I am often asked, "Should I do my own divorce." Of course, I tell them that they have an absolute right of access to the courts in these United States, but will they be effective? The courts in this area have a very strong "pro se" (meaning do-it-yourself) docket. They work well when there are no difficult issues to decide.
DO IT YOURSELF. Remember the old adage, "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." Legal matters, most especially family law matters, are as emotional as they are logical. When you add significant amounts of property to divide and children to support, it can be bewildering. For that reason, I only recommend a "do-it-yourself" divorce when there are no property or custody issues.
ONE PARTY HIRES A LAWYER. When property or custody issues are present, a less expensive way to finish your divorce might be for one of the parties to retain the services of an attorney while the other party remains unrepresented. I would recommend that the less sophisticated of the two parties be the one with the lawyer, because it will be that person who will require the most help, legal advice, from the attorney. Remember that an attorney can only represent one side of the case, so the one attorney is better off not communicating with the unrepresented party.
MEDIATION. Another way to divorce is to mediate. All divorce mediators (like myself) are attorneys with special qualifications. They meet with both sides of a divorce, but cannot represent either side. Because the mediator is an attorney, he or she can complete most of the paperwork. When it is a divorce with children in Missouri, that usually means a Judgment, Separation Agreement and Parenting Plan with a Form 14. The mediator will leave them unsigned and will pass them off to an attorney hired by one of the parties. That attorney will see that they are executed properly and will walk them through the court system as an un-contested dissolution. Usually this occurs without either party making any appearance in court.
LITIGATED DIVORCE. This is the situation where both parties retain the services of an attorney. Often in this situation, costs increase dramatically because of the "zealous" representation required by an attorney. Even so, around 95% of divorces settle before the day of trial and do not require a trial. In this situation, you need the skills of an attorney who can negotiate like a mediator, but can litigate the divorce in the event it proceeds to trial.
You need a lawyer who "has all of the tools." Someone who can advise you what kind of divorce is right for your particular case, and someone who can take care of the trial in the event there is no settled solution.
Gordon K. Rea
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