Some of the most important legal matters that you may face do not involve litigation. Often, you can simply complete forms to get a divorce, leave your assets to loved ones, buy or sell a home, start a business, or handle other aspects of your personal or professional life. These forms and the requirements for completing them will vary depending on your state. Even if you do not need to fight a battle in court, you may still benefit from the guidance of an attorney. When a lot is at stake, an attorney can help you make sure that you are not overlooking any pitfalls and that you understand your rights and obligations. If you would prefer to avoid the cost of hiring an attorney, however, there are plenty of free legal resources online to guide you, including this site, the websites of various non-profits, and government websites.
These are just some examples of situations in which you can handle a legal matter with minimal or no court involvement.
In states that offer a no-fault divorce, spouses can often file for a divorce on their own. You would need to prepare an agreement to divide your property and make any necessary arrangements for child custody, child support, and spousal support. If your spouse contests the divorce or any part of the arrangement, you will need to litigate in court. Otherwise, you can mail your completed paperwork to the appropriate court and attend a brief hearing to answer a few questions. If the judge is satisfied that you agree on all of the relevant issues in the divorce, they likely will sign the agreement, which will take legal effect as your divorce decree.
Preparing a will, a trust, a power of attorney, or another estate planning instrument does not require going to court. The document does need to meet certain technical requirements, depending on the state. You may want to consult an attorney if you have substantial or unusual assets or a complex plan for distributing them. There are many types of trusts, for example, each with its own advantages. If you change your mind after making an estate planning instrument, you can modify it on your own at any time. You may need to take certain steps to make sure that the most recent version will be found valid.
Buying or selling a home is a major step to take, but you do not need to go to court unless the process severely breaks down. The main legal document in a property transaction is a purchase and sale agreement, which will outline the rights and obligations of the buyer and the seller. You can retain a real estate attorney to help negotiate the provisions in this contract, and some states require an attorney to assist at a real estate closing. However, you can also handle negotiating and finalizing the agreement on your own, working directly with the other party. Once the parties have agreed on the terms, the resulting contract is binding on each of them.
Starting a business may involve little or no paperwork if you are starting a sole proprietorship or a general partnership. If you are forming a corporation, a limited liability company, or another complex business form, you probably will need to file documents such as articles of incorporation and bylaws. This does not require going to court, although you will want to carefully review your state laws to make sure that the documents meet the requirements. You also may want to discuss tax consequences and liability issues with an attorney. If a dispute eventually arises among the owners of a business, or between the shareholders and directors of a corporation, a court may need to get involved.
You can get protection for patents, copyrights, and trademarks by filing an application with the appropriate branch of the federal government. This would be the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or the U.S. Copyright Office. You would need to complete a detailed application that explains how your work meets the requirements for that type of intellectual property. The federal government may request more information before making a decision. If you are unsure about whether you will receive protection, or if you suspect that your claim will meet resistance, you may want to retain an attorney to help you complete the application and present your claim persuasively.
You can apply for benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, Medicare or Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and workers’ compensation benefits without going to court. This involves submitting forms and supporting documentation, such as medical records, to show that you qualify for benefits under the criteria for the appropriate program. Receiving certain types of benefits may affect your eligibility for other types of benefits. For example, it can be hard to argue that you should receive unemployment benefits if you are also alleging that you are unable to work because of a permanent and total disability. If your claim is denied, you may eventually need to attend an administrative hearing, which is similar to a trial.