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Why even an amiable divorce needs an attorney

It seems to make sense: You and your spouse agree that your marriage is over and you believe that you can handle an amicable split on your own--saving you a bundle in attorney's fees. Neither of you thinks it makes sense to involve a lawyer when you can file the paperwork on your own.

There's no argument on who gets what, so why shouldn't this be an easy proposition? Can a cooperating couple really complete a divorce on their own? Yes. Should they? Probably not.

A lawyer is there to protect you

We have all heard about attorneys who drag the case on and on--and seemingly, the only gain is the lawyer's bank account. While it is true that there are some attorneys who like to fight, the majority do not.

They realize you have worked very hard to establish your assets, and you do not want to waste any of them as you move forward. They know, too, what many people don't: Their job is to protect your interests in your case and help you move forward to the best possible outcome. They provide legal advice so that you are assured of having fewer, if any, problems with your divorce.

What kind of problems?

You might wonder what problems would possibly come up that could upend the agreements you've made, but there are many decisions that simply should not be made without legal advice.

For example, many individuals waive spousal maintenance in lieu of claiming Social Security retirement benefits on their former spouse's account. It sounds good in theory, but the fact is that your former spouse cannot grant you access to their Social Security benefits. Only the law can.

If you were married more than 10 years, you are eligible to benefits based on your spouse's record, whether your spouse wants you to collect them or not. Without that knowledge, you may have just waived several years worth of alimony.

Other issues?

Anything from non-marital property (is your spouse actually entitled to money you've had in a separate account since you were 19?), to custody agreements (does your parenting plan follow state law?) can have you back in court, spending the money on attorneys that you were trying to save.

Knowing the law, and how it will affect your choices and your future, is what a good attorney does. Collaborative attorneys do exist. Consult with one before you risk saving money in the short run only to have to spend it in the long run. You may be surprised how easy--and economical--an attorney can actually be.

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