Attorney Blog

The Pros and Cons of Pro Se Divorce

AttorneyTribe

Whether the reasons involve mistrusting attorneys, high fees, or the belief of the "easy" case, pro se divorce filings are increasing. This trend is likely to continue as form availability increases and online document services such as LegalZoom grow.

However, divorce is an area with the greatest life impacts. It affects future relationships with children, the handling of assets, and if one spouse is self-employed, the way the business and its assets are managed. A poorly executed divorce results in more than inconvenience. It can even ruin lives.

Like anything, pro se divorce has its advantages and disadvantages. However, keep in mind that there are some circumstances where pro se divorce is not recommended.

Pros

Cost Savings. A mediated divorce case can start at $3,000.00 for fees and costs and litigating in court can cost up to $30,000.00 per party. Filing pro se means paying filing fees and a document company, which amounts to only a few hundred dollars.

If you have no joint debt or large assets (like a house), or children, filing jointly and pro se will allow for quicker processing along with decreased costs. Lawyers are unnecessary as this will be merely procedural with few legal issues.

Less Adversity. Involving lawyers adds an adversarial flavor immediately. It is a subtle psychological suggestion in this culture that no one hires a lawyer unless planning for a fight. As a result, parties go into the divorce ready to do just that.

Without lawyer involvement, there is less chance of this immediate adversarial attitude. It becomes more of a project to finish with shared purposes.

Quicker Settlement. Lawyers are busy professionals and even if the parties are willing to settle, it can take longer as the opposing attorneys make time to contact each other and then find free time in their court calendars to schedule the final hearing to present documents for the judge's signature. Direct communication between the parties and fewer competing time elements can often lead to a divorce settling quicker.

Cons

Time. The practice of law is a full time job often involving longer than 40 hour weeks for a reason. Law is time consuming. Divorce is not simply filing papers and waiting for it all to end. Divorce involves court appearance, mediation, evaluations by case workers or psychologists (in child custody disputes) and answering telephone calls or emails from the other party or that party's attorney. If you work, maintain hobbies, or want time with your children, the management of your case will cut into all these activities.

Also, as a non-lawyer, you will not know court procedure or legal issues as well. Along with communicating with experts and parties and meeting court requirements, you may also need to spend time on legal research. Legal research is actually a marketable skill in and of itself that will take time to learn before you find answers.

Inexperience. Many issues make a divorce complicated. Dividing retirement accounts, parenting plan procedure, and elements involving abuse, crime, or fraud can make a simple forms procedure into a litigation nightmare. If you are already hard at work simply trying to make a living and manage your changing life, facing these issues can become overwhelming quick.

As related to time, it can require researching complex legal issues and perhaps never quite mastering them. You are attempting a best guess with the hope it all works out. If the case goes to trial, pro se litigants are still required to practice correct court procedure and know evidentiary issues affecting exhibits. Courts are not sympathetic if you plead ignorance and being ignorant can turn a case.

Impulse Control and Other Emotional Issues. To litigate successfully, you must be emotionally removed. Divorce lawyers see good people at their very worse which can result in bad decisions.

Unless you are certain that you can remain steady and not indulge questionable impulses, do not proceed pro se in an emotionally-charged divorce. During divorce proceedings, litigants have broken into their spouse's property, filed punitive motions, and violated parenting plans only to find themselves in a bad position as the court considers asset division and child custody. Duress or sadness will not serve as a defense. There is no shame in admitting you require an attorney as a buffer during hard times.

When to Avoid Pro Se Divorce

In cases involving financial abuse or fraud, abuse, drug addiction, or even an extremely unequal financial situation (such as a homemaker spouse), pro se divorce is not recommended. These issues try law, emotions, and finances enough that the benefits of pro se divorce filing do not outweigh the very immense potential costs.

However, if you and your spouse are agreeable to issues of child custody and most of your assets are separately owned, pro se divorce may be a reasonable and affordable option for you.