Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer If We Agree on Everything?
Yes. You still need a divorce lawyer if you agree on everything. (Well, technically you don’t. You can always represent yourself, but keep reading). This may not be the answer you want to hear, but it’s true. On the bright side, if you agree on everything, your divorce lawyer fees will likely be a lot less than if you did not agree. But here’s why you need an attorney.
1. You probably did not agree on “everything”
I recently had a case where a client came in believing he and his spouse agreed on everything. They agreed on how to split up their debt. They agreed that they would sell their home and split the proceeds. They agreed on and amount of alimony and the amount of parenting time/child support. I was happy my role would be limited and that they were able to amicably settle the major issues in their case.
Their problem, though, was that they did not agree on everything. There were a number of issues I raised with my client before he and his spouse could finalize an agreement. For example, they did not think about whether they should each have a life insurance policy to cover their child support obligations in the event of one of their deaths. They did not consider how the child support and alimony would be paid. (They agreed on a yearly amount, but they had not considered if it would be paid monthly, weekly, or whether it would be paid directly or through Probation). They did not consider who would pay for uncovered health costs and extracurricular activities for the children. They did not consider the children’s college costs. They did not consider how to split up their retirement assets. Although they agreed to split them up 50/50, they did not know the intricacies and complex laws that surround the splitting up of retirement assets.
There were many other issues they had not considered, but you get the point. Even if you “agree on everything,” you probably haven’t thought of everything. A divorce lawyer will make sure that you consider things you wouldn’t ordinarily think of.
2. Even if you agree on everything, you need a lawyer to draft the agreement
Once you agree on everything, you need to memorialize the agreement on paper. Again, technically you can do this on your own. However, the agreement will govern your future obligations and rights for the rest of your life. One misplaced word in the agreement may result in major unintended consequences down the road. Divorce lawyers are trained in legal writing and analysis, and will make sure the agreement is drafted properly.
On top of drafting a concise, accurate, and thorough agreement, you need to include boilerplate language. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of boilerplate language that goes into divorce agreements, but understand that it is very important. Many times one or more boilerplate paragraphs will come back to save you down the road should something go wrong in your agreement.
3. A divorce lawyer will file appropriate, necessary paperwork
Some people try to file their own paperwork with the court – but it’s not easy. When I was a law clerk I saw the judge dismiss tons of motions and complaints for procedural reasons. The number one reason the judge would dismiss a case was for failure to file appropriate paperwork. If you do decide to file on your own, New Jersey courts provide packets to help self-represented individuals file for divorce. Most courthouses have an ombudsman office where a self-help assistant can show you what you need to do – but it’s still not easy.
A divorce lawyer will complete and file your complaint for divorce at his or her hourly rate. Normally this takes no more than one hour to do. Unless your lawyer charges exorbitant hourly fees, it’s probably worth your time to have your lawyer file the complaint rather than doing it yourself.
Moreover, some documents – like the Case Information Statement – that are filed when you divorce, become crucial in the future if something goes wrong. So many individuals and lawyers alike don’t realize the importance of filing an accurate Case Information Statement. An experienced divorce lawyer will make sure you do it right the first time to avoid future problems.
4. What if the lawyer changes the entire agreement?
Some people are scared that if they go to a divorce lawyer, he or she will blow up the entire agreement – and that’s a legitimate fear. Sometimes it’s justified and necessary though. A lawyer will not let a client enter into an agreement that is grossly unfair or unconscionable. But even if you’re the spouse that would have benefited from the unfair agreement, it may be in your interest to fix the agreement. If the agreement is truly unconscionable (which is a very high legal burden to meet), the agreement may be subject to future attack. Many times in a case like this, the disadvantaged spouse will eventually find out the deal was bad. He or she then goes back to court to try to reopen the agreement. Both spouses will end up spending more on attorney fees than if they had fixed the agreement before they finalized the divorce.
Contact Freehold, NJ Divorce Lawyer – Andrew R. Fischer, Esq.
Whether you need your agreement reviewed, want it drafted by a professional, or even just have questions about the divorce process when you agree on everything, feel free to contact Freehold NJ divorce attorney : Andrew R. Fischer to set up a free, in-person consultation. You have nothing to lose.