I am a bit biased on this issue, as would likely be expected. I’m the divorce and family law lawyer, so I naturally feel my knowledge and experience to be indispensable. I also understand that everyone, including me, goes through a similar decision-making process over and over again, each day. Choosing to hire a divorce lawyer can be a particularly difficult decision when you have limited financial means but significant issues at stake. All you can do is balance your own knowledge and experience apply it to the decision at hand.
Hiring a lawyer is not without risk, for the same reasons. Not all lawyers have the same skills and experience. Some cost more than others. Some work more efficiently than others. Some are more reasonable on the billing. Some tend to get better results. Some are just more pleasant to work with than others. As the client, you should balance, not just the financial result or the likely result through settlement or trial, but the resulting relationship between you and the other party on the case, particularly when there are child custody issues. There is a lot to consider in making the decision, but, as the divorce lawyer, I stand by my position that having a divorce lawyer is better than not having one. When your world is at stake, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to consider every important aspect and weigh each issue properly. It’s unlikely that you’ll be consistently able to exercise good judgment. It’s not a slight to you. You are human and humans simply aren’t at their best when the most important things to them are at stake in an adversarial process. When you “have nothing,” meaning minimal or no assets and debt, have no children, you earn substantially the same income, and your spouse has no lawyer, it may make sense to handle the divorce on your own. But, it would be a mistake to move forward without getting a free attorney consultation when they are so readily available. Most lawyers, including this one, provide free attorney consultations during which you have the opportunity to explain the facts of your case and learn how things are likely to turn out. To schedule a free attorney consultation with our office, just complete the contact form or call us at 978-225-9030.
From time to time, I write articles about this issue. I honestly feel a bit preachy in writing it, but it’s not ordinarily unprompted. This time around I was prompted by a recent case out of the highest court in the Commonwealth, the Supreme Judicial Court. On March 22, 2016, the Court issued its ruling in the case of Lasher v. Leslie-Lasher denying the appellant’s appeal and, once again, illustrating why handling your own case is an awful idea.
In this case, the parties a judgment issues on the parties’ divorce in 2014. Then in March 2015, Mr. Lasher filed a motion pursuant to Rule 60(b)(2) requesting relief from the judgment based on an allegation that his wife had committed a fraud upon the Court by misrepresenting her finances. In reviewing the timing of the filing and the footnotes of the opinion, it then looks like the Husband’s motion for reconsideration and motion for relief from judgment were heard on March 25, along with a motion for the judge to recuse himself, also filed by the Husband, based on the Wife having provided the judge with a bible with his name inscribed on it. The judge then ruled on the motions for reconsideration and to set aside the judgment, denying both and then recusing himself from the case.
At this point I’ll stop and comment. Clearly, there’s a concern by the Husband in this case that there’s been an injustice. What should have have done? What would have happened if he had a competent lawyer? Well, the discovery likely would have been more thorough to begin with, with greater opportunity to get all relevant facts and evidence before the Court in the initial proceeding. A lawyer handling the case would likely have taken the proper steps to, not only present all relevant evidence on the record, but would have properly preserved the issues for appeal if need be. Lastly, a lawyer would have had greater opportunity to remain objective and advocate the facts supporting his or her client’s position, without emotion clouding his or her judgment. While we do not have every fact available here, we know that the Wife acted provocatively in providing a bible to the Judge. Whether she meant it to be provocative or not, such behavior reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the judge’s impartiality and the function of our justice system.
The Husband’s next steps further illustrate the pitfalls of being unrepresented by competent counsel. Aggrieved by the decision of the trial court, the Husband filed an interlocutory appeal pursuant to M.G.L. c. 231 s. 118. He continued through the expense and time commitment associated with pursuing such an appeal until it was finally denied. He then filed a second appeal to the SJC, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 211, s. 3, which is an appeal directly to the Supreme Judicial Court. That appeal was also denied, with the SJC opining, “It is incumbent on a party seeking exercise of this court’s extraordinary power of general superintendence under G. L. c. 211, § 3, to demonstrate the absence or inadequacy of alternative means of redress. See Russell v. Nichols, 434 Mass. 1015, 1016 (2001); McGuiness v. Commonwealth, 420 Mass. 495, 497 (1995), and cases cited. In this case, the petitioner failed to allege, much less demonstrate, that the Probate and Family Court judge’s order denying relief from the divorce judgment could not adequately be addressed through the ordinary appellate process, in an appeal to a panel of the Appeals Court from the postjudgment order.3 See, e.g., Raheman v. Raheman, 59 Mass. App. Ct. 915, 917 (2003), Lasher v. Leslie-Lasher (Mass., 2016).
That last paragraph may be a bit confusion to the non-lawyer, so I’m going to translate. The case provides that you must utilize the ordinary appealate process when appealing a ruling of the Probate and Family Trial Court, in compliance with the Rules of Court. The practical lesson here is that, when you have the most important issues in your world being decided by a court, speak with a lawyer so you’re less likely to make a catastrophic mistake.