You don’t need to have a lawyer to get a divorce. Lawyers are expensive and cost may be a barrier for you. However, family law is complex and even if you are going to represent yourself, it is a good idea to have a legal expert – a lawyer – provide assistance. The information below will help you understand ways that you may be able to hire a lawyer to work with you in a way that meets your needs and budget.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
Yes. Even if you are going to represent yourself, a lawyer can provide expert guidance that can make a big difference in the outcomes of your case. Family law cases involve important decisions that will impact the rest of your life. When it comes to parenting issues, support and property division, it is important to understand your legal rights and options.
A lawyer can do more than just represent you in court. A lawyer can help guide through separation and divorce, supporting you through what can be a very difficult time in your life. They can explain how complex legal issues and help you understand how law and case law can apply to your situation.
A lawyer is on your side. Their job is to make sure that your interests are represented and expressed. They will explain what your rights are and can identify where you may have risk. You can be completely honest with your lawyer, which can be a great relief.
Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, but not hiring a lawyer may ultimately cost more. You need to consider your budget and how much you can afford for legal services. In BC, lawyer rates usually start around $250 per hour and can be much higher than that. It is also important to consider the complexity of your case. The more you and your former spouse can agree, the less you will have to pay in lawyer fees. A complex divorce can cost each party over $50,000.
To learn more about how to hire a lawyer that fits your budget, see the next section on “Unbundled legal services”.
Unbundled Legal Services
Many lawyers offer “unbundled” legal services. This allows you to use a lawyer for some parts of your case and do other parts yourself. Unbundled family law lawyers provide a range of services that you can choose from a-la-carte. Most provide fixed fee pricing, so that you know what you are going to get for the fee you will be charged.
Unbundled legal services help support you to move your case forward, providing expert opinion that can assist you at various steps of the process. For example, you might hire a lawyer to draft your Notice of Family Claim, but choose to represent yourself through the judicial case conference process.
If you choose unbundled legal services, be sure to talk to your lawyer about your budget. Discuss how best to use the funds you have available. Also keep in mind that things may not go smoothly with your former spouse. Try to keep some money available just in case you need more legal advice before your case is completely concluded.
Collaborative Family Lawyers
Another way to save money on lawyer fees is for you and your former spouse to both hire collaborative family lawyers. The goal of collaborative family lawyers is to settle your case fairly, without having a trial. The lawyers are hired to reach a settlement, not to go to court. The two of you and your lawyers all sign an agreement promising to work together to find acceptable solutions. To learn more, visit the BC Collaborative Roster Society.
Legal Aid Lawyers
Legal Aid BC provides free legal services to people with low incomes. They may provide legal information, advice and representation for certain legal issues. They will only provide representation in family cases that involve serious issues usually where safety is at risk. To learn more, visit Legal Aid BC.
Choosing a Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer is a big decision. Having a good lawyer that you trust can make a big difference on how your case moves forward. It is important to select the lawyer who is the right fit for you – based on your budget and your personal preference. It is also important that you ensure they provide the type of service you are looking for: full service, unbundled services, collaborative lawyer, etc.
It’s a good idea to meet with more than one lawyer. Provide an outline of your family law case, along with specific legal issues or questions that you have prepared. Also, be prepared to talk about your budget and ask about their billing practices. Treat these meetings like job interviews, where you are trying to discover who can do the best job for you.
You can check whether a lawyer has been subject to Law Society discipline by looking them up in the BC Law Society’s Lawyer Directory. You can search by the lawyer’s last name, how long they have been called to the bar in British Columbia, and if there is a record of them being disciplined by the Law Society you can find out more details.
Before your meet with a lawyer, or talk to a lawyer on the phone, complete the Family Law Information Worksheet. This worksheet provides the key information a lawyer will want to know about your case. Also, if you have specific questions, be sure to write these down before the meeting.