Do you need an Arizona divorce or family law attorney?
If you are thinking about legal separation, divorce, annulment, or child custody/support establishment in Arizona, you may wonder whether it is absolutely necessary to hire an attorney. After all, legal representation is a significant expense. The reality is that you are always better off with legal representation, or at least legal advice, from an experienced, knowledgeable family law attorney. But if finances are an issue, you may be able to dissolve your own marriage or handle other family legal matters without any legal representation.
When it makes sense to go it alone
The key consideration in deciding whether to hire a family law attorney is whether you have the time or patience required to get up to speed on the laws and rules, familiarize yourself with the court forms, fill them out, gather the required attachments, and file them with the court. It is no small task. But as long as you can read English, you probably can follow the step-by-step instructions provided with the forms, which are available either online or at self-help centers at Arizona county Superior courthouses. If the matter is simple and the other party is cooperative, you may be able to save hundreds or thousands of dollars by proceeding without an attorney.
When you need an Arizona family law attorney
Unfortunately, legal matters that begin simple can escalate quickly for reasons beyond your control. Your case may become contested, meaning you are forced to go to trial. This is when you definitely need a lawyer. It is almost never a good idea to represent yourself in an Arizona court, especially at an evidentiary hearing or trial. You have too much at stake to enter a playing field that is tilted heavily against you.
You definitely should hire a lawyer if:
- The other party has hired a lawyer.
- You and the other party cannot agree on everything or, worse yet, cannot even have a civil conversation.
- One or more minor children are involved, and you and the other parent disagree over how to split parenting time or come up with a workable schedule for regular time, holidays, and special days.
- The matter involves unique or complex legal issues, such as new or emerging areas of the law. Same-sex parenting issues are one example.
- You have a highly complicated set of circumstances, such as ownership of a family business, a professional firm, multiple business concerns, or pieces of real estate in multiple states.
Even if you cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent you from start to finish, there are less expensive alternatives. For example, the State Bar of Arizona recently began recognizing limited-scope representation, which means hiring an attorney to handle some aspects of your legal matter but not others. For example, you might hire a lawyer only to appear on your behalf in court. Or only at trial. Or instead the lawyer could simply help you behind the scenes to apply the law to your particular set of facts, advise you on the best course of action, or help ensure that you do not overlook any important deadlines or steps in the process.
Another alternative is hiring a paralegal or legal document preparer to assist you. But keep in mind that he or she is not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice without getting into a great deal of trouble with the State Bar of Arizona.
Things to keep in mind
Always keep in mind that you usually get what you pay for. This does not necessarily mean that the most expensive attorney is the best one. He or she may simply be better than others at marketing or have been practicing long enough to build a vast referral network. At the same time, an attorney advertising a free initial consultation or low flat fee may not be the best choice for you. Sometimes the most expensive aspects of legal representation are hidden beyond the asterisk and in the fine print. The old adage applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Be sure to check around and compare rates, fee structures, and philosophies before meeting with or hiring a family law attorney. During the initial consultation, try to get a feel for how well you and the attorney would get along, how honest and straightforward he or she appears to be, how likely he or she would be to use your money as efficiently and economically as possible, and how experienced and knowledgeable he or she is with cases like yours. If the attorney meets these criteria, he or she probably is worth every penny.
One other consideration: Most people do not anticipate having legal needs, much less save up for them. But even if you do not think you currently have enough money for an attorney, you might be surprised at the options that are available if you take a deep breath and consider them. Family or friends might be willing to help. A bank or credit union might be willing to give you a signature loan. You might be able to get a credit card with a low introductory interest rate.
No one likes to ask for money or go into debt. But consider how much the legal outcome means to you and your family, and then think of ways to make it possible to get the level of legal representation you need.
Disclaimer: This legal guide provides general information, not legal advice that can be applied to any specific matter. It does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
I hired Ms. Bundy for my divorce case, after meeting and consulting with 4 other attorneys/ law firms in the valley. She handled the entire matter for me, and everything went as smoothly as possible for a divorce. I am happy with the outcome, and recommend her services.
[S]he has kept us informed on what to expect and has always asked for our input so she knows what we want before moving forward.
Joan Bundy thoroughly investigated my case and always had time to listen to and address my concerns. She is and has been very organized and keeps up to date with details regarding my case. She also has taken swift action when it has been necessary.
I initially talked with another firm (a large family practice here in Phoenix) and I just did not get the warm and fuzzy feeling that they were going to do everything I required. Joan certainly did and I am so glad I hired Joan for my issues.
I hired Joan to handle my divorce. Although the process itself was difficult, Joan made it much easier. She handled my case with compassion and professionalism.