Times are tough, and money is tight. I understand people wanting to save money on legal fees in their family law matters. I understand it, but I do not recommend it. There is too much that can go wrong with self-help legal work.

Ask yourself: If your stomach was hurting severely and the pink liquid medicine you’ve been drinking didn’t fix it, would you attempt surgery on yourself? Of course not. You aren’t a doctor, never went to medical school, and wouldn’t know the processes for controlling bleeding, pain management, scar prevention, sanitation, etc. There’s more to surgery than working a scalpel.

Legal work is similar to the silly example above. Because you can draft a Word document does not mean you can draft effective pleadings any more than knowing how to use a scalpel makes you capable of effective surgery. Lawyers take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of law school debt to learn the intricacies of the law the same way a surgeon racks up medical school debt to learn how to perform surgery.

I routinely see people who have done their own legal work needing significant — and expensive — legal help to undo the damage. For example, I have seen people getting stuck with a lousy visitation schedules for their children after a self-help divorce. I have seen people end up saddled with debt because the other party dumped the credit debt on them in the final order. There are many other examples. Undoing the damage of a poorly executed family law matter is time consuming and expensive.

It can be worse too. Imagine doing your own surgery and accidentally severing an artery! There are some surgical problems that can’t be fixed. There are legal problems that can’t be fixed as well. Once the divorce is granted, it’s too late to go after your share of the family home. It’s too late to go after your share of your spouse’s 401(k). It’s too late to decide you should have asked for spousal maintenance.

There is a brand of automotive oil filter that used to advertise “Spend a little now, or a lot later”, meaning a small investment in their oil filter will save you the cost of expensive auto repairs later. Hiring a competent lawyer is the same. Yes, lawyers are expensive, but what do they offer? They offer expertise in their field. They offer peace of mind. They offer protection against legal challenges you didn’t even think of.

If you want to save money, hire an attorney early. Many legal matters seem expensive while they are ongoing, but how much is saved in future litigation costs by having the job done right to begin with? What is getting a fair divorce worth to you? What is getting a fair child support order worth to your kids? What’s the price on not having to come back to court next year to try to undo the terrible visitation schedule you agreed to because you didn’t know better? The cost savings of doing your own legal matter are a false value because there will very likely be much more costs later to undo the damage from self-help law practice.

As always, this essay is not intended to replace legal advice and is educational in nature only. If you are facing a legal problem I encourage you to seek competent legal representation.

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