Many people will encounter a legal situation at some point in their lives and family matters are among the most common cases to make it through the justice system. According to the Ohio Courts Statistical Report, more than 140,000 cases made it to Ohio domestic relations courts in 2016. Divorce, dissolutions and custody matters are just a few legal matters in which having a dedicated attorney could make a world of difference.
How an attorney can help
Family law attorneys help their clients make some of the most important decisions of their lives. In these types of cases, children, property, income and the ability to pay basic expenses are often affected for years to come. In Ohio, there are numerous statutes regarding children, property and spousal support and a family attorney has read them and can answer questions on topics like custody, shared parenting and retirement benefits, which are often marital property. An attorney will also be able to recommend action appropriate for individual circumstances.
The risks of representing yourself
The risks of navigating legal matters alone are numerous. Court orders and divorce decrees are often final and without an expert to explain all of your rights, it can be hard to get the full picture or to understand how these decisions will affect your life in the future.
Many people who choose to represent themselves try to find forms online. But if these forms are not from an Ohio court or attorney, they may not be valid in the state. Additionally, most of the forms that are acquired directly from the courts don’t come with instructions and court staff are unable to provide legal advice.
Attorneys are for everyone
Attorneys are not only for the rich and everyone has the right to access the justice system. Many people who choose to represent themselves can end up paying more in the long run. Regional Legal Aid offices also offer legal assistance to low-income individuals. (Visit www.OhioLegalAid.org to find a local Legal Aid office and apply for assistance.)
Think of your attorney as a skilled negotiator who is trained to get the best outcome for you, their client. Some attorneys accept payment plans and credit cards and all attorneys are required to be up front and clear about payment. In most cases, your attorney will offer you a written, explicit fee agreement and go over it with you.
If you are on the fence about hiring an attorney for any legal matter, consider what effect your case will have on the rest of your life if the matter does not go your way. It may be helpful to consider what you would pay your physician to protect and restore your or your child’s health, or what you paid your real estate agent when you bought your home. Deciding to hire an attorney is deciding to be informed and to have an advocate who protects your rights and your property.
How to find an attorney
Many people find an attorney through a referral from a friend or family member who has been through a similar situation. (Just make sure never to ask your friends or family for legal advice.)
You can also search for an attorney online by using the “Find a Lawyer” tool at www.OhioBar.org. There, you can also find a list of Ohio State Bar Association certified specialist attorneys. This list is in alphabetical order, so look for attorneys in your area.
Diane DePascale is a board certified family law specialist located in Dayton. She has 36 years of experience in negotiated settlements, trials and appeals and practices mostly in domestic and juvenile matters.