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Should I Represent Myself in My Own Divorce?

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Representing yourself: is it a good idea? This is a question everyone should ask before they hire an attorney to handle their divorce.  Attorneys are expensive.  Only hire one if you need one.  The question is whether hiring an attorney will save you money, or will cost you more than they save you.  The answer to this question is a question.  How complicated is your divorce?  More complicated divorces need the professional assistance of an attorney, but straight forward uncomplicated cases do not.

Take a hard and objective look at the issues facing you in divorce.

Take a hard and objective look at the issues facing you in divorce.  Is there a significant disagreement over a fair parenting plan?   Are you able to calculate the correct amount of child support to be paid based upon your parenting plan?  Is your spouse demanding unreasonable spousal support or refusing to pay reasonable spousal support?  What is reasonable spousal support based on the financial facts of your marriage?  Is there a lot of property and assets to divided, or do you only have modest assets?  Can the payment of debts be reasonably divided?

What rights does each spouse have in the other spouse’s retirement plan?  Are the rules and procedures of divorce proceedings overwhelming?  Can you plan and execute the steps required to start and finish a divorce?  Are you good at negotiating?  Is your spouse represented by an attorney?

If your spouse is angry, hostile and unreasonable, you will probably need an attorney to advise you.

One of the biggest problems in divorce, and a major reason to hire an attorney, is an angry, hostile and unreasonable spouse. If your spouse falls into this category, you will probably need an attorney to advise you as to what is reasonable, and to negotiate on your behalf.  If you could have a reasonable discussion with, and reach a reasonable settlement with, your spouse you probably would not be getting divorced.

If you decide that you can handle representing yourself, you should still have one meeting with an attorney to discuss your plans and to get one-time advice.

After considering the above issues, make a well-reasoned decision about whether or not you should hire an attorney.  If you decide that you can handle representing yourself, you should still have one meeting with an attorney to discuss your plans and to get some one-time advice.  Most Family Law Attorneys will meet with you for one or two sessions on an hourly rate basis.  You are not retaining them to do you entire divorce, but just hiring them for some very limited advice or to review your documents.  You only pay them for the time you spent with the attorney.  The attorney does provide legal advice, but does not represent you or go to court for you.   The name for this is “Unbundle Legal Services.”

Remember: Attorney fees are a one-time thing.  The cost of a bad settlement will go on for years.

Knowing that attorneys are expensive, and no one wants to spend money that they do not have to, keep in mind that the financial losses caused by representing yourself in a complicated or overly emotional divorce can cost you far more than hiring an attorney would.  Attorney fees are a one-time thing.  The cost of a bad settlement will go on for years.  Are you feeling guilty about wanting to get out of the marriage, and will over-pay to relieve that guilt?  Is your spouse so damn mean that you will throw in the towel just to avoid any more contact and fighting?  Do you know what parenting plan is actually fair?  Was correct financial information used to calculate your child support?  Did you really owe that much spousal support, or were you owed a lot more spousal support?  Any of these things can add up to a big financial hit, especially when they are paid out over the course of many years.

If the facts and issues are complicated, or the risks are high, be wary of representing yourself. Hire an attorney.

With experienced legal representation you could win: a parenting plan based upon the true facts of your marriage; correctly calculated child support; spousal support based on the actual law and facts; fair property and debt division; and proper division of retirement accounts.  A miscalculation or poor negotiation of any one of these issues can be extremely expensive for a very long time. Divorce is a business process.  That it is why it is actually called “Dissolution of Marriage”.  When you terminate a business corporation, you dissolve the corporation.  So treat this like a business decision.  Consider the facts and issues.  Evaluate your risk.   If the facts and issues are complicated, or the risks are high, bring in a professional.  Hire an attorney.   If not much is really at risk, and the facts are just not that complicated, you can fill out a lot of forms and save yourself some money.

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