If you can answer yes to all ten questions below and none of the Ten Reasons that You Need to Hire an Attorney for Your Divorce Apply; then, you might not need to hire an attorney for your divorce.
- Were you not married for very long? – If you were only married for a short term (ie: a few months to a few years); then, you might not need to hire an attorney for your divorce. If you were married for a longer term; then, you should consult with an attorney regarding the possible equitable distribution.
- Do you not have children together? – If you do not have children; then, it is easier to get divorced without an attorney. In Virginia, if you do not have children of the marriage and have an agreement; then, you may be able to get divorced after being separated for only six months.
- Do you and your spouse have agreed or adjudicated custody and parenting time and child support amount already and neither party wishes to make any changes? – If you do have children, but have already agreed to a custody and parenting time schedule and child support amount already; then, you may not need to hire an attorney for a divorce. If either of you dispute custody, parenting time, or child support going forward; then, you may need an attorney.
- Are you not claiming any fault grounds or requesting an annulment? – If you are asking for a no fault, uncontested divorce where both you and your spouse agree on no fault grounds; then, you may not need an attorney for your divorce. If you would like your divorce based on adultery, sodomy, buggery, felony conviction, willful desertion or abandonment, cruelty, other fault grounds, or are requesting an annulment; then, you will probably need an attorney to assist you with pleading the grounds properly as well as meeting the standards of proof for these allegations.
- Do you not own any real estate or vehicles together or have not acquired any real estate or vehicles during the marriage? – If you do not own or sent any real estate together; then, you may not need to hire an attorney. However, even if real estate or vehicles are only in one person’s name, you may be entitled to some party of the value in equitable distribution. You should consult with an attorney if assets were acquired during the marriage.
- Do either you or your spouse have a business or own part of a business? – If neither you nor your spouse own a business or part of a business; then, you may not need an attorney for your divorce. The value and income of businesses are difficult to ascertain and the services of an attorney and business evaluator may be vital if the circumstances are complicated.
- Do you and your spouse earn about the same amount of income and have the same earning capacity and neither are requesting spousal support? – If you and your spouse earn about the same amount of income including bonuses and perquisites and both have the same earning capacity or potential and neither are requesting spousal support; then, you might not need to hire an attorney.
- Do you and your spouse have approximately the same amount of retirement earned during the marriage? – If both parties have worked or have saved and have approximately the same amount of retirement including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457(b)s, IRAs, SEPS, pensions, TSPs, ESOPs, PSPs, HSAs, annuities, or similar earned during the marriage and neither party wants any distribution from the other parties’ retirement assets; then, you might not need an attorney for your divorce. However, even a small amount of pension or retirement assets may be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout retirement and you should consult with an attorney.
- Do you and your spouse have approximately the same amount in stocks, bonds, securities? – If both parties have approximately the same amount in stocks, bonds, securities earned or saved during the marriage and neither is requesting allocation in equitable distribution; then, you might not need to hire an attorney.
- Are you good with paperwork and willing to make multiple trips to Court to file, for hearings, or to refile paperwork with the Court? – I frequently have consultations with people who filled out paperwork online and filed it with the Court only to have that paperwork rejected for a myriad of reasons. Neither the law clerk nor the court staff are allowed to give you legal advice. They will try to guide you within the confines of this limit, but often times people will need to resubmit their documents multiple times before the paperwork is correct and accepted. I have also had many clients who eventually hired me to complete their paperwork because they could not figure what the legal requirements or problems were with their documents.
Even if you answer yes to all ten questions, your divorce will probably be better if you hire an attorney to guide you and process the paperwork for you. Moreover, as the Fairfax Pro Se (without an attorney) Divorce Brochure warns, “If you proceed without legal counsel, you may unknowingly lose rights to custody or visitation, child or spousal support, distribution of property, or other legal claims arising out of your marriage.”