Should You Hire Your Own Lawyer When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce?

You aren't legally obligated to hire your own divorce lawyer just because your spouse did, but going up against a professional legal expert on your amateur own could be a bad idea.

By Dean E. Hines
Updated: March 20, 2018
Should You Hire Your Own Lawyer

The prospect of divorce is a frightening one in its own right. The marriage and union you had hoped would last, and likely worked hard to accomplish, is coming to an end. The last thing you need is your spouse's attorney intimidating you in the courtroom. Even despite this, some people make the choice to represent themselves in divorce hearings, even if their husband has personally hired a lawyer.

You aren't legally obligated to hire your own lawyer just because your spouse got one, but in many cases, you'd be smart to seek your own legal counsel. No matter how much of a slam-dunk case you might think you have, divorce situations are often, technical, messy, and a case of he-said, she-said. Going up against a professional legal expert on your amateur own is not always a good idea. Then again, the situation isn't always hostile either.

Is Sharing a Divorce Lawyer with Your Spouse Possible?

A divorce lawyer legally cannot represent both of you in any divorce situation. So, if your spouse asks you if you can pay half of the legal bill, you should lean towards saying no. Any lawyer that your spouse hires is professionally unable to also serve your interests.

Having said this, in certain situations, one couple might share a single lawyer in order to bring joint resolution to their divorce. This is usually restricted to couples that have already resolved custody issues, the division of debt, and asset partitioning on their own. They then just need a single lawyer who can draft up their joint divorce agreement. However, you need to remember that the spouse who retains or hires the lawyer is the actual client. If you are the unrepresented spouse, then you should be mindful of the fact that the lawyer who is preparing your divorce agreement does not  represent you. He or she will not give you legal advice. A simple divorce might be fine for a single lawyer situation, but be very sure you know your legal rights if you are the one who is unrepresented. If you want to be sure, you should hire your own lawyer to read and explain the divorce agreement before you sign it.

When You Need To Hire Your Own Lawyer

It's smart to hire your own lawyer if your finances are complex or there are high assets in play. A seasoned legal professional can request documents and do the homework needed to form a specific and accurate picture of your and your spouse's finances. In time, that information will lead to a fair split of assets. If you and your spouse are unable to agree to a custody arrangement, then you also need to hire your own lawyer to get help sort this aspect of the divorce out. Many factors are in play in a custody decision. A divorce lawyer who understands the fine print of the laws that apply where you live gives you a far better chance of being successful in your custody process.

Don't Let Divorce Lawyers Fan the Fire

It's easy for you, your spouse, or both of you to get angry and even emotionally distraught during the divorce process. Simply handing the responsibility for handling your divorce to your divorce lawyer might seem like a welcome relief. However, it might actually complicate things for you more than simplify them. It really all boils down to which lawyer you and your spouse hire, so it's crucial that you identify the right one for your situation and goals. If you need the help of a lawyer, but still hope to keep the process civil and respectful, then be sure you hire a lawyer who can work with that approach.

When interviewing prospective attorneys, ask each of them what they think about settlement negotiations in lieu of a court fight. Lawyers are supposed to work under one primary goal: the relentless pursuit of their clients' interests. If you convey to a lawyer that your interest is specifically an amicable divorce, then that's just what you should expect. Sadly, some attorneys make it their habit to go at the other spouse or attorney as aggressively as they can. If your spouse has hired a pit-bull lawyer for himself, you might need your own attack dog. In such circumstances, the divorce process can feel more like war, with one battle after another ramping up the passion. That continues until you and/your spouse runs out of cash and comes crawling to the table for a settlement.

Even worse, if you have kids, the fighting won't just wipe out your checking account, but also any sense of security your children might have enjoyed up until now. Once your legal fight concludes, attempting to create a new normal in terms of a co-parenting relationship with your now ex-spouse will prove problematic, and your kids will continue to suffer the fallout from your bitter divorce battles.

When to Consult a Divorce Lawyer

You might want to hire your own lawyer if you are not sure about a particular divorce procedure or if you hope to understand your legal rights better. Some lawyers work for a flat fee or even on a limited basis, if your budget is tight. Also, consider the possibility of free legal aid, should you live either at or below the regional poverty level. It can also be possible in cases of disability or if you are personally a victim of your spouse's domestic abuse. Call your community legal aid office for additional information, and don't rule out the possibility of pro bono (free) work from a professional firm.

Consider Divorce Mediation with a Neutral Lawyer

If you are worried that your and your spouse's divorce lawyers might drag the process out and wipe out your life savings, then think about mediation as a possibility. Divorce mediation typically involves a neutral mediator – usually a divorce lawyer – so he or she can assist you and your spouse to reach an agreement that both of you can live with. A divorce mediator will not represent you or your husband, and as such can't give either of you legal advice. Rather, a mediator will help you identify the issues that need resolution and assist in creating a divorce agreement that is in compliance and alignment with applicable laws.

Mediation can be a sound alternative to trying to handle the divorce by yourself. Even though many self-help resources wait for you out there, the process of divorce is an intimidating one, to say the least. Mediation is usually a confidential process, and should you and your spouse fail to reach any agreement, arguing the divorce in court is still a possibility after the fact. One big disadvantage of mediation is that mediators aren't able to advise either of you if your decisions are good ones or not. You can only get that from your very own lawyer!


Dean E. Hines has been practicing family law in the Dayton and Columbus Ohio areas since 1994, providing effective, affordable, and often untraditional legal representation to his clients. He has been rated as an AV Attorney (Preeminent) by Martindale Hubbell, the premier nationwide rating service for attorneys. www.deanhineslawyer.com

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January 24, 2018

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