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Why Do I Need to Hire a Family Lawyer?

If you talk to a family lawyer about your legal concerns, they're going to tell you to hire an attorney. They will tell you an experienced attorney is a professional who understands how the system works. They'll assure you that a skilled lawyer will fight for the results you need. For many potential clients, this feels like little more than a self-serving sales pitch.

The fact is though, with the current state of affairs in Michigan family courts, it is increasingly important to make sure that you are adhering to the rules and procedures from the earliest stage of your case. In the interest of fairness and child protection, Michigan courts once provided greater flexibility and considerable room to correct early errors. More recently, courts have been relying on technical issues to restrict these corrections, sometimes to the detriment of caring and concerned families.

In Michigan, if you don't handle your family law case correctly from the beginning, you may be left with irrational and unjust results that put your family at risk.

To understand the particular importance of working with an attorney starting today, it is necessary to understand the situational factors currently affecting the courts. In difficult economic times, people with family law disputes are more likely to attempt to represent themselves. Given the current financial crisis, Michigan family courts are flooded with people who are not lawyers handling their own legal concerns.

This poses a challenge to the court system. Because many of the people appearing before the court are not legal professionals, they are not familiar with the proper steps and procedures in family law matters. Accordingly, judges and other courtroom personnel are required to spend more time explaining the process — which means that each case demands greater resources and takes longer.

This creates a backlog in the court system, and the state does not have additional resources to compensate for the increased workload. Without additional resources the judges' options are limited. Unfortunately, the trend seems to be reducing the amount of time devoted to each case, thereby limiting the opportunities to remedy past mistakes.

For one example of this trend, consider the evolving requirements for child custody and parenting time modifications.

Throughout the 90s, when one parent wanted to modify a child custody order, the courts would almost always schedule a custody hearing to evaluate the child's best interests. The review process was careful and cautious. When mistakes were made in the initial custody order, the court provided opportunities for correction.

However, in Vodvarka v. Grasmeyer (2003), the Michigan Court of Appeals clarified the standard for seeking modification of a child custody order. Under the new standard, the court can't even grant a best-interests hearing unless the parent requesting the change can demonstrate that there is proper cause or a change in circumstances. To actually modify the custody order, the burden is even greater.  

This development is particularly relevant for parents who may consider representing themselves during initial custody proceedings. In the past, the courts allowed some flexibility. Parents could make procedural errors, but there were remedies available. With these new changes, there is a higher bar to modification — which means that any early mistakes will be more difficult to remedy through later proceedings.

Additionally, under the new standard, the court will generally only consider events that have occurred since the last custody order. As a practical consequence, if you fail to address relevant factors in the initial process — such as then-existing mental illness or substance-abuse concerns, these may not be considered during a request for modification.

When you only get one chance to do things right, it's important to have someone who can effectively guide you through the process.

Unfortunately, child custody is just one example of this trend, wherein people with family law disputes get one chance to do things right. Similar concerns can be found across the full spectrum of family law matters. Far too many families are suffering the negative consequences of procedural missteps that can occur more easily without the counsel of a lawyer.

Working with a family law attorney doesn't guarantee that the court will make fair decisions or that the court will fully consider all of the relevant factors. However — a skilled family lawyer will understand the system and know how to avoid the common mistakes. An experienced attorney will make sure that you follow the procedural steps so that the court will consider the merits of your case.

Once the court issues an order, the opportunities to correct errors or oversights are limited. For the sake of your family, make sure you do things right the first time around — work with a knowledgeable lawyer.

Article provided by Timothy R. Ash & Associates, PC. Please visit our Web site at 

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