His ex-wife filed for divorce a year before and he trusted her. (side note: she said she would always love him and not cheat on him, and we saw how THAT promise held up.). He agreed to pay her an obscene amount of spousal maintenance and gave her full custody of the kids. He did this because he believed that if he hired a lawyer she would “bankrupt him” and, besides, he trusted her. Bottom Line: He probably paid her well in excess of $300,000 when he didn’t need to in an effort to keep the family farm and now has very little time with the kids. We’re still going to court on this one and I’m not sure how it will turn out for him, but it is costly and an uphill battle.
While it is true I make my living as a Divorce Lawyer, it still boggles my mind that people file for divorce themselves. For this I believe the profession may be to blame. As divorce lawyers we may tend to intimidate people that we are all outrageously expensive and are only in it for a buck, and there are some like that, but the vast majority of divorce lawyers charge a reasonable rate and genuinely want to help you. Remember there are a lot of divorce lawyers in Minnesota and we come in all flavors, those who charge $600/hour and those who charge a flat fee. If you’ve only interviewed one divorce lawyer, go talk to another until you find one that you like and trust. If you’ve spoken to a dozen divorce lawyers and you still feel that they are all to screw you, you may want to consider the immortal words of Pogo “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.