If you decide to represent yourself in your divorce or at least start the process without an attorney, you will hear the term “pro se” used frequently. This is the Latin term for “for one’s own behalf; in person.” It simply means you do not have an attorney.
While it might seem obvious, representing yourself comes with some pretty big responsibilities. You are expected to follow all the rules of the court and the rules of civil procedure. It will be your responsibility alone to know and pay attention to filing deadlines, rule of evidence, the court process, and what you can and cannot ask for. Thankfully, most judges are more sympathetic to pro se parties, but know that you are held to those requirements. Should something go wrong down the line or your case goes awry, you cannot use the excuse that you did not know or understand because you are not an attorney. This is not acceptable.
Family law and divorces may appear pretty simple at first glance. You fill out the court forms, check the boxes, fill in the blanks and you are finished. However, it is not uncommon for things to start out amicable and then go amuck. Having the forms filled out incorrectly can cost you financially and can impact your relationship with your child. Additionally, if you resolve all issues and finalize a separation agreement and/or parenting plan, there are legal consequences and obligations that will flow from your agreement and if you missed important expectations, you may be up a creek.
There are appropriate ways to use the forms, and a good law firm will be happy to walk you through the forms and double check your work. But exclusively relying on the forms to get you through your divorce will only get you though, but at what expense? It can cost you in the end to return to court because the forms were not done correctly or properly.
COMMON EXAMPLE FOR SELF REPRESENTED CLIENTS IN DIVORCE:
You and your spouse agreed to sell the marital home and indicate this in your separation agreement. You also agree to equally divide the proceeds from the sale. Those are the only terms listed in your separation agreement and this seemed very straight forward to you. The court accepts your separation agreement and makes it an order of the court. But, 12 months later, the house is not sold, the proceeds have not been divided, and you are paying for your spouse to still live in the home. You ask yourself, how could this be. Let me explain how this is possible.
After your divorce is granted, your spouse decides it is cheaper to stay in the home and therefore is dragging his or her feet to put the house on the market. Your spouse then stops paying the mortgage and utilities, so you pay the expenses to avoid the negative hit on your credit. Finally, after 9 months, your spouse puts the home on the market. It takes three months to get a single offer because your ex-spouse is not cooperating with the realtor and showings and the house is a disaster. Finally, you get an amazing offer on the house, but because your spouse does not want to move, he or she refuses to sign the contract alleging that the offer “isn’t good enough.” Twelve months later, the house is still not sold.
Under the law, your spouse has not violated the court order. The separation agreement did not indicate when or if your spouse had to move out, who had to make the mortgage or utility bills, whether the house was to be maintained, when the house had to go on the market, who was responsible for putting the home on the market, or what the house was going to sell for. In order to hold your spouse accountable for these things, each person’s rights and obligations MUST be addressed in the separation agreement.
These provisions, among many others, should have been outlined in the parties’ separation agreement but were not. It takes practice and experience to understand what can happen after a divorce so that one can plan ahead and prepare for the worst. How many times have you been divorced? How many legal contracts and documents have you written? There are consequences to how you practically divide up your property. Hopefully you now understand the dangers of self-representation. But now to manage the financial component.
Understandably, most individuals would prefer not to have to retain a lawyer. Lawyers can be expensive and it is important to most individuals to keep their fees down. However, it is possible with the right firm to manage your fees. It is important that you find a firm that has an open door on their billing practice. You need to be able to not only bring up disagreements in your billing but feel comfortable doing so. You need to trust your law firm and know that they are treating you fairly. At Skulborstad Legal Group, we want you to know exactly what was done in your case and why. We want you to be able to know that you were not taken advantage of and that we are honest and fair in our billing. See our Fees and Costs section here for more details about our billing standards and policies.