This is one of the first and most frequent questions most people ask when faced with a divorce in North Carolina. It’s an important question to ask. Moreover, this question serves as an umbrella to a number of other common questions and concerns that deserve consideration before beginning the divorce process. Some of the most frequently asked questions are:
- Do you have to have a lawyer for a divorce?
- Should I hire a divorce lawyer?
- What Happens If I Don’t Hire a Lawyer for My Divorce?
- When should I hire a divorce attorney?
- Do I need a lawyer if my spouse has one?
- What is divorce mediation and can it help?
Our Family Law and Divorce lawyers here at Minick Law, P.C. answer questions like these every day. As a result, we compiled this Do I Need a Lawyer for a Divorce? Guide, complete with answers to the most common questions and concerns regarding attorney services and divorce.
Short answer: NO. In North Carolina, there is no requirement to have a personal attorney present for any part of the divorce process. Many people choose not to use attorney services, often because they have been through the divorce process before, are financially limited, or prefer to avoid attorney involvement in personal matters.
Be aware, however, that only with very limited exceptions will you be entitled to a court appointed attorney. (This is a common misconception among those who have received a court appointed attorney before, as with criminal cases). Additionally, you should also know that you are entitled to represent yourself, though a judge will often advise you to hire counsel.
Short answer: YES. While you are entitled to represent yourself in a divorce and some situations may not necessitate hiring a lawyer, there are many reasons why hiring a divorce lawyer benefits you. Because there are so many aspects to consider in a divorce–including child custody, alimony payments, and equitable distribution—attorneys are extremely helpful in keeping the divorce process on track. You also will have many interests in your divorce and hiring an attorney helps protect those interests.
3 reasons why you should hire a divorce lawyer:
- Divorce lawyers understand the legal process. This means that divorce lawyers can navigate the legal system for you, protecting and pursuing your interests.
- Lawyers provide important legal analysis of and insight into your situation. Practiced and experienced in handling the divorce process, a divorce lawyer is able to investigate your situation and map the best legal plan for you.
- A lawyer can seek the maximum possible award for you. An award in a divorce may include: child custody, visitation, property, alimony, post separation support, and equitable distribution.
Hiring a divorce lawyer to help you navigate divorce law and the North Carolina legal system is often your best move in the divorce process. An experienced Family Law Attorney will help you make sure your best interests are guarded and give you the mental peace that someone with know-how and skill is watching out for you.
Filing For Divorce
North Carolina Divorce Law includes many details and intricate requirements, which, if overlooked or undocumented, can damage or delay your situation in a divorce. When filing for a divorce in North Carolina, there are two things you should know:
- Your case goes nowhere until it is filed with the court. If you’ve ever sat on a jury, you know that the court system often moves slowly. In divorce cases, if you file but fail to fill out the paperwork appropriately it could be weeks—even months—before you are informed. Additionally, you will have to file the paperwork correctly and risk more delays.
- Filing for a divorce incorrectly can be BAD news. There are vast pitfalls if you fail to file your divorce papers correctly, ranging from outright dismissals of your action (that you had to pay to file) to failing to handle necessary issues regarding your property distribution.
Hiring a divorce lawyer gives you confidence that your divorce papers get filed properly and guard you from falling into any serious legal pitfalls.
Without a divorce lawyer, you expose yourself to a number of dangers and risk losing many of your interests. Here are 5 things to know if you don’t hire a lawyer for your divorce:
- You will likely lose your case, if your spouse hires an attorney.
- You will likely reach a less favorable outcome.
- You will be on your own, as neither the other attorney, the judge, or any of the clerks can legally give you advice.
- You will likely need to examine and cross-examine yourself.
- You will be held to the same standard as an attorney in court, and given no leeway.
It’s also important to know when to hire a divorce lawyer. Most often, people wait to hire an attorney until they are deep into the divorce process. By that time, however, it is often too late for an attorney to recover many of the demands and interests a spouse may have. It is wise, then, to hire a divorce lawyer at the beginning of the legal process. 4 signs for when to hire a divorce lawyer:
- As soon as you feel divorce is possible.
