THE BLOG
11/14/2013 01:17 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Divorce Confidential: Do I Need A Divorce Attorney?

Several readers have recently inquired about whether it is even a necessity to hire a divorce attorney. That is certainly a valid question to consider before you divorce since the decision to retain a professional could be costly.

While it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney before you move forward with your divorce, there are instances when it is not necessary to retain an attorney to complete your case. With that being said, when do you know you should move forward with your divorce without the help of a legal professional?

Here are some circumstances when a divorce attorney is not necessarily needed:

1. Your Financial Resources Are Tight: Due to financial circumstances, you may not be able to afford the costly services of a legal professional. In such an instance, you may need to rely on your own resources, whether it be research conducted through the Internet or your local law library. If you do not have the money to hire an attorney, you may want to at least consult with an attorney before you move forward with your divorce so you obtain a better understanding of your legal rights and the laws of your state. Moreover, an initial consult with an attorney could be beneficial in that the attorney can help you uncover some issues that you may have never considered. It is important to note that many family law attorneys in your area may offer free consultations and if you are strapped for cash, you may want to take advantage of this service. If you opt for a free initial consultation, be sure to ask the right questions and have a clear road map of the issues you want to tackle so that the meeting is focused on your needs and not necessarily on the firm and its attributes. Once you have decided to move forward with your divorce on your own without legal assistance, remember to be proactive in gaining as much information as you can by researching the laws of your state and local rules. Talk with friends who also have gone through similar circumstances. Also, a trip to your local family court may prove beneficial. You can ask for a "dissolution packet" or something similar dependent on your court. This packet will provide you with instructions and the initial paperwork necessary to begin your divorce. Remember however, that the local court staff cannot provide you with legal advice.

2. You and Your Spouse Have Minimal Assets And Debts: If you and your spouse were married and accumulated little to no assets and have minimal debt, you may not need to retain an attorney. Many divorces become ugly when two spouses are fighting over valuable assets and there is disagreement over which party is to take on the community property debt. It may be surprising but many couples become much more emotional over finances than they do over the custody and visitation of their children. So if you and your spouse have little to no assets to fight about and you are both in agreement on who takes on the little debt that you have, you may not need an attorney since one of the key issues is already resolved between the two of you. Similarly, if you and your spouse have reached an agreement on the division of assets and debts, no matter how large or small your estate is, you will not need an attorney. Just be sure that the agreement reached between you and your spouse regarding your assets and debts is outlined clearly in your final written agreement.

3. You and Your Spouse Do Not Have Children And You/Your Spouse Is Not Pregnant: Another big issue that couples generally fight over is the custody and visitation of their children. This is an emotional subject so it's not surprising that if there is disagreement over the parenting schedule, couples may need some assistance through an attorney since your attorney can help you articulate your desires for custody and visitation. However, if there are no children and you are not pregnant with your spouse's child, then this is a non-issue. Similarly, the necessity for an attorney is minimized if you and your spouse have agreed on a shared parenting plan and there are no disagreements over this arrangement.

It is important to consider all issues before you make a decision on whether to hire an attorney or not. While legal representation is important, it is not always necessary. At the same time, you don't want to make the mistake of completing your divorce on your own and then have issues creep back to haunt you months, even years later.