Most of the time, when you think of divorce, you probably think of divorce lawyers. While having representation is usually the case, and is also most often in your best interest, that’s not always the situation. You can represent yourself in divorce if you wish.
There are many reasons why people take this route, as well as scenarios when it’s a great fit. But it is also often a tricky proposition and there’s a lot to consider before making this decision.
What Does ‘Pro Se Divorce’ mean?
Let’s start with the basics, the legal term for when you represent yourself is Pro se. That’s the same in any court case, including divorce. Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself.”
In a legal sense, this is when a person represents him or herself in court instead of hiring an attorney. The right to represent oneself has existed since before the Constitution. A litigant can take this path in any type of case, but it’s become especially common in divorce.
It’s easier than ever to represent yourself in divorce, thanks to online resources and do-it-yourself guides. You can download the forms, fill them out with your soon-to-be-former spouse, pay any relevant fees, file the paperwork in the proper places, and be done.
We understand why people want to try and go it alone. Legal representation is not cheap. Though it is more accessible than ever, pro se divorce comes with its own set of positives and negatives.
Related Reading: Average Cost of Divorce in Washington
The Positive Side of Pro Se Divorce
The biggest advantage to a pro se divorce is obviously the cost.
If you utilize a kit or an online guide, the cost drops from a potentially astronomical sum to possibly nothing more than the few hundred dollars it costs to file the paperwork. That’s a tempting proposition. It’s also a big reason why this strategy has grown in popularity.
Unless you have prior legal experience, this works best in straightforward cases. That’s the ideal scenario to serve as your own counsel.
If you and your spouse can behave yourselves, work together to dissolve your marriage, and generally act amicably, you can move forward with minimal friction.
A pro se approach fits well in the case of uncontested divorces. If your marriage was short, you don’t have kids, and there’s little or no shared property to divide, this may be the way to go.
Even in more complicated scenarios, representing yourself may still work. If both sides can collaborate and be civil, it’s possible to handle the division of property and even custody arrangements.
Related Reading: What is Divorce Mediation? Choosing A Mediation Style
The Negative Side Of Pro Se Divorce
While saving money handling your divorce yourself is great, there’s potential for the situation to head south in short order.
If both spouses are willing and able to work together towards dissolving your marriage, pro se offers a viable option. If not, that’s when things often take a turn.
One key reason to not represent yourself is objectivity, which is particularly a problem in divorce law. Divorce is emotional and messy by nature and someone too close to the situation is liable to make emotional decisions and irrational choices.
It’s possible dealing with each other face to face instead of through intermediaries may even ease some of the tension. But problems may arise if you and your spouse can’t act civil towards one another.
It often doesn’t take much for a divorce to become complicated and intense. When it comes to the division of property, deciding on child custody and visitation, assigning support, and more, things can get tangled in no time at all, even in uncontested splits. If you can’t see each other without fighting, expect problems to pop up.
Every step of the process also comes with potential pitfalls and problems. It’s easy to fall face-first into a hole if you don’t know what to look for. This even includes simple things like improper filings or filling out forms incorrectly.
Some lawyers don’t like going up against pro se litigants for fear of having a settlement thrown out by a judge for being too skewed in favor of their client.
Related Reading: How to File for Divorce in Washington
Depending on your circumstances, going to court and acting as a pro se litigant may be your best option. However, there are other avenues to explore and alternatives to going to court that may fit your case.
One alternative to going to court is mediation. In this process, both sides voluntarily sit down with a neutral third party to work out a resolution. Confidential and non-binding, instead of rendering a judgment in favor of one party or the other, the mediator works with both parties to reach an agreement.
In this capacity, an outsider with experience can point out areas where there may be issues, suggest potential solutions to problems, and offer advice. The goal is to work out a mutually beneficial deal for everyone.
Arbitration falls somewhere between mediation and a full trial on the spectrum. Like mediation, a neutral third party oversees this process.
Unlike mediation, however, this agent issues a decision on the case in question. There are two kinds of arbitration, binding and non-binding.
The two parties must agree on one approach or the other beforehand. Binding arbitration is precisely what it sounds like. When the arbitrator hands down a ruling, it’s final and official.
In non-binding arbitration, if one party is dissatisfied with the result, he or she can appeal by requesting a trial known as a trial de novo. In these cases, if the appeal fails, the requesting party may have to pay the court costs of the other.
Going the pro se route may sound like a great idea for your divorce, and it may work well in many circumstances. It can be an effective, bare-bones way to represent yourself. While there is an upside, you should be aware of the potential hazards before making a decision.
Related Reading: Is Arbitration The Best Choice For You?