Once you have decided that divorce is the right path, your first step is finding the right lawyer for your needs. For some, it can seem like a time-consuming and intimidating process, and opt to represent themselves in their case. Perhaps this is not your first divorce, or you and your spouse have agreed amicably on how to split the marital assets. While it may seem practical for some couples, divorce laws and court proceedings can be more complicated than people think, and mistakes can make the process much more expensive and time-consuming in the end.
Representing yourself during your divorce, also known as a ‘pro se’ divorce, has its disadvantages that you should be aware of before taking that route. If you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce or legal separation and there are minor children involved, it’s important to hire a divorce attorney. One of the biggest factors to weigh is the financial responsibility for the upbringing of the children, and an experienced attorney can help determine the correct amount of financial support for them. The case can also become complicated if there are issues such as child custody, visitation, and support.
There is a lot of paperwork involved in a divorce and all of the forms must be filled correctly, and all agreements need to be read closely to make sure that there isn’t any wording that could leave you in a bad place in the future. Without an experienced attorney looking over all of the important documents, you may end up agreeing to terms that you may later regret. Some divorce cases will seek temporary custody, child support, visitation, and/or alimony, and not handling the right paperwork on time can result in a person losing out on important time with their child or money that could serve as financial support. Representing yourself in your case may end up costing you thousands of dollars in lost child support or alimony that could have been avoided if you had legal representation from the beginning of the case.
If the cost of your divorce is one of the reasons you choose to represent yourself, you should know that you have options. You want quality, but you also want to get the best value for the fees you will be paying. Legal fees for a divorce can be costly, and the total expense is not always predictable. But there are many actions you can take to control the cost. Develop a plan early on for financing your divorce. Speak openly with your lawyer about fees from the outset. Learn as much as you can about how you will be charged. Unfortunately, the State of California has virtually no resources available to assist low-income individuals with their divorces. Due to severe budget cuts, the waiting list at public legal aid organizations generally precludes them from accepting new cases.
There are many reasons to be extremely cautious about proceeding without legal representation. Every divorce is different. The length of the marriage, whether there are children, the financial situation for you and your spouse, the assets you had before the marriage and the assets you acquired during the marriage, and your age and health can all affect the outcome of your dissolution. Family law is a dynamic field and new laws are passed all the time, and although you may think you understand the laws, an attorney will ensure that you are adequately informed of the changes in the law. Your best opportunity to receive fair treatment by the court and in settlement negotiations during your divorce would be to ensure that you have legal representation. A qualified attorney can advise you of the law and guide you in achieving the best result in your divorce case.
Written by Debra Schoenberg