Pro Se Divorce: Should I Represent Myself?

Goldberg Jones Divorce, Featured Posts, Process Leave a Comment

This post has been updated.

Lets’ start with the basics.

What Does ‘Pro Se’ mean?

Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself.” In a legal sense, this is when a person chooses to represent 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 legal case, but it’s especially common in divorce.

It’s easier than ever to handle a divorce on your own 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 definitely not cheap. Though this is more accessible than ever, a pro se divorce does come with its own set of positives and negatives.

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 and is a big reason why this has become an increasingly popular strategy.

Unless you have prior legal experience, the ideal scenario to serve as your own counsel is probably going to be in the most straightforward cases.

If you and your spouse can behave yourselves, work together to dissolve your marriage, and generally act in an amicable fashion, you can move forward with minimal friction.

This works best in the case of uncontested divorces.

  • If your marriage was short in duration,
  • if there are no minor children involved,
  • and if there is little or no shared property to divide, pro se may be the way to go.

Even in more complicated scenarios, if the two sides can collaborate and be civil, it’s possible to handle the division of property and even custody arrangements while representing yourself.

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 may be a viable option.

A primary reason to not represent yourself, is objectivity, which is particularly a problem in divorce law. Divorce is emotional and messy by nature and someone who is too close to the situation is liable to make emotional decisions and do irrational things.

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.

Every step of the process has potential pitfalls and problems that are easy to fall into if you don’t know what to look for. This even includes simple things like improper filing and 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.

Other Options

Depending on your circumstances, going to court and acting as a pro se litigant may be your best option. There are other avenues to explore and alternatives to going to court that may fit your case.

Mediation: 

One alternative to going to court is mediation. This is a process where both sides voluntarily sit down with a neutral third party in order 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 sides 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.

In this capacity, an outsider with experience can point out areas where there may be issues, suggest potential solutions to problems, and offer advice.

Arbitration:

Arbitration falls somewhere between mediation and a full trial on the spectrum. Like mediation, a neutral third party oversees this process.

Unlike mediation, 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 or the other beforehand. Binding arbitration is precisely what it sounds like. When the arbitrator hands down a ruling, it is 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 proceed. While there is an upside, you should be aware of the potential hazards.

Related Reading: Picking a Mediation Style
Related Reading: Is Arbitration The Best Choice For You?
Related Reading: What to Expect From Child Custody Hearings

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