I am often asked, "Do I really need to hire a lawyer for my divorce." That answer is no, there is no law that requires you to hire a lawyer to represent yourself. There is also nothing that says you could not perform your own amputation if you need to, but things usually work out better if you hire a surgeon to do it.
Representing yourself in court is called being pro se (you have now fulfilled your quota of pompous legal terms for the day). The problem with trying to represent yourself in a divorce is that things rarely work out as well as you had hoped they would. Many people start off with the best of intentions that their divorce will be "uncontested" only to find that they cannot agree on some very important issues. This is only the beginning of the problems with self representation.
Another major concern is that you may not get everything to which you are entitled. Many people I talk to on a daily basis are surprised by what the law entitles them to in a divorce. If you do not know to what you are entitled, you have no idea what to ask for and can wind up "leaving money on the table." This can make the prospect of starting over in a new life as a single person much more challenging if you have even fewer resources. Your lack of knowledge and hopes of saving yourself a few thousand dollars on an attorney could wind up costing you tens of thousands of dollars.
That same lack of knowledge of the law can also be a detriment to you if you have to go to court. Courtrooms are operated using a complicated set of rules and procedures that attorneys often spend years learning and studying. If you are representing yourself, you are held to the same standard as an attorney and you must know all of these rules inside and out. Additionally, you are responsible for knowing and understanding all of the substantive law that applies to your case and whether an argument or motion you file is considered frivolous or without foundation. If your lack of knowledge or procedure results in unnecessary litigation or your pleadings are deemed baseless or harassing you could wind up owing the opposing party's attorney fees. At a minimum, a skilled attorney on the opposing side will most likely be able to prevent you from presenting all of the evidence you want the judge to review and otherwise put you at a tremendous disadvantage.
The final concern is that you will let your emotions take over. An attorney's job is to look at your case, the facts and the law objectively and advise you as to the best course of action. When you are representing yourself, there is a real fear that emotions such as anger, hurt, the desire for revenge will take over and cloud your judgment. This can cause you to make some very, very stupid mistakes causing you to act like a hurt and angry spouse instead of a rational attorney. Settlement negotiations wind up going nowhere, which results in you having to go before the judge, where you again let your emotions get out of control and you wind up with an even worse result.
There is a reason that the old adage "he who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client" is an old adage. It is just as correct today as when it was first uttered probably hundreds of years ago. Do yourself a favor and hire a lawyer.
Photo courtesy of Pat Loika (cropped for space)
Labels: attorney, attorney fees, divorce lawyer, evidence, pro se representation, settlement