Navigating the emotional and often complex process of divorce can be challenging. Your needs for support and guidance may differ from others you know who have been through a divorce. There is no single approach that’s better than others, but you do have several options for consideration.
The most widely discussed options are the traditional route of hiring an attorney for full representation, or using a mediator to help negotiate terms. One additional option that doesn’t get as much attention as the others is hiring a consulting attorney – and it can be a very useful approach in the right circumstances.
What is a Consulting Attorney?
A consulting attorney provides legal guidance without taking over the entire case as they would if providing full representation. This allows you to remain in control of your divorce process while also benefiting from professional advice.
When you retain an attorney for all purposes, they are sometimes obligated to take action on your behalf. These costs can add up. When you retain a consulting attorney, the responsibility to take those actions will generally remain with you. The consulting attorney may answer questions and provide advice at your request and may not handle all parts of your divorce.
A consulting attorney is also different from a mediator as they do not have to be a neutral party. They can advise you on what legal actions to take and how to best represent yourself in court.
Working with a consulting attorney offers a blend of autonomy and access to professional expertise, but it’s not the right fit in every situation. There are both pros and cons to consider before making a decision to work with a consulting attorney.
Pro: Lower Initial Retainer
Consulting attorneys often require a lower initial retainer because they’re not obligated to attend court hearings, respond to information or requests from the opposing side, and interact with the opposing side and counsel within a specific period of time. In contrast, an attorney providing full representation has a legal obligation to fulfill all these duties.
There is a misconception that hiring a consulting attorney can reduce overall costs of divorce. While this may be true some of the time, it depends on how you tap into their expertise and how often you engage with a consulting attorney. The biggest difference isn’t the overall cost of representation, but the initial retainer amount. Consulting attorneys provide a lower barrier to entry.
Pro: Control the Scope of Work
In a consulting relationship, you are listed as self-represented in court filings. That means you have the choice of whether you want your consulting attorney to assist. All documents and motions reach you first and you can pull your consulting attorney in where needed.
If there are documents or areas of negotiation that you are confident in tackling yourself, then you may need to lean on a consulting attorney less. If there are portions of the process where you are not comfortable handling it on your own, you can bring in your consulting attorney to guide you through specific questions.
Pro: Easy Transitions
When you hire a consulting attorney you’re not locked into a consulting relationship. If you find that you have a need for full representation at some point, you have the option to transition to a more comprehensive level of representation.
This allows you to work with an attorney for a bit before committing to full representation, which may be useful for some.
Pro: Keep it Amicable
Striving for an amicable divorce is the best way to keep things cost-effective and manage stress. A consulting attorney can help you get there.
Hiring a full-time divorce attorney from the start can bring tension and conflict to a partnership that ended amicably. If you do have a good relationship with your spouse, you may want to consider mediation.
Mediation brings in a neutral third party to help you and your spouse negotiate terms and prepare divorce filings. If you’re unsure about mediation in any way, a consulting attorney can advise you on how to get the most out of the process and be prepared.
You may even feel comfortable attending mediation on your own without a consulting attorney involved, but would still like advice regarding the settlement. A consulting attorney can draft or review settlement proposals, which may reduce contention if parties are not represented by counsel.
Con: Everything Goes Through You
What may be a pro to some could be a con to others. When you’re representing yourself, everything goes through you.
When you have full representation, your attorney takes care of all interactions with the opposing party and their lawyers, as well as important documents and filings. When you work with a consulting attorney, the burden of communication and managing the process falls to you.
Con: Opportunity for Overwhelm
You may go into your divorce thinking you can manage all the moving parts, but realize that it’s more overwhelming than you anticipated. Alternatively, you may start out with a relatively amicable divorce, but then things escalate as you get further into the process. If you are using a consulting attorney in either of these situations, it may not be the right fit for your needs.
Con: Costs May Add Up
As noted earlier, the cost of working with a consulting attorney is not always lower than having full representation. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or needing more support than initially anticipated, you may require more time and expertise from your consulting attorney than you would need if you just had them providing full representation.
Hiring a Consulting Attorney for Your Divorce
A consulting attorney offers you more autonomy over your divorce process, can lower the initial retainer, and gives some couples a better chance of ending things amicably. However, if the costs of working with a consulting attorney outweigh the benefits, it may be time to consider a change.
At Alaimo Boyer, we work with clients in a variety of ways – providing full representation, serving as consulting attorneys, and providing mediation services. If you’re unsure about which route is best for you and your unique situation, don’t hesitate to get in touch.