When it comes to divorce, people first think about the expense of getting a divorce lawyer. There will be some who decide that they can represent themselves and save a great deal of money. The majority of these people do not have assets and/or children. They also think that because their spouse is being amicable, the divorce hearing will be quick and painless. So, one spouse representing him or herself should be easy. Wrong. Spouses during a divorce may start out on friendly terms, but this will quickly change as the divorce proceedings get underway.
Self-representation is not advised because there are a number of elements missing, such as experience and expertise. We don’t perform surgery on ourselves because we saw it done on TV or the Internet. We have neither the training nor surgical tools. Not to mention, the surgical staff, operating room, medical supplies … etc. Below are nine reasons why you shouldn’t represent yourself in your divorce.
- Giving up your rights. You’ll inadvertently give up your rights and lose out on what you are entitled to by law. Family law attorneys are well versed in the rights of spouses and parents. They have witnessed people represent themselves (pro se litigants) with disastrous results. If you don’t know family law, how can you effectively use it to protect your rights?
- Changing your mind. What seems to be concrete in the beginning of the case can easily crumble towards the middle of it. Spouses change their minds quickly on many issues, such as alimony and child custody. When this happens, you may need to hire your own attorney to fix the issue. Bringing a lawyer into the trial after it has begun will be costly. If an attorney was hired in the first place, the issue would have been addressed at the beginning of the trial. Remember, divorce attorneys are trained to anticipate all issues and quickly address them.
- Extending the divorce trial. No one likes to prolong a divorce. However, this is what can happen when a divorce attorney is not hired. Researching all of the pertinent family laws as well as collecting evidence will take longer for the person representing him or herself due to navigating the legal system.
- Bad courtroom etiquette. Many people disregard courtroom etiquette and feel it has no bearing on the success of their case. This is not true. How you act in court does have an effect on the judge. This is especially important for those representing themselves. Even if you do have some valid points, the fact that you are ( or have been) disrespectful may sway the judge’s opinion of you. Some poor etiquette includes being late to court, interrupting the judge and using foul language.
- Loss of objectivity. With self-representation, it is very hard to remain objective when child custody is on the line. Both spouses are very emotional during the divorce process, which can cause outbursts and arguing. The person will not have his or her best interests at heart because of the hostile environment. It is hard for a person to objectively defend him or herself solely based on the evidence he or she collected. Also, the evidence may not be relevant or admissible according to family law.
- Drawing up documents. Finding legal templates online does not suffice for legal documentation (e.g parenting plans). These are basic forms, which are not tailored to your specific case. Also, you cannot rely on what you get online, since they can have pieces of information missing from them. A divorce attorney will draw up customize documents to ensure a successful outcome.
- Accidentally assume taxes. When getting divorced, you and your spouse will enter new tax brackets. If you do not claim the correct tax exemption, you could get stuck owing more taxes. Tax issues also arise when there is property to divide (or sell). The person representing him or herself didn’t consider this and now cannot pay the taxes owed. However, the spouse who hired a attorney is prepared, knows the correct tax exemption and will not owe any additional taxes.
- Leaving out assets. Believe it or not, spouses forget about their assets. During the divorce proceedings, an attorney will dig them up. This is bad for the person representing him or herself because it will look like he or she is trying to hide it from the spouse. Divorce attorneys know what assets to look for (i.e. retirement plans) and where to find them. They also know the best ways to split up the assets, especially when dealing with taxes.
- Do not understand child custody laws. Each state has their own child custody laws. The person representing him or herself must know their state’s child custody laws and use them accordingly. The person cannot “claim” their spouse is a bad person without credible evidence. Finding evidence should be left up to a divorce lawyer because he or she can obtain it quickly — and legally.