When a spouse is going through a divorce, or a parent is going through a custody or child support battle, it can be a stressful time in that person’s life. Navigating through the family court process can be confusing under the best of circumstances. If the case is very contentious, then this only makes the circumstances worse.
A spouse or parent may think that since the case is about his or her life, who would be better to represent that spouse or parent but himself or herself. However, when going through such a delicate time, in which there are rigid standards established by the law and the court, it is better for that spouse or parent to engage the assistance of a knowledgeable family law attorney to help that spouse or parent through the process.
But what can a family law attorney do that the spouse or parent can’t do on their own?
1. Remove the emotion from the case. An attorney can approach the case with the emotion and stress removed. An attorney is a neutral person coming into the case. The attorney is required to zealously advocate for his or her client, but they can do so without getting caught up in the emotion of a divorce of family law case. By its inherent nature, a divorce, child custody, child support, or any other type of family law matter is very stressful and emotional. The other party is your spouse, the parent of your child, or some other family member. It is impossible to not be emotional through this process. An attorney can advocate for a spouse or parent in a level headed manner, putting the stress and emotion aside. This way, a spouse or parent’s legal argument is conveyed in a cogent and articulate manner that is not caught up in the stress and emotion of the case. Also, as an outsider, an attorney can give you an unbiased opinion of the case, and how to strategically maneuver through the case.
2. Draft legal documents and meet legal deadlines. Many spouses and parents do not realize that if they represent themselves in court, they are held to the same legal standards as attorneys. That means all of the legal deadlines must be met in a timely manner, and all documents submitted to the court or opposing party must comply with all the laws and court rules. However, understanding these time standards, court rules, and the law in general is confusing to the average lay person. If a spouse or parent fails to meet any of the deadlines, or does not comply with a rule, it could have disastrous consequences for his or her case. Having an attorney represent you will alleviate this potential problem. Attorneys understand the different legal deadlines, and how to draft the various legal documents. They can ensure that the deadlines are met and the documents are drafted and filed properly.
3. Argue your case in court. Even oral arguments and testimony in court have stringent legal standards. Having an attorney with you to argue your case can ensure that the testimony is properly heard by the judge, and that any evidence is properly entered into the court record. Also, because the attorney a third party to the case, he or she can craft a legal argument to present to the court that conveys the importance of the case, but removes the emotion from the argument. A lawyer can effectively convey a spouse or parent’s argument without potentially saying something that the spouse or parent may say out of stress or emotion that could, in fact, damage that person’s case. Additionally, as a skilled attorney, your attorney will know how to best present your case in light of the specific facts and circumstances in the case.
4. Conduct complex analyses and engage experts. Some family law cases are very complex. In divorces there can be a complex financial matter that requires an expert. This can include a business appraiser if one spouse owns a business, a forensic accountant, if a spouse may be hiding assets. For child custody cases, a Guardian ad Litem, parenting coordinator, or other expert may be necessary where the case is complicated or hotly contested. Knowledgeable family law attorneys know when an expert is necessary in such cases, and which experts to engage. The attorney can also assist the expert through his or her analysis, and point out important facts and documents the expert should be reviewing and considering. Oftentimes these are very complex issues that the average lay person would not know how to analyze or address.
5. Draft a comprehensive settlement agreement. In a divorce, when a case settles, spouses must sign a Separation Agreement to resolve and settle the case. In other family law matters, such as child custody and child support, there are other agreements that must be drafted to settle a case. These agreements are very comprehensive and oftentimes dozens of pages long. An attorney has the knowledge of what provisions to include in the agreement to make the agreement detailed enough so that there is no ambiguity in the future. This can avoid future headaches of going back to court for a modification or contempt action because certain provisions in an agreement were not sufficiently outlined. If an agreement is drafted without the assistance of an attorney, both spouses or parents run the risk of having to come back to court in the future to enforce, modify, or clarify an ambiguous provision.