Pro Se Divorce or Pro Se Child Custody – Which is better?
Attorneys, judges, legal personnel all think pro se divorce or pro se child custody litigants are insane. Even with Uncontested Divorce, they believe that taking the risk of botching the child custody or child support terms is too high. For those of you who need clarity, a pro se litigant is:
“someone who argues his/her own case in a lawsuit, rather than having a lawyer represent him/her and do the legal work for him/her. “Pro se” is Latin for ‘on behalf of oneself’.”
Why Pro Se?
Now that you know what the “professionals” think about you handling your divorce or child custody case pro se, let’s explore if YOU should. There are several reasons why people choose to represent themselves. First, the cost of divorce can bankrupt you really quick. I spoke with women who said that they have spent upwards of $200,000 in legal fees for their divorce. Yes….you read that correctly. When you factor in the cost of financial experts, guardian ad litem fees, etc. it is conceivable. Next, the emotional toll many people endure is enough to lead them to the pro se route. And let’s be honest, the fisticuffs come out blazing when allegations of abuse, disputes over money and battles over custody arise. Last, the need to get it over with so that one or both parties can move on in their lives. That usually means moving onto a new relationship, journey or lifestyle.
Is Pro Se for You?
The question still remains though, is pro se representation advantageous for you? Every situation is different so don’t be influenced by your neighbors’ story. You must look at every single detail of your circumstances from a strategic standpoint. Yes the law is significant too but strategy is key. That means looking at how the law applies to your strengths as well as your weaknesses of your case. In addition, you must weigh the strengths and weaknesses of your ex’s or soon to be ex’s case and analyze them together.
In instances where there are no children and/or no property, pro se divorce or pro se child custody is often a no brainer. However, when there are children then you must examine the ramifications of any potential custody agreements and how it will affect child support. The same with respect to assets or liabilities, you must consider the possible outcomes of any split or distribution. Knowing the law is not all there is to it, you must know the exceptions too.
Let’s look at some scenarios:
Scenario #1: Mr. & Mrs. X are going through a split and they both want sole custody. Neither of them have issues with being “fit” or “unfit” so the decision will come down to several factors but one factor takes precedence. If they reside in a “presumed” joint custody state, where the courts will assume that joint custody is in the best interests of the child, then fighting for sole custody will inevitably require a trial. Not a good idea to try this without the help of experienced legal professionals.
Scenario #2: Mr. & Mrs. Z, Mrs. Z was a stay at home mom for 10 years while Mr. Z worked full time and provided for the family during that time. Mrs. Z is asking for joint custody with a parenting arrangement that fits both parties’ schedules, child support (based on their state’s statutory guidelines) and a split of the proceeds of the marital home. Although this may seem impossible to many, this scenario has the potential to be resolved amicably amongst the parties.
The Possible Consequences
No matter how well prepared you are, how skilled you are at presenting your case or how knowledgeable you are with the laws, there’s a very good chance that your case will lead to nefarious consequences. Why? Simply because you are not an attorney.
Pro se litigants generally turn the courts off because they have low and negative expectations of pro se litigants. As a result, courts often just put up mental and emotional barriers at the very mention of “pro se litigant”. Right, wrong or indifferent, this is the reality. What happens though is that they focus more on the “wrongs” so much that they overlook the merits of the case.
Not to mention, if your court renders an unfavorable decision or order on your case in your pro se action, you are stuck with if for the most part. Your only recourse is an appeal, which is very expensive and time-consuming.
What are your options?
So with the explosion of legal resources on the internet everyone thinks they can handle any legal matter on their own. There might be some credence to this thinking but you must still choose wisely. There are great options available to help pro se litigants now. Some of these include divorce consultants-strategists (like myself); document preparers (we offer these as well), paralegal support services, etc. Even though these options are widely available now, you should still use discernment. Other viable options are your state’s free resources, nonprofit organizations like Legal Aid and limited service attorneys to name a few. Whatever option you decide on, it is crucial to understand exactly what you might be risking in the process.
The bottom line is this, being pro se is not an automatic catastrophe, just don’t rush to decide. Do your research. Get consultations. Make a fully informed decision.