When going through the divorce process, many spouses hire an attorney, but there is no requirement to. In a legal sense, when one or both spouses represent themselves in court, it is referred to as a “pro se divorce.” Since divorce can be quite costly, many spouses who elect to appear pro se do so to save attorneys’ fees.
Advantages of Pro Se Divorce
A divorce, on average, can cost more than $15,000, depending on the degree to which an attorney is involved. A pro se divorce will save you money. As long as the parties behave calmly and rationally, it may also help the divorce process be quicker and less complicated, mainly since you will not be using legal strategies to purposely drag it out.
Disadvantages of Pro Se Divorce
Saving money is the most significant advantage to a pro se divorce. However, when you hire a divorce attorney, they will handle every aspect of your case. That means much less stress for you, and you can have peace of mind that someone is fighting for your best interests. When you represent yourself, you will be expected to know and follow state and local divorce laws and procedures. Although there are instructions and divorce forms available on the state’s website, and a judge may give you some slack, handling a divorce on your own will require extensive research and time. If you do not have the time to organize and develop a plan, there is no one available to help you prepare. Finally, it can be challenging to control impulse decisions or emotional outbursts when you are in court. An attorney will not act out of emotion and stick to the strategy uniquely tailored to your case.
When Would a Pro Se Divorce Make Sense?
The less complicated a divorce and the contested issues, the more sense a pro se divorce makes, for example, in an uncontested divorce. An uncontested divorce is a simple way for married couples to get divorced, but can only happen when they can agree on how to settle all divorce-related issues, like custody, visitation, property and debt division, spousal support, and child support. Then, instead of having to go to court for a Judge to make decisions in your divorce, the spouses complete all of the necessary documents and file them with the Court Clerk. In these cases, a pro se divorce may make sense if you and your spouse can communicate and compromise.
When Might a Pro Se Divorce Not Be a Good Option?
A pro se divorce typically won’t be the best choice if:
You cannot agree on critical issues (e.g., custody, spousal support, property division, etc.)
Your spouse is represented by an attorney.
If you believe a serious issue might arise. Keep in mind that even if you begin a pro se divorce, you can still hire an attorney at any point.
You do not have the spare time to organize your case or become familiar with state divorce laws and procedural rules.
If you find yourself in a situation where you do not believe you can afford an attorney to represent you fully, there may be other options. For instance, hiring partial representation where an attorney only deals with a few agreed-upon issues, or you only consult them for advice and to review or prepare documents. Other alternatives to divorce include using an online divorce service, trying mediation, collaborative divorce, or contacting legal aid.