It may be tempting to think about representing yourself during your divorce. Maybe you’re in the business field or own your own company and think that you know how to negotiate. You may believe 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. There are many dangers in representing yourself and you risk doing irreparable harm to your case. Among the most important reasons to use an attorney are the following:
- There are strict procedures and timing requirements governing divorce
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 his/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 are precautionary steps that should be taken early in your divorce matter to protect you.
Many people are not aware of their rights, and even if they are, they do not know how to take appropriate steps to enforce them. For instance, if your spouse has cut you off financially upon the filing of the complaint, what do you do? 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 and deal with on your behalf.
- You may not receive or provide the necessary information required for settlement negotiations or trial.
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 and 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.
In addition, 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.
- Preparing for and arguing a case at trial requires extensive knowledge and skills.
Your matter will be scheduled for trial if it is not settled by a certain point in time. Preparing for a trial and conducting one are among 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 you 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 you get documents into evidence? These are just some questions that a non-attorney will encounter representing himself/herself at trial. The court will not provide you with any help or patience during the trial. It will hold you to the same standards as if you were an attorney and it will lose patience if it feels like its valuable time is being wasted.
- A fair settlement is much more difficult to achieve than you think.
Employing an attorney to draft, review and negotiate a settlement is crucial to protecting your interests. An attorney will understand all relevant factors, be able to spot potential issues and enlist experts in valuation, specialized accounting and other disciplines when needed. Unfortunately, we have many individuals come to our office who 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). 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. In many instances, we are not able to help these individuals. The reality is that unless the agreement is extremely one-sided, it is very difficult to set aside a settlement.
Although technically you do not need an attorney to represent you during your divorce, your best opportunity to receive fair treatment by the court and in settlement negotiations is to have legal representation. A qualified attorney can advise you of the relevant law in the state and guide you on achieving the best result in your matter.
To request a consultation, please contact us today.