One Question, Three Lawyers
Dear Splitopia: My almost-ex and I are trying to take a cooperative approach, but everyone keeps telling me to "lawyer up." Do I have to lawyer up? Why are they saying this?
Our Panel Says:
Michael Stutman, family lawyer, New York City: If “lawyer up” means get someone to negotiate for you, that might be unnecessarily provocative and cause you and your spouse to suffer a decline in a level of mutual trust. However, there is no reason why you should or could not engage an attorney to be a shadow advisor.
Naomi Cahn, law professor, George Washington University: You definitely don’t need a lawyer to get a divorce—but there are reasons for each of you to check in with one to make sure you are adequately protected.
If you do want to go it alone, courts often have samples of the types of documents you need in order to get a divorce. Because each state has its own divorce procedures and divorce, check (either in person or online) for forms available at your local courthouse and talk them through with your future ex.
Janice Green, family lawyer, Austin, TX: You can always consult with an attorney. Educating yourself on the potential laws that are relevant to your situation BEFORE you negotiate with your spouse is wise. One of the biggest mistakes that clients make is to negotiate prematurely when they are uninformed.
Wendy Paris, real divorced person and author of Splitopia: Unless your almost-ex is an aggressive, vindictive, unreasonable person—or a pathological liar—they're saying it because they don't know what they're talking about, but feel compelled to try to protect you. If you're set on a collaborative approach, they're giving bad advice. The language of "lawyer up" worries me, because it's suggesting an adversarial position—like you need to "board up" the windows before a storm, or "armor up" before going into battle. What you don't want to do is turn the end of your marriage into a legal battle, which hiring an aggressive lawyer, or taking that kind of instantly defensive attitude can cause. Better to get informed about the laws of your state and try working with your ex, if at all possible, in a collaborative manner. If you must go into a legal battle, that should be your last attempt, not your first.
About Our Panel:
Michael Stutman has more than 30 years of family law experience, handling both settlements and court trials. Michael is immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, New York Chapter. He is also a Fellow of the Academy and serves on its National Board of Governors. Michael is also the author of Divorce in New York: The Legal Process, Your Rights, and What to Expect (Addicus, 2013). You can contact him at: Michael@sasllaw.com
Naomi Cahn is the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School. She is the co-author, along with law professor June Carbone, of Marriage Markets: How Inequality Is Remaking the American Family (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (Oxford University Press, 2010) as well as the leading family law textbook Contemporary Family Law. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New Yorker. Find more at: law.gwu.edu.
Janice Green is a family law attorney who has been practicing in Austin, TX, for the past 35 years. She is the author of Divorce After 50: Your Guide to the Unique Legal & Financial Challenges (NOLO, 2013). She is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, and has been named to Best Lawyers in America, and as a Texas Monthly Super Lawyer. For the past 10 years, she’s focused exclusively on collaborative divorce. Find more at: janicelgreen.com.
Wendy Paris wrote Splitopia: Dispatches from Today's Good Divorce and How to Part Well while going through the first two years of her own divorce, a time period that she and her husband agreed would be the most difficult part of the process. She found that writing about a difficult experience can be a huge aid in coping.
And now, some legalese:
The information in this blog post is provided for general purposes only. It may not reflect the current law in your county and doesn’t replace legal advice. This post is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. No attorney-client relationship has been established by reading the post.