Many people wonder if hiring an “experienced” divorce attorney is worth the investment. The honest answer is that it will depend upon your particular situation and needs of your case.
Certain issues are relatively non-complex and have predictable outcomes:
- If there are children, then most cases will be presumed to have shared parental responsibility (authority to make and participate in major decisions).
- Nearly every case is going to have a presumption of 50% division of all assets and liabilities that arose during the marriage. This means from the date of the marriage until the date of filing any asset acquired or liability incurred – including but not limited to homes, mortgages, cars, boats, credit cards, pension plans, retirement funds, personal property and even student loans – are considered divisible between the spouses 50% each.
- Child support is a calculation based upon each parents net incomes and the time-sharing schedule of the parties.
Other issues, however, are more nuanced and benefit from the assistance of counsel – and depending upon the complexity of your situation, the more experienced the attorney the better for all involved, since he or she will be able to best shepherd your case to resolution.
Issues such as alimony in a mid-range term marriage (where the parties are married more than 7 years but less than 17), whether or not a party is entitled to attorney fees and costs contribution, and what parenting plan is realistic to the parties’ needs are all areas where the assistance of learned counsel is a benefit.
Perhaps the most emotionally charged and important of these areas is parental planning. Time-sharing is the place people will fight hardest and where they will most quickly spend the majority of their litigation resources. An experienced attorney will help to guide you into either negotiating or litigating a plan that is reasonable and fair to the law, but also mindful of the interests of your children.
Alimony and attorney fees entitlement can also be a tricky area, since there are a variety of statutory criteria that must be argued to make a case for entitlement, need, and ability to pay. These criteria overlap with other questions such as whether or not the court should “impute” (estimate) income earning potential to one or the other spouse and what form and duration the support should take. These are matters best navigated with experienced counsel.
Then, too, there are unique situations such as claims for unequal distribution of marital assets and liabilities, cases where one or both parties own a business or are self employed (making income analysis a challenge) and cases where there is a complete breakdown of meaningful communication between the parties.
The best way to assess your needs is to consult with a lawyer. Better yet, consult with more than one, since you will find that experience on paper is only part of the equation. Equally (if not more) important will be the attorney’s demeanor, professionalism, ethics, and philosophy in approaching your case.