Everyone knows that divorce can be expensive. Many people are tempted to reduce that expense by representing themselves in a divorce. In certain circumstances, such as a very short-term marriage in which there are no children and no property to divide, that can work out. Much more often though, representing yourself is a bad idea. Sometimes, it's a disastrous one.
Your divorce is a life-changing event. How much it changes your life, and whether the change is positive or negative, depends heavily on your lawyer. It's important to look at your attorney's fees not as an ordinary expense, but as an investment in your own future. Not only can a good attorney save you money in the long run by getting you a better property settlement or more favorable support terms, your attorney can also save you stress, expedite your divorce and help you divorce on better terms with your ex. This is critical if you need to co-parent.
It's never a bad idea to have an experienced divorce attorney, but here are some situations in which you absolutely need one.
If the custody, parenting time, or support of children is at issue, you need a highly-qualified Maryland divorce attorney. Even when divorces begin amicably, they can go south quickly as partners disagree about their children's future. The more contentious the divorce becomes, the more bitter and expensive it becomes.
A divorce attorney will help you negotiate a custody arrangement and parenting time schedule that is beneficial to your children and right for you. These issues are highly emotional and can be difficult to resolve without the help of an experienced, objective advocate, especially if the other party digs in their heels. A divorce attorney will also make sure that you are not receiving too little, or paying too much, child support based on the facts of your case. That alone could save you a significant amount every month for years.
The purpose of alimony, also known as spousal support, is generally to help the recipient until he or she has the ability to become self-supporting. Sometimes, in circumstances such as a long-term marriage where one spouse will likely never be able to become self-supporting, spousal support may be awarded indefinitely.
Unlike child support, which is determined according to statutory guidelines, spousal support is agreed on between the parties or awarded by a judge based on largely subjective factors. For this reason, an attorney who is an experienced negotiator and litigator can move the needle quite a bit when it comes to whether, and how much, you pay or receive in spousal support.
In Maryland, marital property is to be divided equitably. An equitable division means fair under the circumstances, but often does not mean exactly equal. An attorney's advocacy can make a difference to the percentage of property you receive. If you and your spouse have assets, especially if they are extensive or complex (like a family business), or if you believe your spouse may be hiding assets, you need a lawyer.
A Maryland divorce attorney will help you identify all marital and separate assets (some assets, like those acquired before the marriage and not commingled with marital assets are not subject to division). Your lawyer will help you negotiate a division of assets that's equitable. He or she will advocate for you to get what you want, but will also help you avoid unnecessary legal expense by helping you understand when fighting over something would cost more than it's worth.
Some people believe they can save money in their divorce if they let their spouse hire an attorney to "do all the legal work," and then they can just sign on the dotted line. The spouse may encourage this belief. It's possible that your spouse is honorable and wouldn't cheat you, but how much are you willing to bet on that?
Attorneys are bound by ethics rules that require them to act in their client's best interests. While your spouse's attorney shouldn't act unethically, they are not obligated to protect your best interests, especially if those conflict with their client's. The only way to make sure your divorce settlement is aboveboard and fair to you is to have your own attorney review it, or better yet, to help negotiate and draft it.
Of course, having the right attorney is as important as having an attorney in the first place. The right attorney is one who will advocate strongly for your best interests and help you work toward a successful resolution, while not doing anything to unnecessarily increase the cost of your case.
If you are considering filing for divorce, or have been served with divorce papers, contact the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, LLC. We welcome the opportunity to schedule an office consultation to discuss the facts of your case and explain how an attorney's representation can benefit you.