To some litigants in divorce proceedings, it is tempting to believe that as long as you have the truth on your side, it is not necessary to hire a divorce lawyer to represent your interests. A litigant might be well educated, articulate and armed with a list of favorable facts supporting his interests. He may be confident that he can convincingly argue to a judge why he would make a better custodial parent and why due to his marital contribution he deserves the lion's share of the marital property. After all, who can possibly know and explain facts about his marriage better than he does?
Sadly, many litigants who make the choice represent to represent themselves ("pro se litigants") fare poorly in divorce court. Part of the reason is that pro se litigants often do not realize how much extra skill and effort goes into divorce litigation besides merely telling one's story to a judge.
In fact, the majority of divorce cases in Illinois settle before a judge even has the opportunity to decide the parties' fates. The settlement phase is a step in divorce proceedings that is heavily impacted by the input of a good attorney. A good lawyer comes to a negotiation with a wealth of background knowledge. She is aware of the decision making process of the particular judge assigned to the case, as well as the factors that have influenced other judges in similar cases in that jurisdiction. She knows the legal steps she must take to discover potentially harmful information about the other party. Once she has background information, she knows what elements of each person's situation she needs to emphasize in order to negotiate the most favorable property distribution or child custody result.
Contributions of a Divorce Attorney
Perhaps one of the most valuable contributions a divorce lawyer makes is knowing what sort of information to include in a settlement. There are a plethora of variables to think about and rights to protect in a settlement agreement that can have dire consequences if they go unaddressed. For example, a good lawyer knows to address mortgage and debt refinancing for the spouse who lives in the marital home, provisions for stopping maintenance when another partner comes into the picture, and any joint requirements regarding the responsibility of paying for college tuition in a child support agreement.
A second place where a good divorce attorney may be able to help you is at the very beginning of divorce proceedings. She can counsel you and help you arrange for supporting yourself throughout the litigation. She can also help you freeze or otherwise protect jointly held financial assets during the pendency of divorce proceedings.
What Can Someone Do Who Cannot Afford a Divorce Attorney?
One appealing solution to this problem is to find an attorney who specializes in limited scope representation. Limited Scope Representation (LSR) is a means of hiring a divorce lawyer to work with you on only a portion of your divorce case. In the usual full service representation arrangement, the litigant relies on the attorney to handle all aspects of the case including filing necessary paperwork and making the case move forward through legal motions.
In LSR, a litigant essentially works pro se for much of the legal proceedings but may hire an attorney to represent him during certain aspects of a case, typically those that require more legal skill. For example, a litigant may want to hire an attorney to represent him at a hearing, review a proposed settlement agreement or draft a legal pleading about a narrow issue. The Illinois bar association recently changed its professional rules of conduct to allow for LSR, in part because it would enable middle class litigants who do not qualify for legal aid to obtain legal guidance, which can be crucial to the success of their case.
Contact an Attorney Today
The experienced attorneys at Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. have worked with clients in LRS arrangements in cases throughout DuPage County and Chicagoland. Contact our office or call (630) 472- 9700 to see if an LSR arrangement with one of our divorce attorneys could be right for you.