Hiring a Divorce Attorney: Common Questions
1. “Do I have to have an Attorney?”
The short answer to this question is No. One of the great things about America is that you can be your own lawyer. This may sound obvious, but it’s not.
Think about it. You can’t be your own doctor. Even if you think that you know what medicine you need, if it requires a prescription, you cannot decide for yourself. If you want to take the medicine, you can’t just go get it and take it.
That is not the case with the Law. You do not have to hire an attorney. You can represent yourself in your Divorce, Child Custody, or other Family Law case. Whether you should represent yourself is a totally different question.
A popular Judge once talked to a person in his court about representing herself. He said, “You can, but you will probably find out that it’s like trying to do your own surgery. There is a good chance that you’ll get in the middle of it and realize that you should have never tried to do it yourself and have a big mess on your hands.”
Some people do represent themselves and do a good job. Others realize later that they should have gotten professional help from the beginning.
2. “What is the difference between an ‘Attorney’ and a ‘Lawyer’?”
Nothing. The two words are interchangeable, as used in this article and on this website. There are some uses for the word Attorney in our legal system that are not appropriate for the word lawyer. Still, when it comes to issues of hiring a Divorce Lawyer or Divorce Attorney, they both mean the same thing.
3. “Do I have to have a Divorce Attorney or a Family Law Attorney?”
All attorneys licensed by the State of Texas to practice Law are free to practice in any area of the Law. Lawyers do not get their licenses for a particular area of the Law or a particular geographic area.
Every licensed Attorney in the State of Texas could theoretically handle a divorce. But many attorneys that want to handle primarily Divorce or Family Law work will refer to themselves as a “Divorce Attorney” or “Divorce Lawyer.”
By rule, attorneys are not to take on representation for which they are not qualified. So, if an attorney states that he or she is available to be hired in a divorce case, they are representing that they believe they are competent to handle the case.
4. “Can my spouse and I share an Attorney?”
No, both parties cannot use the same Attorney for representation. It is true that neither party has to have an attorney. It is also true that it is okay for there to only be one divorce attorney involved in the case. But, that one divorce attorney can only legally advise one of the two parties.
The same lawyer cannot give advice to both sides of the Divorce. Giving advice is representation, and it is absolutely against the rules for one lawyer to represent both sides of any litigation, Divorce, or otherwise.
If there is any question of who the Attorney represents, the quickest way to find out is to look at the signature block on any pleading.
A pleading is a type of document filed in a case. It may be labeled as a Petition or Answer or something similar. Toward the end of any pleading, the filing attorney must sign their name. Below that, it should state, “Attorney for Petitioner” or “Attorney for Respondent.” Although, there is a chance that it will have a party’s name rather than the designation Petitioner or Respondent.
If you are not sure who you are in a case, look at the front page of the pleading. It will have what is known as the “Style” of the case. It will say something like, “In the Matter of the Marriage of John Doe and Sally Doe.” Whoever’s name is listed first should be the Petitioner.
5. “What is a Board Certified Attorney?”
A Board Certified Attorney is one that has met certain criteria and applied to take a test and be certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. There is no such thing as being “Board Certified in Divorce” or “Board Certified in Child Custody.”
Both Divorce and Child Custody are areas within the substantive area of the Law known as “Family Law.” So, the Board of Legal Specialization has provided that an attorney can get Board Certified in Family Law, if they have practiced for a certain number of years, get certain recommendations, have practiced a certain amount of Family Law, including Divorce and Child Custody work, and pass a test.
6. “Can I hire a Divorce Attorney later, if I didn’t start with one?”
Yes, even if you do not hire an attorney at the outset of your case, you can retain one once you are in it. Again, you may realize that you would have been better off hiring an attorney at the beginning, but you may not.
It may be that your case begins very amicably, but you realize at some point that you are being asked to sign things that you don’t understand.
Before signing anything, many people choose to get an experienced attorney to look over the paperwork.
With Divorce, like many things in life, sometimes that issue is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If you get to a point in a case that you are handling yourself where you need help, it’s always better to at least ask for help and see if you can find some that you are comfortable with.
7. “Can I hire a Divorce Attorney to handle just a part of my case?”
Divorce Attorneys sometimes just handle a part of a divorce. Occasionally when only one party is represented throughout most of the case, the other party will hire a lawyer to look over the paperwork before signing.
There are other times when a lawyer may be used to get through a particularly rough beginning phase of a case, and then not kept on-board for the remainder of the case. That would be unusual, but it can be done. Even then, though, it could be best to have an attorney look over any paperwork that is being used to finalize the case before signature.