One of the top concerns people have regarding divorce is, “How much is it going to cost me?” We’ve all heard horror stories of divorces costing upwards of $20K, 30K or more, which leads many people to look for low-cost options, like online divorces or tackling the divorce themselves, as opposed to the lawyer divorce approach.
Unfortunately, going the cheaper route can lead to mistakes that cost a lot more than paying for a divorce law attorney who knows how to protect their clients’ best interests. We honestly find the circumstances to be extremely rare where people do not need a divorce lawyer to guide them. If you’re considering representing yourself and wondering “Do I need an attorney for a divorce?”—it’s important to consider the risks that come with going it alone.
First, let’s get real about the average cost of divorce in Texas
According to Martindale-Nolo Research, average divorce attorneys’ fees in Texas run $12,400 or about $6,200 per spouse. If you have minimal assets or are able to get an uncontested divorce in Texas, your attorneys’ fees might be even less. If you have children, you’ll probably pay more in attorneys’ fees to get divorced.
These numbers are important because what you could end up losing due to improperly filed paperwork, forgoing essential legal steps or not understanding what rights you’re giving up could cost you a whole lot more. If you’re still wondering, “Do I need a lawyer for divorce?” Please read on.
How NOT hiring a divorce attorney could cost you big time
At the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth, clients regularly ask us to fix errors that came up because they never asked themselves, “Do I need a divorce lawyer?” and didn’t hire a divorce attorney in the first place. Sometimes we can help but in other cases, these folks end up stuck with a divorce settlement they technically agreed to but didn’t fully understand. Following are a few examples of those costly mistakes.
Half of retirement or pension lost.
By forgoing a divorce attorney decades ago one client paid a big price. He thought his divorce 20 years back was final because the petition was filed, and he signed the divorce decree and gave it to his wife. Unfortunately, she never finalized the paperwork with the family court.
Fast-forward two decades; the client has accumulated a nice military retirement and pension, and his wife files for divorce. In Texas, assets and community property continue to accumulate until a divorce is concluded. Since the client’s divorce was never finalized, his wife was now entitled to one half of his retirement and pension.
Because he didn’t hire an attorney, the client didn’t know that one of the two divorcing parties was required to appear in front of a judge for a Texas prove up, in order to conclude the divorce. During a Texas prove up, a divorce can be finalized and the decree of divorce entered if both parties have agreed on all issues and signed the decree. Since neither the client nor his wife appeared for the prove up 20 years earlier, the divorce was never finalized.
If you ask this client today, “Do you need a lawyer for divorce?” He will tell you “Yes,” because not hiring an attorney ended up being a very expensive mistake for this client.
Assets lost because paperwork wasn’t filled out properly—or at all.
Many people believe filling out a petition for divorce is child’s play. We frequently run into scenarios where people come to us trying to regain assets that were once rightfully theirs, but absent an attorney, necessary paperwork for things like reimbursement claims, property transfers or pleadings for separate property was never filed.
For example, you may think your divorce is simple. She keeps her stuff, I keep mine. You pay $170 and file for an online divorce, thinking you’ve got a deal all worked out but it falls apart. She walks into court with her attorney, you walk in pro se’ (representing yourself) not knowing you should have filed a pleading for that stuff you owned prior to marriage—your separate property. Now half of your stuff goes to her. Faced with that outcome, wouldn’t you answer “Yes” if asked, “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce?”
Dividing assets without knowing what they’re worth.
Another scenario that arises frequently when people don’t hire an attorney is they unwittingly divide property or other assets they didn’t even know existed or know the value of. This may include anything from homes to cars to retirement accounts.
For example, people often agree to divide retirement accounts, where he keeps his retirement, and she keeps hers. What if she finds out a few years later that his retirement accounts were worth 10 times what hers were? Too bad. Those are now divided assets, and she can’t go back years later and say, “Well, I didn’t know he had that $800,000 in retirement” because she agreed to those terms when she signed the decree.
Don’t risk losing what is rightfully yours
We’ve shared but a few of the costly errors people make when they don’t hire a lawyer to help with divorce. There are numerous legal steps and ancillary documents the court considers in relation to a divorce decree, and the average citizen without a law degree isn’t going to understand everything involved. Sadly, our Fort Worth law firm has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars related to home equity, family businesses and other assets lost because someone didn’t want to pay a few thousand dollars for an attorney.
In addition, most people don’t know what rights they have when it comes to child custody or how to make decisions about their children (residence, education, medical, etc.) without an attorney’s insight. A Texas divorce with children is never simple but a family law attorney can help navigate the process so wishes for child custody and visitation are more likely to be achieved.
Bottom line, many people come to us regretting they didn’t hire a divorce lawyer to protect their best interests, including those who thought they had a simple, cut and dried divorce. Do you really want to take that risk?
Do you need a lawyer for divorce in every instance?
While our family court lawyers in Fort Worth Texas rarely advise against hiring a family law attorney for divorce or child custody, visitation and support matters, rare scenarios exist where forgoing legal representation may work out just fine for some parties.
If you and the other party do not have children or own any assets whatsoever, a DIY or online divorce may be appropriate. By no assets we mean you don’t maintain an interest in any home, cars, retirement accounts, other assets or shared debts.
Couples that agree on most issues pertaining to their divorce but need help sorting out a few minor details might also consider hiring a mediation attorney or a mediator.
It’s important to note that neither a mediation attorney nor a mediator can provide legal advice to either side during mediation. However, they can offer objective insights to move the divorce forward, ensure paperwork is filled out properly and prepare and file the final decree of divorce.
Keep in mind mediation attorneys, who are licensed to practice law in the state of Texas, may offer different expertise than some divorce mediators, who may not be licensed at all. You can learn more about mediation attorneys, mediators and agreed uncontested divorce here.
When it comes to children, we 100% believe it is always imperative to hire a divorce attorney. Even if you and the other parent get along great and believe you completely agree on all issues related to child custody, visitation and child support, we strongly encourage you to hire an attorney.
It all goes back to the old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Most people don’t understand the many complexities involved in the Texas Family Code as it pertains to the parent-child relationship. Not only do many decisions need to be made today and for many years to come about the best interests of the child, circumstances will likely change, and new issues may arise where both parents don’t agree on a resolution.
A reputable family law attorney can educate parents on the many rights and responsibilities the Texas Family Code covers. An attorney can also ensure that certain remedies are put in place to help parents make decisions when disagreements arise, and in many cases, without going back to court.
Contact our Tarrant County divorce attorneys for advice
Not only can hiring a divorce attorney be critical for protecting assets, it really helps simplify the divorce process and ensure appropriate legal steps are followed. If you’re still wondering “Do I need an attorney for a divorce?”—we encourage you to speak with a reputable attorney near you to learn more about your options.
A small, initial consultation fee to answer the question, “Should I get a divorce lawyer?”
is worth the money. During the consult with an experienced divorce law attorney, you can expect to get a clearer picture regarding what steps a divorce involves, whether you’re up to the challenge and what monies, assets and rights you could risk losing by of going it alone. If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and want to find out what our firm would recommend for your divorce case or child custody matters, call the firm at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online to schedule a private consultation with our founder Justin Sisemore.
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