What is a Divorce Lawyer and When Do You Need One?

A divorce lawyer is technically any attorney who handles divorces. However, the level of experience and expertise can vary greatly. When looking for a divorce attorney, be sure to seek someone with years of experience handling complex divorces. You also are best served by finding an attorney who focuses their practice only on matrimonial and family law matters because they will have the most experience.

There are a wide variety of situations in which you need the services of a divorce attorney:

  1. You are thinking about getting a divorce. Before you do anything, it is a wise idea to consult a divorce lawyer who can explain how the divorce process works and give you some expectations for the outcome you can expect in your case. The attorney can advise you about things you should do before filing for divorce to optimize your position, protect your assets, position you as the custodial parent, and possibly give you the upper hand in the forthcoming divorce.

  2. Your spouse has filed for divorce or has told you they are going to. Whether you want the divorce or not, it is important that you see a divorce attorney so that you can understand your rights and start to plan for how to protect yourself.

  3. You are married and are currently in mediation to try to resolve your divorce. Although mediation is a process that allows you and your spouse to negotiate with each other and resolve all of the issues in your divorce, everyone engaged in mediation must have an attorney. Your divorce attorney explains your legal rights and what kind of result you could expect should you take your case to court. They also approve your settlement and file it with the court to finalize the divorce.

  4. You are married and would like an annulment. If you are married and believe your marriage was never valid, if you never consummated the marriage, or if you were coerced or tricked into marriage, an annulment is an option. A divorce attorney can help you understand the rules in your state and explain how the process works. Divorce attorneys do not handle religious annulments – those must be handled within your religious institution.

  5. You are divorced and your ex-spouse has not fulfilled their obligations under the court order. A divorce lawyer can seek enforcement and penalties for violating orders about child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, and domestic violence.

  6. You are divorced and your spouse says you did not fulfill your obligations. If your spouse is suing you for enforcement and violation of child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, or domestic violence, you need representation by a divorce attorney.

  7. You are divorced and would like to modify your court order. You can seek to modify or change the existing court order for child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, or domestic violence by returning to court. Your divorce attorney can help you understand when you qualify for modification and what a reasonable modification is.

  8. You are divorced and your ex-spouse wants to modify your court order. A divorce attorney will represent you in this matter and make sure your rights are protected.

  9. You are thinking about getting married or engaged to be married. It might seem counterintuitive to see a divorce lawyer before you’re even married, but if you plan to get married, it is very important that you and your partner sign a prenuptial agreement. This allows you to specify what will happen to your assets and debts should the marriage ends. It also can include a section about spousal support, determining what kinds of payments will be required in the event of a divorce.

    Some people feel that planning for a divorce before they are even married feels fatalistic, but just as you have insurance for your car, home, or business, you need insurance should something happen to your marriage. A prenuptial agreement provides that peace of mind, creating a plan that will avoid conflict and litigation if your marriage does not survive.

  10. You are happily married and your financial situation has changed since you got married. It’s not uncommon for people who marry young to become successful later in their marriage, creating a lot of wealth that was not present at the inception of the marriage. If you experience a change in financial status during your marriage, a postnuptial agreement is a document you need.

    Similar to a prenuptial agreement, it determines how your assets and debts are divided in case of a divorce and sets out spousal support payments. Even if you already have a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement is recommended if there has been a significant change in wealth since it was executed.

  11. You are unmarried and breaking up with your partner with whom you share children. Divorce lawyers don’t just handle divorce. They also handle family court matters. If you and your partner are ending your relationship and you have children, a divorce attorney can help you work out a custody and visitation plan (also called a parenting plan). If something cannot be negotiated, a divorce lawyer can take the case to family court for you.

  12. You are unmarried and are seeking child support, or the other parent of your children is seeking spousal support. A divorce attorney will handle this case for you and make sure that your rights are completely protected and enforced.

  13. You are experiencing domestic violence. Domestic violence includes mental, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and can occur even when you are not living with someone. If you are the victim of this kind of behavior, a divorce attorney can file a case in family court and ensure you get the protection you need.

  14. You have been accused of domestic violence. A divorce lawyer can defend you in this type of case and ensure that your rights are protected.

  15. You are unmarried and your or your ex-partner wants to modify your family court order. If you have an existing court order for child custody, child support, or domestic violence and one of you is seeking to modify it, you will need to go to family court. A divorce lawyer can represent you in the case and protect your rights.


Naomi Schanfield

Naomi Schanfield concentrates on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, equitable distribution, child custody and visitation, support matters, family offense disputes, and domestic violence.

To connect with Naomi: 212.682.6222 | Online

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