Do I Need A Lawyer For A Divorce?

One question that often arises when I meet with clients during a divorce case is whether they really need a lawyer.

The short answer is that the law does not require a person to use a lawyer. But individuals who do not use a lawyer are taking a great risk. The issues in a family law case are often very complex and individuals who do not have a lawyer will be expected to know the law and court rules as if they were represented by a lawyer. We recommend that people seek the advice of a lawyer even if they do not retain a lawyer to represent them in their case.

As lawyers, it is our job to inform people of their rights and obligations. We do not make decisions for our clients. We help them make smart, informed decisions. When couples separate, they have to deal with some of the most important issues in their lives at a time when they are most vulnerable. They are making decisions about their children, dividing up the property they spent their whole lives accumulating and making decisions that they may have to live with for a long time, perhaps even the rest of their lives.

We often see people who first try to handle their divorce and issues surrounding their separation on their own. They come to see us because they regret how things turned out and they want us to change the situation. Invariably, it is much more difficult and expensive to go back and try to change the situation than it would have been to do it right the first time. Also, when parties are entering into a separation agreement, they are expecting the agreement to be a contract upon which they can rely, a contract that will govern their lives post-separation and post-divorce, a contact upon which they will be making future financial decisions.

But, separation agreements are a special kind of contract, and though it is difficult, the court can set them aside. One of the reasons why the court may do so is because one of the parties to the contract did not have a lawyer to provide them with independent legal advice. They didn’t have a lawyer explain what they’re entitled to, what their rights are, and because of that they entered into a bad agreement. For that reason and because of the special nature of a separation agreement, the court may be willing to set it aside. That is another reason why people may want to use a lawyer. People may think they can save some money up front, but the consequences of not doing so can be expensive and very serious.

When people are separating, it’s usually because there is a problem in the relationship and they are not getting along very well. And when that happens, they’re really in a vulnerable position. The parties don’t necessarily have the objective view that they need to make the long-term plans and decisions that are going to affect the rest of their lives. They don’t necessarily know what they may be entitled to or whether they are entering into a bad deal with bad consequences that are going to flow from it. It is difficult and costly to change after the fact and they may find themselves in a much worse position later and be looking for a lawyer to help get them out of it.

If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with family law issues in York Region, Durham Region or Toronto, contact Feldstein Family Law Group for a consultation.

This article is taken from a November 14, 2008 interview with Michael Wilson, Family Lawyer with Feldstein Family Law Group, a Toronto Ontario Family Law Firm. Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.