Respected Counselors, Litigators and Mediators

Dangers of Representing Yourself During Divorce

It may be tempting to think about representing yourself during your divorce. You may be in the business field or own your own company and think that you know how to negotiate. You may think you can spot a “good deal” when you see it and that you will be able to settle your case on terms that are favorable to you. If you represent yourself, you would not need to spend money on an attorney. Despite those temptations, it is critical that you seek professional legal advice in your divorce matter.

The perils of self-representation are present in every turn of a divorce case, including the very beginning. If you have been served with a complaint, you have a very limited amount of time to respond to that complaint. If you do not file a response in that short period of time, your spouse will be able to file a default against you and proceed with her case unopposed. Even if you do respond to the complaint, the paperwork you submit can be rejected by the court. The court requires very specific paperwork with proper attachments before it will be filed.

There may also be precautionary steps that should be taken early in your divorce matter that you may not be aware of, and even if you are, you will most likely not know how to take them. For instance, if your spouse has cut you off financially upon the filing of the complaint, what do you do? What are your rights? What do you do if you think your spouse is dissipating marital assets, half of which belong to you? How do you prevent your spouse from doing that? These are all questions that any competent attorney will be able to answer.

One of the most important parts of the any matrimonial matter is the “discovery” process. The discovery process is a period of time during the case wherein both sides exchange information and documentation to ensure that each party has all the information they need to reach a fair settlement or prepare for trial. If you are not represented by an attorney, you will not know what information and document requests are reasonable and which ones are not. Your spouse’s attorney could very possibly “paper” you with irrelevant requests and cause you to spend unnecessarily waste an enormous amount time. On the other hand, your spouse’s attorney can be reluctant or can downright refuse to share your spouse’s information with you. If you have an attorney, that attorney will be able to serve a subpoena to get the information fairly easily within two weeks. If you do not have an attorney and lack the power to subpoena institutions, you will be forced to seek help from the court, which could take months to arrive. If you think your spouse may have hidden assets or income, it will be virtually impossible to find out unless you have an attorney’s help.

One of the most important documents completed during the discovery process is the Case Information Statement. The Case Information Statement is required by the court and includes a breakdown of your income as well as your estimation as to the marital lifestyle. If you do not complete this document fully and if you cannot justify the numbers you include in the statement, it could spell disaster for you from a negotiating standpoint as well as during trial.

Speaking of trial, your matter will be scheduled for one if it is not settled by a certain point in time. Preparing for a trial and conducting same is one of the most difficult tasks an attorney can undertake. If it is difficult for an attorney, it is nearly impossible for a person with no legal experience. What is a trial brief and how do I prepare one? How do you examine and cross-examine witnesses? What experts do you need? How do you deliver an opening and closing statement? How do I get documents into evidence? These are just some questions that a non-attorney will have to encounter if he/she represents herself at trial. You are mistaken if you think the courts will provide you with any help or patience during the trial. The court will hold you to the same standards than if you were an attorney and it will lose patience if it feels like its valuable time is being wasted.

Even if your case settles, you will want an attorney to represent you during the negotiation of the written settlement agreement. We have many individuals come to our office that represented themselves during their divorce settlements and settled their matter on very unfavorable terms (even though they believed the terms to be favorable at the time they entered the agreement). In many instances, we are not able to help these individuals; unless the agreement is extremely one-sided, it is very difficult to set aside a settlement. Some of these individuals actually did reach a fair settlement, but with the way the agreement was written up, they ultimately entered into an agreement that was far less favorable than they thought.

At Donahue Hagan Klein & Weisberg, LLC, we understand the temptations involved in representing yourself. We will provide the guidance you need to make sure that you avoid the dangers you would have experienced if you represented yourself.