- When you’ve been served with paperwork from your spouse.
- When you’ve been abused, your spouse has cheated on you, made your life unbearable or has cut off your finances, communication devices or threatened to harm you or your children.
- Any time you feel that you simply need direction as you make the decision about whether or not to obtain a divorce.
Things To Know Before Getting a Divorce
As you consider when and whether you should hire a divorce lawyer, you should also be highly conscious of a few things before you get a divorce.
- In most cases, couples must be separated for one year prior to filing for divorce. Most cases are no-fault divorces, which means that immediate legal action is not granted in the case of most divorces. As a result, North Carolina divorce law requires one year of statutory separation.
- Social Media is not your friend. Between NOW and the date of your divorce you should refrain from posting anything (comments, pictures, etc.) which may be used against you in court. Review your privacy settings and make appropriate changes.
Short answer: YES. 3 reasons why you should hire a lawyer if your spouse has one:
- Even if you feel that you or your spouse may agree upon all the terms of your divorce, only an attorney has the legal training to guard your interests in the divorce process.
- Fact: your spouse hired one. Because of this, you can be almost certain that your spouse is being counseled by his/her attorney to pursue the maximum award that a judge can possibly allow. (In fact, attorneys are actually ethically obligated, at the very least, to inform their clients of maximum potential award and then pursue it for them if their client so wishes).
- The reality is that your spouse’s attorney will not and cannot keep your best interests. Only your own private counsel can do that.
Many people choose to hire mediators in order to avoid the legal system in general. Often, mediators are used because they act as neutral parties to help you work out some of the issues in your divorce, such as property distribution, custody terms and financial support. In addition, mediators can help avoid extended battles in court over simple issues, like: who gets the couch? or which spouse gets to claim the children on the taxes that year?nOthers employ a mediator because they wish to avoid legal and emotional intensity associated with divorce lawyers.
Divorce Mediation vs. Lawyer
While there are many reasons why a mediator may benefit your situation, there are a number of reasons why it is more advantageous, or even necessary, for a person to choose a lawyer over a mediator. 4 reasons hire a lawyer over a mediator:
- A mediator can only help you if you and your spouse are willing to “play ball.” If one, or both, refuse to work together to reach an agreement it is likely in your best interest to hire a divorce attorney.
- Attorneys are barred from attending mediation conferences.
- The mediator’s goal is to get you two to agree, not to advocate zealously for either party.
- Only an attorney will be able to identify all the possible ways to attack your case and legally obtain for you your maximum possible award.
If your spouse is unwilling to work with you to come to an agreement, a mediator is often rendered purposeless. In such cases, it is likely a better decision—both financially and emotionally—to hire a divorce lawyer and work to finish the divorce process efficiently.
For more information about Family Law and Divorce, visit the following blog posts from our archive:
- Parental Alientation: How to respond when the other parent is attempting to turn your child against you.
- In a divorce, who gets the house?
If you have questions about the divorce process, and are wondering what your options are, and what would be the best course of action, contact a Minick Law Divorce Lawyer today to get answers and take control of your situation. Our attorneys are standing by to assist you.
Robert Gilligan was raised in Waynesville, NC, and joined the U.S. Air Force right out of high school. After being honorably discharged after 6 years, Robert attended Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, MI. Robert was highly involved in the University’s law student groups, being the Dean of the Delta Theta Phi chapter, Treasurer of the Environmental Law Society, President of the Law Student Veteran’s Organization, as well as a member of dozens of other agencies. Robert interned with the 3rd Circuit Court, Family Division, and later worked as an associate for a number of solo practitioners in the Metro-Detroit area practicing in areas of law ranging from Bankruptcy to criminal defense. In 2013, Robert relocated back to Waynesville, NC where he lives with his wife, Marissa, and daughter, Claire. Robert’s practice areas include family law, criminal defense, and estate planning.