Should I Hire a Divorce Attorney or Represent Myself?

Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson PLLC

Family courts regularly hear a number of cases involving parties who decide to represent themselves rather than hire an attorney. These parties are known as “pro se” litigants (meaning “for oneself” in Latin). If you are deciding whether to represent yourself or hire an attorney in your family law case, here are some considerations:

Pro se litigants must comply with court rules: Courts hold pro se litigants to the same standard as attorneys to comply with applicable state and local rules. These rules are technical and contain information on what forms need to be filled out, how to submit them to the court, page limits, formatting, how to serve the opposing party, how to schedule a court hearing, etc. They also mandate strict deadlines for filing and serving various court documents and evidence. Many courts have online resources available to help pro se litigants initiate divorce or custody actions, however there are fewer resources available for the additional steps involved in the divorce process.

Court employees cannot give legal advice: Judges and court commissioners have some discretion to ensure that a pro se litigant’s voice is heard during a hearing, like by asking the pro se litigant questions to clarify his or her testimony or arguments. However, they are forbidden from giving legal advice, even to unrepresented parties. Likewise, while court employees may direct pro se litigants to various public resources, they are also prohibited from giving legal advice.

Financial resources matter, but time is also a factor: A common reason people represent themselves is because of the cost of hiring an attorney. However, in doing this cost-benefit analysis, parties often undervalue their own time. Determining how to shepherd a case through the court system and effectively advocate for yourself or negotiate with the opposing party is time consuming and can be frustrating. Family law attorneys are well-versed in this process and have the support of paralegals and legal assistants to help ensure your case keeps moving forward towards resolution.

An amicable divorce might not require an attorney: An amicable divorce is one in which the parties have already agreed on certain issues and do not anticipate much conflict in resolving remaining ones. A word of caution: often one spouse thinks the divorce will be amicable only to be surprised later when his or her spouse disagrees or becomes overly hostile. In a truly amicable divorce, an attorney might not be necessary. It is still advisable that one or both parties at least consult with an attorney to make sure they have not forgotten to consider anything that could lead to future conflict. It is also better to have a trained professional drafting any final agreements regarding the division of finances and debts, child support, parenting, and spousal support.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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