What Should I Expect From the Legal Process?


“What should I expect from the legal process?” The legal process can be emotionally and financially draining.  Dealing with the legal system can be confusing and each state has their own laws.  It will be beneficial to familiarize yourself with your state’s laws if you plan to proceed with a divorce.  Below you will find information that may be helpful for you as you make your decisions.

Do I need a lawyer to get divorced?

Representation of a lawyer is not required to get a divorce.  Some people choose to act pro se, or represent themselves without a lawyer.  If this case has unresolved issues or if your finances involve self-employment or large retirement funds, it may be overwhelming and very difficult to proceed without a lawyer.  Some states have online court programs that allow couples to divorce by filling out forms and doing their own paperwork.  This can be done if the divorce is uncontested, which means both spouses are in agreement on every issue in the divorce.

There are programs for reduced rates or free services for those who have lower incomes or have experienced domestic violence.  You would need to check with your state to determine which programs are available.

How much will a lawyer cost?

A divorce can be an expensive life event.  The least expensive option is an uncontested divorce in which both spouses agree on every item in the divorce.  If this is the case for you and your spouse then you can hire a lawyer to file “uncontested paperwork.”  This option can range between $800 and $2000 in total cost.  According to the rules of ethics for a lawyer, they cannot represent both spouses.  For this reason, it is wise for the other spouse to get at least a 1-hour consultation with another lawyer.

For couples who have many disagreements the price will increase and many lawyers require a retainer fee before taking a case.  In this instance, it is possible for the cost of a lawyer to balloon up to $30,000 dollars or more, per person.  It is rare that courts will order the other spouse to pay attorney fees and cost, even in the event of infidelity or abuse.

What is divorce mediation?

Divorce mediation is an option in which spouses agree to allow a neutral person (mediator) go through all of the legal issues of the divorce with them.  The mediator is not a decision maker, but will help the spouses negotiate the terms of their divorce.  Some areas in which the mediator can be helpful includes: dividing financial assets, parenting and custody, alimony, and child support.  The mediator will draft a memorandum of Understanding that will be filed with the court and can be legally enforced.  Spouses will still need to file all the legal paperwork to finalize the divorce.

A mediator can be an attorney, a counselor, or any person specifically trained in mediation.  The process usually takes between 2 to 10 hours and an average cost for a mediator is between $100 to $350 an hour.  Traditionally, the cost is divided between spouses.  Although mediation can increase overall cost, research has shown mediation helps to decrease conflict between parents after divorce, and improve satisfaction of the divorce process.

What is collaborative law?

Collaborative law is a process in which two attorneys are hired to work together to resolve family conflict.  The attorneys have the spouses sign an agreement acknowledging their intent is to help spouses come to an agreement outside of court or formal litigation.  The attorneys work together to help the spouses reach an agreement through negotiation.  Collaborative lawyers can usually be found through an online search.

Can I challenge a divorce in court?

Since 2010, every state in the United States has a no-fault law which means a spouse can file divorce without a reason.  Once a spouse decides to end a marriage it is pointless for the other spouse to challenge the divorce in court.  This does not mean attempts outside of court would be unprofitable.  Many couples see changes in their relationship through avenues such as marriage counseling.  Some states do have options for spouses who want to save their marriage.  For example, in Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah a spouse can request that a Judge allow a “time out” in divorce proceedings to allow for marriage counseling.  Other states, such as Arizona, Arkansas, and Louisiana allow couples to enter into a “covenant marriage” which implements special requirements before a couple can divorce.

Find the research support here.