Choosing to end your marriage can be one of the toughest decisions you have to face. And once you make that decision, you may also wonder whether you need to hire a lawyer for your North Carolina divorce. Below, we’ll discuss some situations in which you can proceed without an attorney—as well as situations in which you could be putting your future at risk by not consulting with one.
When Can You Make Divorce-Related Decisions on Your Own?
The smoothest divorces happen when the spouses can remain civil toward each other and agree on major issues like custody, child support, visitation, and the division of assets. In these situations, which are known as uncontested divorces, the parties can simply come to an agreement on their own, then file it with the court for approval when the divorce is granted.
However, even in an uncontested divorce it’s always a good idea to consult with an attorney to ensure you or your spouse aren’t overlooking any issues. An attorney can also review the divorce agreement you and your spouse have drafted to determine whether the trial court is likely to accept it.
If you’re foreseeing a contested divorce on one or more issues, you’ll almost certainly need an attorney to represent you.
When Do You Need a Divorce Attorney?
There are a few situations in which it can be very difficult to proceed without a divorce attorney. Some situations in which you should hire an attorney include:
- There is a problem with physical, emotional, or financial abuse in the marriage;
- You’re having trouble getting information out of your spouse;
- You suspect your spouse of hiding or dissipating (spending) assets;
- Your spouse has an attorney
- You and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement on key issues like custody or division of assets.
In situations involving abuse or domestic violence, your attorney may be able to help you apply for a temporary restraining order (TRO) or protective order. This order can prevent your spouse from contacting you or your children, entering the marital home, or taking other actions without a court order. A restraining order can also help you fight back against any allegations that you’re “kidnapping” your own children when preventing the other parent from seeing them.
You’ll also need to seek legal advice if you’re wondering where you can access money. Withdrawing funds from a joint account can be dicey, especially if you and your spouse are unlikely to agree on how assets will be divided. While paying regular bills is unlikely to raise any eyebrows, withdrawing several thousand dollars from a joint account without explanation could escalate any conflict with your spouse.
Mediation and Collaborative Divorces—Can an Attorney Help?
There are a few situations that don’t fit neatly into either the contested or uncontested boxes. These include limited-scope representation, collaborative divorce, and divorce mediation.
As the name implies, this type of representation is for a limited purpose. Instead of representing you from the filing of your initial divorce petition through the conclusion of the case, an attorney with limited-scope representation can only take the actions outlined in your attorney-client agreement. Limited-scope representation is generally cheaper than full-scope representation while still ensuring that your rights are protected.
Some tasks a limited-scope attorney can do include:
- Reviewing your agreement and advising you about whether it’s fair;
- Drafting a divorce agreement;
- Filing a divorce petition; or
- Attending any mediation or collaborative divorce proceedings.
Collaborative divorce is intended to make the divorce process as streamlined and conflict-free as possible. It involves an agreement between the spouses (and their respective attorneys) to avoid litigation and focus on settlement instead. Collaborative divorce lawyers will generally represent a client only when the other spouse has also agreed to participate in the collaborative divorce process.
Mediation is another process designed to minimize conflict throughout a divorce. In mediation, a neutral third party will work with both spouses and their attorneys to find agreements or compromises on contested issues. The mediator may put the parties in separate rooms, then go back and forth between them to minimize conflict. During this process, the mediator will talk to each spouse to see what they’d like, what they’d settle for, and what concessions they’re hoping to see from the other side. Mediators may suggest solutions or let the spouses craft their own proposed solutions.
Even if mediation isn’t ultimately successful in reaching an agreement on all issues, it can reduce the number of issues or conflicts that eventually need to go to trial. This can go a long way toward reducing the costs associated with a contested divorce.
Though it’s possible to get a divorce without hiring an attorney, there are very few situations in which having an attorney won’t improve your situation. And between collaborative divorce, limited-scope representation, and mediation, there are several ways to get legal advice without committing to the cost of a trial. But we know that cost is often a factor in divorces—which is why we’ve broken down the costs of a divorce [linking] to help you prepare yourself financially.