I know, I know. Everyone hates lawyers. Almost wherever I go, I get a bad lawyer joke. Well, that is, I get bad lawyer jokes.
It doesn’t hurt my feelings. Obviously, by this point in my career, I’m pretty used to it. Besides, deep down, I know no one means it. I know that what they’re really upset about is that, at some point, they were in a bad place and needed help. They had to turn to a lawyer, which was costly and possibly also embarrassing. Maybe they got a good result and maybe they didn’t, but regardless it wasn’t a situation that felt very good.
And, traditionally at least, attorneys aren’t all that personable. We tend to be standoffish, and professional in the extreme. When we listen to people talk, we aren’t listening for the purpose of expressing compassion—we’re issue spotting. Useful, maybe. But not exactly the most warm and fuzzy feeling for the person sitting in the armchair across from our imposing desks.
Am I right? Lawyers get a really bad rap.
So, now that you’re thinking about hiring a family law attorney, you’re probably feeling pretty nervous about it. Will an attorney be able to help you? Will you be able to trust someone like that with all the personal details that are necessarily involved in your divorce case? It’s hard to imagine.
But can you get divorced without an attorney? I mean, isn’t hiring an attorney sort of a necessary evil?
Well, I’m a lawyer, so I may be biased, but I hate to think of hiring an attorney as a “necessary evil,” even though I’ve heard exactly those words used. But, still, hear me out.
Yes, it is possible to represent yourself in your divorce case. Not every divorce case is the same, though, so listen carefully, and then make a decision for yourself based on the facts that are unique to your case.
The law allows you to represent yourself. But do you want to? It really all depends.
Divorces come in two basic types in Virginia: contested and uncontested.
What’s a contested divorce?
A contested divorce is one where you and your soon to be ex husband can’t reach an agreement about how the assets and liabilities in the marriage are going to be divided. When you can’t reach an agreement between the two of you, you have to go to court—and let the judge decide for you.
Contested divorces are litigated, meaning that you’re fighting it out in court rather than reaching an agreement together. They’re typically the longest and most expensive divorces, because there are so many procedural steps involved.
Can you handle this yourself? If you want to. Is it a good idea? Probably not. Because these divorces are so complicated, and involve so many nuanced and constantly changing components, you may find yourself in over your head fairly quickly. Imagine arguing your entire case in front of a judge—filing motions, requesting discovery, getting evidence admitted, questioning and cross examining witnesses, hiring a court reporter, making all the points required by law, and so on. It’s hard work. In fact, many lawyers practice for years before they take on their first full fledged trial. There are a lot of components involved.
To be completely honest, I really can’t recommend that you handle a contested case on your own. Even though you’re allowed to, should you choose, it’s really, really risky.
What’s an uncontested divorce?
An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is one where you and your husband reach an agreement (called a separation agreement) about how the assets and liabilities in the marriage will be divided. Rather than going to court, you negotiate your divorce. It may be time consuming (though almost always considerably less so than a contested divorce) and difficult, but reaching an agreement is what most people ultimately choose to do. Even though tensions can run high in the beginning, the decreased cost associated with an uncontested divorce and the ability to have some control over how everything is divided is so critical that people often tend to make it work.
Can you handle this yourself? Probably! It’s considerably less complicated than a contested divorce, and, in many cases, doesn’t require you to go to court at all.
Where can I get help if I want to handle my own uncontested divorce?
Not ready to schedule an appointment? That’s fine, too. Our Second Saturday seminars are designed to give Virginia women the information they need to know about divorce, and each seminar is taught by one of our licensed Virginia divorce attorneys. It’s not one-on-one, like a consultation, but it’s a great opportunity to listen to an attorney and ask your questions, without paying the cost of an initial consultation. The cost to attend is just $40 if you pre register, or $50 at the door. For more information, check out our website by clicking here.
If you’re ready to make an appointment, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200. We’re experienced, local Virginia attorneys, representing women only. We’re different. Give us a try; we’re not like other lawyers. You won’t regret it.