You will often hear (or read) me say that unless you face an emergency, the worst thing you can do is go running to an attorney before you are informed and prepared.
This does not mean you should never get help from an attorney, but unless you face an emergency, then going to an attorney should not be the first thing you do, or the second thing, or the third. There are important things you should do first—things that will save you a lot of time, trouble and money. Those things are what my books and my site are about.
If you find yourself described below, read my article, Who Can I Call? to decide what kind of attorney or other professional you want and how to find one.
If you do not find youself described below, you can take some time to read my advice, think things over and take the steps I recommend to make your situation better. Especially, you can learn how the steps you can take yourself are superior to anything an attorney can do for you, and you can learn the most effective ways to use an attorney if you want one, what kind of attorney to go to, and how to minimize attorney involvement in your case.
A. Personal Emergencies
1. Fear for the safety of yourself or your child. If your spouse is an habitual controller/abuser—that is, has abused several times in the past—and you fear it will happen again, you need advice from a domestic violence counselor. Ask your local police or court clerk for a list of local Domestic Violence (DV) support groups and call them to ask for names of people who can advise you and, if necessary, help you find a safe place for you to stay.
2. Fear of sneak attack. If you think your spouse might launch a sneak attack in court—seeking orders for custody and support before you do, or just take the kids and the money and run, or both—read about strategies in chapter 5D of Make Any Divorce Better and decide if you are going to be defensive or take the offense first.
3. Desperately broke. Most people worry about how bills will get paid when the same income has to support two households, but if your money situation is truly desperate and frightening—or if your spouse feels this way—read my article, Funding the Separation, and consider your options.
4. Parenting children. Many people run to an attorney because they are afraid they won’t get to see their children often enough. If this describes you, read my article, Parenting in the Early Stages.
B. Legal Emergencies
1. Divorce papers served on you. This may or may not be a real emergency. If you’ve been served with the first papers that start a divorce action in court—and if you want to have some say in the outcome—you need to file a response before the deadline stated on your papers. If the deadline has passed, call the court clerk and ask if you are still able to file a response even though the deadline has passed. If so, quickly file a response. If not, you’ll need an attorney to help you make a motion to allow you to enter the case late. In either situation, read my article, I Want Help—Who Can I Call? It explains how to find the right kind of help.
If a hearing has been scheduled in the near future to determine support or child custody issues, you need to get an attorney right away to either represent you at the hearing or seek a continuance so you can prepare. Read my article about what kind of attorney you want. If you don’t have time to get an attorney, show up in court at the time and place indicated on your papers and ask the judge for a continuance so you can get an attorney. Read my article, Who Can I Call?
Even if you are in litigation, you should read Make Any Divorce Better and look for ways to move the action out of court and into mediation.
2. You are already in litigation. If you are already in a legal struggle with attorneys on both sides, read Make Any Divorce Better to learn how the law works and how to guide your case away from fighting in court and toward negotiation, mediation or collaborative divorce. If all else fails, there’s arbitration. What you do not want is to end up in a long court battle where everyone loses but the attorneys.