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Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce in California

I am often asked: “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce in Los Angeles California? Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce in Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino?

The answer is: It depends. After more than 30 years of  family law practice I am confident that many people can handle their California divorce and can handle filing requests for orders for or to change orders for child custody and child support, and to change spousal support.

Whether you need a lawyer depends on how comfortable you are with different aspects of family law. There are lots of ways to use a lawyer in limited ways. Using a lawyer for what is known as limited scope family law services  saves you money.

Are you good with papers?

If you are organized and good with papers you may be able to prepare your divorce documents with a bit of advice from a limited scope lawyer explaining what documents need to be prepared and how one prepares them. Once you have drafted them let the lawyer edit your papers. In divorces in which the parties agree on things and do not expect to have an adversarial court hearing you will not have to attend any court hearings. Usually the biggest obstacle parties have relates to their personal declarations of disclosure. The law requires the parties to exchange information on their assets and debts and income and expenses prior to  executing a marital settlement agreement.

Help with legal motions

In California family law court motions are called requests for orders. If you desire to request orders for child custody or child support or to change child support orders or spousal support or if you desire an order to your ex to contribute to your attorney fees, you may be able to prepare the documents necessary with some coaching and editing by a lawyer. Click the link to learn the four steps to get what you desire at a family law court hearing.

Obviously, this advice is true whether you are the moving party seeking an order  in family law court, or the responding party who does not agree with order your ex desires. Clink the link to learn how to respond to a request for orders by yourself.

Are you comfortable speaking to the judge at a court hearing?

If you are comfortable with public speaking you may only need a lawyer’s help to prepare your petition of dissolution or response to the petition of dissolution and your personal disclosures regarding income and expenses and assets and debts.. You may need a lawyer’s help to prepare the legal papers regarding your issue such as child custody, child support, spousal support or attorney’s fees for a request for orders hearing, and maybe to coach and prepare you for your hearing.  But you may not need a lawyer to argue for you at your hearing.

If you are not comfortable speaking in public, you can contribute to the preparation of your legal papers, have the lawyer edit them if necessary and hire the lawyer to argue for you in court.



Family law matters generally involve more frequent and more focused submissions and court appearances than typical civil matters.

Family law matters depend more heavily on issues of fact that are known to the parties, and less prevalently on discovery and testimony from third parties, than is typical in civil matters. So, the client depends less on the lawyer to become informed of the material facts.

The vast majority of family law submissions are made using Judicial Council forms that a capable non-lawyer can complete, and a lawyer need only review. Drafted-from-scratch pleadings and motion papers are less prevalent than in civil matters.

The high proportion of self-represented litigants in family law proceedings means that courts and court staffs are more accustomed to dealing with them. Good preparation and coaching by a lawyer can help a person achieve their goals without the expense of court appearances by the lawyer.

Jury trials are not within the competence of most self-represented litigants. But family law matters such as divorces and child custody do not involve jury trials.


Obtaining the client’s informed consent prior to entering into a limited scope representation is required. The client must understand what the lawyer will be doing and what remains the client’s responsibility. You will want this to be not only clear to the client, but also clearly reflected in writing.


The designation of either certain discrete tasks the lawyer performs, or specific issues limits the scope of representation. By far the vast majority of limited scope representation arrangements are divided by task and not issue. These can include the following:

Advice and coaching

Document assembly

Document drafting or “ghostwriting”

Investigation and exhibit preparation

Developing a strategy

Procedural assistance

Identifying and interviewing witnesses

Participating in settlement negotiations or drafting settlement documents

Court appearances for a specific hearing or on a specific issue

Our office assists people in limited scope legal work as well as working as the attorney of record. Limited scope representation can be effective and less expensive. Usually limited scope work is contracted by the task with a flat fee for the work as opposed to the traditional payment method of a deposit against an hourly rate.

Contact us for a free consultation.