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Do I really need to hire an attorney?

The information below can be applied to any type of case, but for this post, our main focus will be on family law matters.

"I'm getting a divorce, but I still get along alright with my spouse, do I really need to hire an attorney?" This is one of the most commonly asked questions by individuals seeking to divorce, establish paternity, or modify their prior decree of dissolution or paternity. The short answer to the question is "No," you don't need to hire an attorney. Iowa law does not require a person to be represented by counsel; however, like many things, just because you can doesn't necessarily mean you should. Here are some questions to ask yourself which will hopefully help you answer this question.

1) Do you know the law? A competent attorney will listen to you, understand the facts of your case and advise you as to the possible outcomes based on the applicable legal principals as applied to your case. If you don't know the law it's hard to know what you can reasonably expect under your own particular facts and circumstances. If you don't have a sound grasp of the law, how will you know what to ask for or how to claim what the other sides wants is unreasonable?

2) If the answer to question #1 is "No," then do you have sufficient time to teach yourself the law? Do you know how to find the applicable law? Attorneys use a myriad of resources to gather the applicable law, not all of those resources are easily accessed by non-lawyers. Additionally, most attorneys spend three years and multiple hours a day learning how, amongst other things, to find and apply the law. Most people don't have the time or energy required to put together a solid case for themselves.

3) On sensitive issues such as custody of children or establishment of support obligations, will you be able to set aside your own emotional baggage? There's an old saying that a lawyer is always the coolest head in the room. One reason people hire attorneys is because they recognize that they are too emotionally invested in their own case; if the case involves children, substantial property division, child support, or spousal support, will you be able to address those issues in a dispassionate manner? Can you question witnesses, including people you thought cared about you, in a professional manner or will you want to argue with them-something most Judges won't tolerate for long?

4) How complex is your case? Generally, dissolving a short term marriage with no kids or joint property/debts is easier than dissolving a long term marriage with kids, property and debt.

5) How do you feel about public speaking including presenting, explaining, and at times defending your own proposals? A competent attorney is able to present, in a reasonably coherent fashion, an oral presentation of the facts they believe support whatever goals their client seeks to accomplish. They can also effectively question the other side and try to show why their goals are not reasonable or attainable. Most people fear only death more than public speaking-is this you?

6) Perhaps most importantly, will your spouse hire an attorney? If that answer is yes, do you want to take on a professional on their home turf? Would you challenge your mechanic to a contest to see who can better maintain your car? In speaking with clients who chose to represent themselves in a case against another attorney most felt they were at some disadvantage.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein is for educational or informational purposes only. It is NOT intended to serve as legal advice. The facts and circumstances in any one individual case may result in a different result than what is suggested here. Prior to signing ANY legal document the reader is strongly advised to consult with an attorney of their own choosing.

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