Risks of Self-Representation and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce

We often work with individuals who have come to our office looking for legal assistance after trying, and not having much success, with representing themselves in their divorce. The legal term that refers to self-representation in a court matter is known as representing yourself pro-se. This term, however, may be more than a little ironic since, as most people who attempt a do-it-yourself divorce can tell you, there aren’t many pros, and quite a few cons, when trying to negotiate your own divorce.

What are some of the risks of a DIY divorce? We offer a complete look at this topic in our article, Pitfalls of Handling Your Own New Jersey Divorce, but here are some highlights:

Costly child custody mistakes: Because there are so many options and choices when it comes to child custody arrangements, couples who create agreements without legal guidance frequently make mistakes. For example, divorcing parents may not know the difference between “joint legal” and “shared legal” custody. This may not matter at the time. But if there is a custody issue down the road, this mistake could cost a parent dearly.

A false sense of security: Couples who opt for a DIY divorce often believe that all financial and asset division issues are correctly resolved because the court accepted and processed the forms and has issued the divorce decree. However, this may or may not be the case! Some problems can remain undiscovered for years until, for example, one spouse embarks on a significant financial transaction such taking out a home mortgage, only to discover a mountain of jointly held debt that was never accounted for. Untangling these matters can sometimes drag out, and in the meantime, credit for both individuals is harmed.

Lopsided representation: If one spouse consults with an attorney, but the other spouse is determined to represent themselves pro-se because they think this will save money, unless they are a legal professional, this approach is usually disastrous.

Yes, individuals can become extremely knowledgeable about family law — this is actually something we encourage in our clients and offer books, downloads, and articles on our website for this very reason! However, in court, representing oneself pro-se can create frustration and lost time, lead to feelings of being completely overwhelmed, and dramatically increase the chances that you will walk away from all this without the settlement you want. In the end, self-representation often leads to spending more money to undo the damage than would have been spent in the first place.

We offer free consultations at our New Jersey practice, and when questions about do-it-yourself divorce are asked, we’ve come to understand that what many of these individual are really seeking is a cost-effective, quick way to fairly settle all the issues involved in the divorce, including child-related matters, alimony, asset division, and more. In our response, we usually discuss uncontested divorce, or divorce mediation, as suitable alternatives. Instead of resisting, these individuals are usually extremely happy to find out they can get what they want — without the risks of going it alone.

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