Many people think that they can handle their own divorce. Whether that thought stems from a desire to “keep lawyers out of it,” or whether the thought is to economize, there are hazards to going it alone. The first obvious hazard is the raw emotion that is experienced during a divorce. Sometimes it is better to have a third party involved who can be more objective and realistic. A self-represented litigant may tend to make decisions based on emotion or a need to settle perceived scores. This can be expensive and against someone’s self-interest. At times, it is better to compromise rather than fight. Alternatively, it may be better to litigate than to take a one-sided settlement. A lawyer will have better insight into that.
In addition, decisions that are made during the divorce process can have long-lasting ramifications. For example, once a custody agreement is signed, it may be difficult to modify the agreement unless one can show that there are changed circumstances. Also, once marital property is divided in a divorce settlement, it is largely not possible to go back and change that division of property. Any rights that are waived now may not be regained at a later date. Oftentimes, parties simply do not know the full rights that are available to them. Certainly, they do not know the applicable law and how their rights are determined. Lawyers are in a better position to know what a client’s rights are and to relay that to the client. Some of the worst results that occur in divorces happen when a party is uninformed.
A divorce court is a difficult forum for any litigant. When you walk into a divorce court, it is a legal proceeding, whether or not the divorce is contested. For those getting a divorce, it will hopefully be the only time in their lives they encounter the family law process. Therefore, it is difficult to know how the process works if it has never been experienced before. Lawyers have knowledge of this process because it is something that they do every day. Oftentimes, the personality and preferences of a judge may dictate how they apply the law to a case. A self-represented litigant will not have any idea what the individual judges in a court are like. Lawyers should know what each judge is like and will have insight into how the process works. For those handling their own divorce, they are likely to spend as much time trying to figure out the process as they would be actually arguing their own case. It is better to let a lawyer take the reins because they will know how to make filings and the timelines associated with each case. There are not any exceptions for self-represented litigants who miss a court deadline because they did not retain a lawyer.