Technically, anyone can file legal paperwork, get divorced, or make child custody or financial support decisions without a family lawyer. Realistically, that’s not a good idea. As a result of DIY legal aid, I’ve seen clients who made legal decisions that haunted them for years or decades before they hired a family law professional who created a better way forward.
Most family law attorneys offer free consultations and I highly recommend taking advantage of those. In just 30-minutes or less, complimentary family law consultations establish whether or not you need a lawyer.
6 Signs You Should Hire a Family Lawyer
Here are 6 of the most typical signs or scenarios indicating you need a family lawyer, rather than using a paralegal or trying to do things on your own.
You’re planning to get married
Family lawyers offer Pre-Marital Legal Counseling, and it’s one of my favorite consults of all. Some of the most common reasons for divorce become nonissues by meeting with a lawyer before ever saying, “I do.” At these meetings, we help couples determine:
- How marriage affects their legal rights and responsibilities
- Whether they need a pre-nuptial
- How individual financial picture will impact the marriage
It’s incredible how many couples have never thought deeply about – or conversed deeply about – what marriage will mean in the long term, besides the obvious themes of love, partnership, and family building.
You worry divorce is on the horizon
Marriage and family therapy is considered a no-brainer for couples struggling to get along. Pre-Divorce Legal Counseling is equally as important. You’d be surprised what can emerge when individuals and couples speak with a legal representative. Common myths or beliefs about what does or does not happen during divorce and child custody, the division of real estate/assets, etc., are teased out and cleaned up.
These meetings may steer you toward a more affordable and peaceful divorce mediation process rather than an angry or bitter battle in the courtroom. Pre-divorce legal counseling can save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.
You want to establish healthy child custody and co-parenting agreements
Whether you are married or not, all of the research shows that children in split-parent households fare best when their lives are as consistent and predictable as possible. As parents, it’s your responsibility to find a cooperative way forward to support your children’s wellbeing.
Meeting with a family lawyer is a way to learn what works and what doesn’t for other families and can establish reasonable child custody, visitation, and co-parenting agreements for your family.
You want to avoid the family law courtroom
California divorce and child custody laws are relatively black-and-white. Things like community property laws, prenuptial agreements, and state-established child custody premises based on child welfare research mean a judge already knows what his/her decision is in regards to your case. When hurt feelings, blame, resentment, and revenge enter the picture, very straightforward divorce and child custody cases can bleed days, weeks, months, and even years of time, energy, and money.
Family mediation is the way to go whenever possible. Family lawyers offering divorce mediation serve as completely neutral parties. We let you know how a judge is most likely to decide on topics where you are stuck, disagree, or feel entitled to something different. From there, you can make informed decisions while saving hundreds to thousands of dollars in legal and courtroom fees.
Visit our post on Preparing and Organizing Your Divorce Mediation List to learn more about what we discuss during those sessions. I also recommend reading Why Divorce Mediation is the Best Way to Handle Child Custody if you have children.
You are deciding whether or not to file a pre-nuptial agreement
Pre-nuptial agreements have a bad rap because people focus on the idea that a couple is already thinking about divorce before getting married. Others who oppose prenups cite that couples should love and trust each other enough to know they will navigate the unpredictable future with mutual respect.
While both of these sound true on paper, we’ve all watched good-hearted, intelligent people we love, become different people during an ugly divorce. Emotional triggers are powerful, and they cause us to think, act, and speak in ways we can’t imagine in a centered and content moment. A pre-nuptial agreement is a sound way for couples to rationally determine what makes the most sense should a worst-case scenario rise up and for families to protect their estates.
Visit our post, The Good and Bad of Pre-Nuptial Agreements, to learn more about the pros and cons.
Child endangerment cases
If your child is endangered by his/her other parent or immediate family members, schedule a consultation with a family lawyer. While you can file restraining orders and take specific actions on your own, it is always better to have a legal professional’s support and representation so you can act swiftly, within the law, and in your child’s best interest.
We recommend retaining a child custody lawyer if/when:
- A child is emotionally or physically abused
- You feel you need a restraining order
- The parent has threatened to kidnap or has kidnapped your child
- You’re divorcing or creating a child custody/visitation agreement with a parent who has a history of violence toward yourself or the child
Do one of these signs ring true for you? My name is Gerard Falzone, and I’ve served as a family lawyer in the Bay Area for nearly 40 years. I support my clients in finding swift, cooperative, and affordable solutions whenever possible. Contact my office to schedule your free, no-obligation family law consultation. (510) 521-9500.