Consulting with an attorney is important to protect your most precious assets, your children and any financial benefits. Even in the best circumstances where you and your soon-to-be former spouse agree on all the terms, it is still important to consult an attorney so that you are protecting your current or future legal rights and obligations. Most attorneys offer a one-time free consultation to better help you understand your legal needs in order to make intelligent decisions.
There are many different ways that an attorney can help you, including “unbundled” or “bundled”, and mediation legal services.
Some spouses decide to represent themselves in court and hire an attorney for “unbundled” legal services. Unbundled services mean that you hire an attorney to perform only specified legal services that are agreed upon prior to the work being completed.
We are proud to be one of the few family legal teams to offer a flat rate for unbundled legal services. For example, you can have your lawyer draft legal documents and correspondence to your spouse or your spouse’s attorney; ask questions about any aspect of your divorce or custody case and your lawyer will provide you with legal advice; have your lawyer negotiate the final divorce or custody settlement with the other side; and/or have your lawyer help you with any other agreed upon issues in your case (except for court appearances). If your lawyer is providing unbundled services, your lawyer will not sign court documents for you, file papers in court for you, or go to court hearings, trials, and conferences with you.
In many instances, unbundled legal services is the most cost-effective method for hiring a lawyer because you can control how much work your attorney completes for you.
Many times, clients who are getting divorced or going through a custody battle decide to start out the process with an attorney for consultation only as an unbundled agreement, because you are able to do the work yourself. If things become contentious with your spouse and you want an “attorney of record” to represent you in court, you and your attorney can change your agreement for representation so that your attorney can enter any court appearances in your case. Most lawyers will require that a litigation fee agreement be signed if you want to change from unbundled to bundled legal services.
Other people decide to proceed from the outset with bundled legal services, meaning they hire an attorney to handle all aspects of their divorce or custody case. If an attorney is hired in this capacity, your attorney will enter the case as your “attorney of record” and will represent you in court. Even if you have an attorney of record, you may not need to go to court, because your attorney will attempt to settle your case with the opposing party’s attorney with the terms you believe are in your best interest. Yet, you will have your attorney prepared to go to court for you if necessary.
Some people want an attorney of record listed with the court because they do not feel comfortable representing themselves, especially if:
•There are complicated financial or emotional issues, or there is a contentious relationship between the spouses.
•There is no agreement on parenting terms affecting the children.•There is a large marital estate.
•There are “separate” property issues meaning you or your spouse have assets that were acquired prior to the marriage.
•There are domestic violence or child abuse issues.
Many times, even though you might initially be confident representing yourself, if your spouse later hires an attorney of record, you might feel safer proceeding with an attorney to represent you in the same capacity. When each spouse has hired an experienced family law attorney, the benefit of familiarity with the laws, and at times more importantly the knowledge of the judge and how he/she might rule in many situations outweighs the cost of representing yourself. At any time during the case, for any reason, you can hire an attorney to enter into your case. In doing so, make sure to bring all of your documents from the court so that the attorney can review the history and notices concerning upcoming hearings in your case.
For spouses who are amicable and confident that they can work out their settlement terms, another less costly option is for both parties to go to an attorney for a settlement agreement. This option can be cost effective, if the mediation sessions are limited to one or two sessions and the case settles quickly. However, it could be cost prohibitive, for example, if there are several long mediation sessions and the parties continue to not agree. In that case, the neutral mediation attorney cannot represent either party in the future so it is possible that you and your spouse will need to hire your own separate lawyers.
If you have any questions for our legal team please call us.