Do you need a divorce attorney? What about half of one? Or less?

Photo by rawpixel on UnsplashGetting a divorce is traumatic enough. The cost of hiring and retaining a divorce attorney can add tension to what may already be a tense situation. Yet for some couples going through divorce, paying an attorney to handle every legal matter may be an unnecessary expense.

Yes, a lawyer just said you may not need an attorney for every aspect of your divorce. Now, before my brother and sister attorneys get too angry, let me qualify that statement by emphasizing “some couples” and “every aspect.”

In a divorce mediation, couples agree in principle to divorce and then work out the terms with the assistance of a mediator. The mediator is an attorney, but also a neutral party and cannot offer counsel to either party. It is possible to hire an attorney to attend some or all of the mediation sessions. Yet you do run into the issue of retainers and hourly rates and many divorcing couples are left wondering, “did I really need an attorney to do that?”

The answer for some clients is “no.” Many of my mediation clients choose to be responsible for the divorce negotiations themselves, rather than delegating those negotiations to their attorneys. Instead, they will consult their own attorney in between negotiating sessions or perhaps only at the end to review their agreement. This can be quite cost-effective in comparison to paying your attorney to participate in six or more hours of negotiation.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognized the need for more predictable and affordable arrangements between attorneys and their clients. The Courts have created a Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) certification for attorneys. An attorney with this designation (I am one such attorney) can offer clients specific legal services at an agreed upon rate without being involved in (or responsible for) every aspect of the divorce.

You’re probably wondering how does this work? You could hire your attorney to do anything you do not feel comfortable with yourself. He/she could review the draft of divorce settlement prior to it being signed and finalized. He/ she could draft the divorce settlement if your mediator is not also an attorney. If your case is in court instead of mediation or collaborative divorce you could hire an attorney to write a motion for you to present to the judge or to attend the pretrial conference with you.

When you hire a LAR attorney, you will create a list of actions that you are responsible for and actions that your attorney is responsible for. As part of the process you will probably review the divorce process, discuss actions that would benefit from the input or presence of an attorney, clarify items you will need to take care of on your own and how to go about it and agree upon how your attorney will get paid for the services you want.

Use of a LAR is not strictly limited to divorce mediation. Many people use it for prenuptial agreements or post-nuptial agreements where the parties have already agreed upon the terms but need an attorney to write up the document. Limited Assistance Representation can also be used by individuals who are representing themselves in divorce litigation. This arrangement can vary to meet a client’s needs and desires.

Please don’t misunderstand the nature of this article. No two divorces are 100 percent alike and circumstances vary. Some divorces require the full-time legal services of an attorney. Some will not. Even if you are an attorney yourself, you should not make the decision to represent yourself without consulting an attorney. But if you and your spouse agree, in general, and money is a factor, hiring counsel for specific services instead of paying an open ended retainer based might be something to consider.