Where to find help
There’s all kinds of help out there for doing your own divorce, if you just know what to look for and how to use it.
riends, relatives and “common knowledge” are the worst and most expensive sources of advice. Use friends for moral support, but when they give you advice, just smile and say thank you, but do not take it seriously. If you didn’t get it from this Short Course or a family law specialist attorney in your state, don’t trust it! Just because you like or trust someone doesn’t make them right. And if you take bad advice, who pays the price? You do — perhaps for the rest of your life.
Paralegals. Divorce typing services, sometimes called “independent paralegals,” act as a typing and secretarial service for people doing their own divorces. You tell them exactly what you want and they type up the forms and handle the secretarial work.
We introduced this innovation in legal service in 1972 and independent paralegals have since changed the face of the legal map. They generally charge only a few hundred dollars for doing your basic paperwork. Paralegal services are available in most states, but not all, because some state bar organizations have successfully kept them out.
Although some paralegals are trained, no license, training or other qualifications are necessary — anyone can do it. You cannot get reliable legal advice from paralegals, nor can they safely prepare your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) unless you have a very simple case with little property.
There are many good paralegals out there, but you should be careful who you hire, just as when hiring a lawyer or a mechanic. Ask how long they have been in business and be sure to check their references. If you know exactly what you want and have no legal questions, no problems, and only a very simple MSA, then an experienced and reliable paralegal is a very good way to get your paperwork done.
Lawyers who specialize in divorce know a lot that could help you. You can frequently get a first interview for a fairly small fee or nothing, but too often they spend that time convincing you that you need them to handle your case. They may quote a modest-sounding amount for their retainer, but the final bill will almost certainly be much higher.
It would be nice if you could get help from an experienced attorney with a good attitude who does not want to be retained, but few attorneys will help you help yourself. This is a serious problem for millions of people each year, so we decided to do something about it.
For our fellow Californians, we created Divorce Helpline in 1989 to offer the kind of legal service that will really help. Divorce Helpline is a law firm of top-quality, experienced divorce attorneys who will help you with information, advice, problem-solving, drafting and paperwork — but we won’t represent you. We won’t drag your case into conflict.
We serve as your guide and assistant. Our attorneys are trained in mediation, communication and problem-solving. Unlike other attorneys, we will work with both spouses, if you like. Unlike other lawyers, we do not make more money if you have more trouble.
We serve all of California by phone, mail and fax. When you use Divorce Helpline, you are still doing your own divorce because the responsibility and control of the case stays in your hands.
Counselors and mediators. There are times when a third person (just the right third person) can really help with some well-chosen words of advice, another viewpoint, a new idea for how to handle a situation. When you can’t see the forest for the trees, you often get tangled up in tree roots — worse, you get lost. So maybe you should hire a guide.
In broad terms, two kinds of professionals can help — counselors and mediators. Either one can be extremely useful but the two activities are quite different.
Counselors. The goal of individual counseling is mental health and emotional growth. A counselor can help you understand and accept yourself and also to make constructive changes. Counseling can be very practical and goal-oriented or it can be directed toward therapy and personal transformation.
Couples counseling is practical and oriented toward mutual understanding and better communications. This is great stuff if you want to work out an agreement or work on better co-parenting.
To get help from a counselor, you have to want it and be ready, willing, and able to accept it. One person can get help from counseling, but to mediate, you both have to want to do it.
Mediators. The goal of mediation is specifically to reach an agreement. A less common but useful goal is to bring some order to your disagreements; to narrow and sharpen the issues so if a conflict can’t be avoided, it can at least be limited to real issues. This makes any subsequent legal contest more efficient and less expensive.
A mediator is an objective, neutral person who specializes in conflict resolution and negotiation. A good mediator knows how to control upset, calm fears, equalize the bargaining power, and keep you focused on needs and interests. A mediator can help you get unstuck by shedding new light and bringing in new ideas and options.
In order to mediate, both spouses have to be willing to make full disclosure of all facts. You have to trust that your spouse will not be lying or concealing anything important. One of the few disadvantages of mediation compared to court battle is that information cannot be taken under oath.
Mediators are usually lawyers or family counselors. A family law attorney who is also trained in mediation is ideal but any mediator with extensive training in family law can do the job. Your mediator has to be able to deal with the whole divorce and all the legal and emotional issues at one time.
A counselor might tend to be better at working with emotional issues and bad communication habits — the real causes of conflict. Lawyer-mediators will probably know more about laws, likely outcomes of cases, and legal aspects of settlement agreements. Lawyers will usually tend to be more practical, more businesslike.
Team mediation is very effective although more expensive. It uses two mediators, usually a male and a female, one a lawyer and the other a counselor. This way all role models are covered, and a richer, safer environment is created for problem-solving.
For more information, contact Divorce Helpline at 800-359-7004