By Pamela Edwards-Swift, CFLS

I just heard a nightmare story. A couple decided to go the “cheap” way and did not hire a family law attorney to do their divorce. It should have been a simple case. However, because of the couple’s choice to “save a few dollars” it ultimately cost thousands of dollars. This type of thing happens ALL the time and it really makes me angry.

There is a reason why the State Bar of California, one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, bar in the country actually designates certain professionals as Specialists. There is a misconception by the general public, general practice attorneys and paralegals that family law is easy. As a general rule, it is not. The unfortunate thing is that individuals who have chosen to use the services of a paralegal, a newly admitted attorney, the court facilitator, or a “do-it-yourself” site on the internet for their divorce find out years down the road that there were mistakes made, costly mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can be corrected and sometimes they cannot.

The story I just heard about involved the court facilitator. Most people think that because they are using a free service offered by the courts that they are somehow protected and that their paperwork was complete and without error. Think again! There is one attorney for the entire county to oversee the court facilitator’s office. The people hired by the court system to assist people with their paperwork are merely paper pushers who know nothing about family law and cannot give legal advice. Sure they know what forms you need to fill out so that the clerk will process the divorce, but that is their limit. The matter that has me so upset involved a spouse’s right to a pension. The rights of the now ex-spouse were lost because the court facilitator’s office did not prepare a form needed to protect that interest. That mistake, which cannot be corrected at this point, has cost the spouse tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits (depending upon how long they live). This would NOT have happened with an experienced family law attorney.

When you divorce you divide your assets, your debts, and the time with your children, essentially your life. Why would you ever put something so important in the hands of people who do not know what they are doing; or, worse yet, know just enough to be dangerous? Be smart about it. Hire an experiencedfamily law attorney, preferably a family law specialist to make certain your rights are protected.

Pamela Edwards-Swift, Certified Family Law Specialist, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 & 2014; Southern California Super Lawyer