When Should I get an Attorney? (Part 1)

When you start talking to your spouse about ending your marriage, dividing assets and debts, making arrangements to move out of the house, or pay (or receive) support, it’s a very good idea to know what you are talking about. Discussing these issues first with an attorney (not your brother-in-law who went to law school, but someone who actually practices family law in your state) before resolving these important issues with your spouse is imperative. If you enter into a tentative agreement or even mention to your spouse that you might be willing to do something (or not do something), it’s often very difficult to take it back.

A better approach to discussing a separation or divorce with your spouse would be to know what you are entitled to and what you are responsible for according to the laws in your state before you start the discussion. Figure out what you will likely get (or have to pay) if you were to go to a family law court in your state. When you know the value of your claims then you can negotiate with this in your mind.  Much like researching the bluebook value of a used car before you offer to buy it, knowing the law in your state sheds a great deal of light on these discussions. 

Researching your issues on the internet is fraught with peril. Aside from the questions of accuracy of the information, often a person’s research will conclude with the answer he or she was looking for. An attorney should summarize your rights as well as your responsibilities and any potential downside risks. Moreover, if you are not aware of the hidden issues in your divorce, you cannot research those answers on the internet. Internet research on the law should be the start of your inquiry not the end of it.

It’s a good idea to have an attorney do the negotiating for you.  Couples who are separating usually have more going on between them psychologically then the issues they are negotiating over. A child support discussion between the parties often involves issues of guilt or abandonment, insecurity or even bullying. None of these issues is relevant to the dollars and cents determination of how much child support is required by state law, but they are often very much a part of the negotiation. Hiring a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf takes these issues largely off the negotiating table.