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Posted: 12:00 p.m. Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Do You Need A Divorce Lawyer And When Don’t You?

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By Clark Howard

Have you heard about this trend accelerating around the country of people who get divorced without the help of a lawyer?

I read a stat that knocked me over: Three out of 4 divorces in California are done without a lawyer, according to The New York Times!

This is *not* an article or commercial I’m writing for you to go hire lawyer. But sometimes the law is best left to lawyers. As one family law specialist told The Times, attempting a DIY divorce is too often “like going to WebMD and deciding to treat yourself.” Other times, however, you could legitimately get by with a DIY divorce.

You probably need a divorce lawyer if…

Let me first address who might be served with no lawyer: Those who have no assets, no kids, and when it’s not a contentious divorce. The kind of people who say, 'You know what? This just didn't work out, so we're done.'

But what if there are kids? Then there’s no question; you need a lawyer when you have minor children. Because there’s always stuff that could come up that you wouldn't think about as non-lawyer, and it could have real implications for the welfare of your children.

If your marriage is ending, be sure to protect yourself from this financial unknown that could blindside you down the road.

You also always need a lawyer if either or both of you have significant assets, or if you have a retirement plan at work or away from the workplace. That's when you definitely hire a lawyer.

A divorce doesn't have to be expensive

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to reduce costs of hiring lawyer. There's something called collaborative divorce where each party has a lawyer but they agree not to slug it out in an adversarial way.

Everyone collaborates on doing a fair division of property and a streamlined easy settlement, but with the assistance of lawyers billing at lower total cost. One of the benefits of collaborative divorce is that it can be done without some of the emotional stuff that happens when you have combative divorce lawyer going at it and stirring everything up.

California is experimenting with one-day divorce school. My suspicion is that should help some people and make others realize, “Oh, maybe this wasn't a good idea to do by ourselves.”

Facing a divorce? The #1 tool divorce lawyers will use against you is something you probably do every day.

Then there's a crazy concept coming to the U.S. from Europe called the Divorce Hotel. Literally, the estranged couple checks into the hotel (in separate rooms) and stays in the hotel immersed in coming up with a settlement on an expedited basis. You work with a mediator and an independent divorce lawyer. The benefit is you eliminate any outside distractions at all and get your divorce and move on with your life.

Clearly, there are as many ways to dissolve a marriage as there are to get married. You have to know when and how to protect yourself.

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