By Howard Iken
There are an increasing number of options available for how to get divorced today ranging from full representation by an attorney to doing in yourself. Each comes with pros and cons and knowing these will help you choose the approach that is best suited to your situation.
Is A Pro Se Divorce A Good Idea?
Abraham Lincoln stated, “He who represents himself has a fool for an attorney,” but is this actually true?
If a person chooses to represent themselves through their divorce, it is called “pro se divorce litigation.” It means you will be investing a lot of time and energy into completing all of the legal documentation and researching how the law applies to your case.
This isn’t to say that it can’t be done though.
If you and your ex are committed to coming to an agreement, then considering pro se is definitely a good option. Most importantly – your divorce outcome and future is solely resting on your shoulders.
Even though this is a lot of responsibility and work to deal with, it is A LOT cheaper and really the only option for some low income families. The Herald Tribune chalks up the increase in pro se divorce litigation to the fall of the housing industry and the economy. They maintain that now 55 percent of divorce cases in Manatee and Sarasota counties in Florida have had at least one party going pro se.
The Benefits Of Pro Se
All around the country more and more people are representing themselves for their divorce.
One of the pros is that is a fairly affordable way to go about divorce.
Another advantage can be the personal satisfaction of doing the job for oneself. This is frequently seen in cases where people have a lack of trust in attorneys either due to bad experiences in the past or personal opinions. While this distrust is a popular reason for choosing to represent oneself, it speaks more to putting extra energy into the “interview process before hiring a lawyer. Asking the right questions during your consultations will help you make sure your attorney is trustworthy and really wants what is best for your case.
The Cons Of Pro Se
The disadvantages of pro se are more extensive than the advantages.
If you don’t have an attorney, you will struggle to know which statutes apply to your specific case. If an attorney doesn’t have immediate knowledge of a particularly difficult issue, the attorney has resources to quickly find the information while you do not. The danger then is that you will arrive at many problems you don’t even know where to begin to find the information for.
A big factor that will make deciding to go pro se easier is how much is available through your court which can vary by state. For example, Colorado provides excellent help including flowcharts of the dissolution process for with and without children, as well as providing details for what forms need to be filed in and at what stage in the proceedings. Some counties even have a family court facilitator to point you in the right direction which can significantly help you avoid technical errors.
You Shouldn’t Go Pro Se If …
There are some circumstances when it’s just no smart to consider going pro se:
- If either you or your STBX are intending to seek restricted parenting time or visits, then don’t go pro se. There’s too much risk no matter which side you’re on.
- If your circumstances include, significant assets that are in disagreement like a jointly-held business or a business owned by one spouse.
- Any domestic violence
If any of these three situations are involved you would benefit from professional help to dissolve the marriage.
What About Unbundling?
Unbundling, or limited scope representation, can be a much better way to go about saving money on your divorce attorney. You get some of the perks of having an attorney represent you, such as easier navigation of the law and advice on a specific issue. Many attorneys offer the following types of unbundled services:
- advice on the law and strategy
- analyze settlement options
- partial representation in court
- draft or review court papers and letters
- act as a coach during the whole process
Unbundling can save you money and allow you to stay in control of your case, but there are also some disadvantages.
You still may not see any hidden complications in your case, and you will also be solely responsible for whatever you do on your own. Another con of using bundled services is inherent in doing any part of the legal process yourself – that is making the judge annoyed with any ‘silly’ questions asked or raising of irrelevant issues. This just boils down to the judge feeling like you are wasting their time, which may not happen if you have the right resources.
If you are skeptical that you can come to an acceptable agreement with your ex-spouse for whatever reason, then don’t even consider pro se or unbundling. In the long run you may save yourself dollars and time by hiring competent help right from the start.
Howard Iken is a skilled divorce lawyer and managing attorney at Ayo and Iken PLC in Clearwater, Florida. He believes that every divorce case is different and offers full services to completely meet his client’s needs.