3rd Jan 2018
Is a self-help (pro se) divorce right for me?
Only in the most simple divorces with no children, no property or real estate, no income disparity between the spouses, and no arguments.
The availability of self-help divorce forms has encouraged people to enter a complicated and confusing legal system without the assistance of an attorney for advice and direction. The forms, while broad, provide very little depth. Pro se parties fill out the 40+ page form and check all the boxes, believing that all topics have been covered and everything has been sorted out. However, there is little understanding of the consequences of the boxes that were checked, the boxes left unchecked, and the need for additional detail that has no box at all to check. For example, if one party is awarded a vehicle or home, it does NOT mean the other party is removed from financial responsibility for that vehicle or home. There is no box to check regarding a requirement to refinance the debt, the amount of time in which the refinance needs to be completed, and the consequence of not refinancing. When the party with the asset fails to make payments, there needs to be consequences. With regard to custody, did you know that changing custody labels later, absent some form of endangerment, is very difficult? Regarding property and income, parties often give up the right to ask for more because “the house was in his name” or “the retirement account is in her name and I didn’t contribute to that account, so it was awarded 100% to her.”
Once the divorce is done, changing the terms is very difficult. You can pay the money to do it right the first time, or you can pay the money to maybe get it fixed later. Most attorneys can be hired for the limited purpose of reviewing a proposed divorce agreement, if you want to keep costs down. Remember: No one except an attorney can give you legal advice. Your spouse’s attorney is NOT your attorney. The judge and court administrators are not your attorneys and they cannot give you legal advice. Your family member who went through a divorce is not a good source for legal advice.
As a pro se litigant, you will be expected to know and follow the rules. You will be required to timely serve and file documents. You should not expect to receive special treatment because you “didn’t know the rules” or “didn’t go to law school.” If you fail to follow the rules, you may face serious consequences.
As your own attorney, you will be expected to appear in court, to be prepared, and to speak about the issues set for hearing (and not all the other stuff that doesn’t matter to the Court). Understand that going to court is a lot of hurry up and wait. Things move fast in front of the judge, and often pro se parties don’t understand what is happening to them until it has happened.
Don’t go it alone!