Schedule a Consultation: Whether you decide to handle your divorce pro se where you represent yourself in your case or whether you hire an attorney for all or part of your legal action, meeting with an attorney first will inform you of the law in your state, provide you with the best strategy moving forward, and start you off in the right direction. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “you don’t know what you don’t know” and that is certainly the case in family law. Not only is case law constantly changing, but judges are human and sometimes unpredictable. Filing deadlines come and go regardless of whether you understand them. By sitting down with an experienced family law attorney at the onset of your case, you are making a small investment into a much bigger cause. A consultation may actually save you money in the end so that you can potentially avoid costly errors along the way.
Do Your Homework: Before you meet with an attorney, talk to family, friends and co-workers who have been through a divorce and ask them if they recommend the attorney they used. Look up attorneys in your area online for their AVVO rating, Google reviews or on their websites. Call an attorney’s office and see if you can speak with them before your consultation. At Sodoma Law, we have multiple case coordinators who will speak with you about the specifics of your case and match you with an attorney based on the complexity, subject matter or your financial concerns. Our case coordinators will tell you exactly what, if any, information or documents are needed prior to your consultation. In addition, you should ask yourself what goals you have for your divorce and what are your primary concerns. Ask your consulting attorney specific questions, whether you can represent yourself, have limited representation or what full representation would look like. By researching attorneys, planning before your consultation and preparing questions in advance, you will save both time and money.
File on Your Own: There are “self-serve” centers in some districts or counties where you can find all the necessary documents and even some helpful people to point you in the right direction. For example, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, there is an online website dedicated to providing forms and instructions in the areas of child support, child custody and visitation just to name a few. In some South Carolina counties, you may find what is called a Pro se Divorce packet for parties who want to represent themselves in their divorce proceedings. This packet provides most of the forms needed to file and obtain a divorce. Of course, there are limitations to this approach and pitfalls that may come back to haunt you later. Generally speaking, “DIY” is only for truly uncontested divorces, in which both parties are in complete agreement regarding complex issues such as child custody, child support, alimony, and the distribution of marital assets and debts. If you do secure the documents you need to file for divorce on your own, complete all the necessary forms and have the packet reviewed by an attorney. (Yes, you should still hire an attorney to review the paperwork). The following section talks about an affordable attorney option so that you don’t end up spending money to fixing problems that you didn’t know about until it was too late.
Hire an Attorney for Specific Tasks: After you’ve done your homework and met with an attorney for a consultation, you generally have three options when proceeding with a divorce. If hiring an attorney to represent you on all issues is not within your budget but representing yourself seems too daunting, consider using an attorney on a limited scope basis or for “unbundled” legal services. In this circumstance, the attorney is hired to complete specific tasks or portions of your case. Maybe you retrieved and completed the forms from the self-serve center but want an attorney to review the documents? Maybe you want an attorney to review your case and provide you with strategy for appearing in court? Maybe you have an important motion that needs to be filed and, realizing the complexity of the document, you want an attorney to draft the document for you or “ghost write” it for you? Regardless of where your divorce is in the process, or what task you need performed, a creative and experienced attorney may offer unbundled legal services that fit your needs and budget.
Going through a divorce can be intimidating. For most, there is a lot at stake. Failing to plan and cutting corners can cost you time, add stress, and increase your expenses later. By consulting with an attorney, doing your homework, representing yourself if you are able to do so or hiring an attorney to help you with specific pieces of your case, you can find a creative way to weather divorce on a budget.