As a family law attorney, one of the most common questions I get asked from my friends and family is, “Do you have to have an attorney for a divorce or custody case?” And the answer is: it depends! Part of answering this question is to help people understand that lawyers can assist you in a number of different ways.
Most people envision hiring an attorney to represent them in a very litigious context. Hiring your own attorney to represent your position in court as your zealous advocate is an option, but what many people do not know is that an attorney can also assist you and your ex as a neutral mediator or settlement facilitator whose job it is to support the parties in reaching an agreement and drafting the appropriate case filings. This is often a great place to start. Alternatively, you may choose to hire an attorney in a limited capacity to consult with you briefly or answer questions about pleadings, but not represent you in the case itself. This is a great option if you want to represent yourself in court (the term for this is pro se) and have questions about the legal process in general or specific questions about how certain assets, debts, or custody issues should be handled.
Court pleadings and procedures can be confusing and daunting for folks who are not used to the process, so having an attorney involved in your case in some capacity can save you a lot of stress, time, and money. Making errors in pro se pleadings can cause people significant problems when they are discovered in the future. But a good attorney will help you avoid or mitigate contentious and costly litigation if that is your goal.
If you are going to tackle a divorce or custody case without an attorney in New Mexico, the courts have resources available for people online. Check out the self-help information on the NM courts website. This website also includes important resources if you are a victim of domestic violence.
Here are some additional tips you want to consider if you are going to represent yourself:
- Be more thorough than you think you need to be in your pleadings
- List all assets and debts in your Marital Settlement Agreement even if they’re separate or not being divided
- Parenting Plan: This is your plan for when you and your co-parent disagree— details will save you money!
- Make a plan in your documents for how to handle disagreements
Finally, if you have questions about your case remember – it can actually save you money, in the long run, to get good advice at the beginning of a case.