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Do I Need An Attorney?

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By: Jack W. Abel
Managing Partner, Abel & Zocolo Co., L.P.A.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is “my spouse has filed for a divorce, do I need a lawyer?” THE ANSWER IN ALL CASES IS AN EMPHATIC YES. Simply stated, and with the exception of a criminal prosecution, a divorce will have perhaps the greatest impact of any legal proceeding on your present and future life. Setting aside matters of property division, keep in mind that a divorce is rarely concluded at the time of the final hearing. Matters of custody, child support and visitation may in fact keep your divorce alive for years to come. Improperly drafted agreements, or agreements entered into without the assistance of a qualified attorney may save you a few dollars in the short run but more often than not will cost you considerable dollars in the long run.By way of example, a client recently consulted me regarding his right to take one of his minor children as a dependent on his income tax return. The IRS had audited him and denied the exemption. Although at the time of the divorce his wife was agreeable to such an arrangement my client failed to get an attorney and consequently, the appropriate language was never written into the final divorce papers. Although we were ultimately able to resolve the problem with the Internal Revenue Service, the amount he had to pay me was at least triple what it would have cost him had he seen an attorney in the first instance, not to mention the increased time and aggravation that he had to spend to have the matter resolved. Another example was a wife who frantically called me several months following her “no fault” divorce. Neither side had hired an attorney. I shortly discovered that  “her” car had been taken and sold to pay off a debt of her former husband. Checking further, I discovered that although both parties fully agreed that it was the wife’s car, there was no provision in their Agreement that transferred the car to her and that it was still titled to the husband at the time it was taken. Unfortunately, there was nothing more that I could do than to sue the husband for the cost of a replacement car. Again, aggravating, expensive and above all avoidable.

The need for competent legal assistance is even greater if you are about to commence a divorce, or a divorce proceeding is imminent. Apart from the procedural problems in physically filing for divorce, a prompt consultation with an attorney when a divorce is imminent may prevent the problem of “seize and run” whereby one spouse in an effort to gain the upper hand by systematically draining checking and savings accounts or by removing your prized big screen TV. Although an accounting of and a return of the property removed may be required by the Court, the sad fact is that the person who has helped himself or herself may have the upper hand in a divorce. As the old adage says: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Finally, it is only common sense to trust your case to an expert. Certainly, you would not trust your electrician to perform open-heart surgery. Do not trust your divorce to an amateur. A divorce has many dangers and a botched job could have equally devastating effects on both you and your children.

Jack W. Abel is the former chairman of the Family Law Section of the Cleveland Bar Association. He is a mentor for the Ohio Supreme Court Mentoring Project, a former Guardian ad Litem for the Court and focuses on all family law matters including divorce, custody, juvenile and paternity matters.

This article is intended for educational purposes only. It is not to be construed as legal advice. Contact a licensed attorney for legal advice.

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