There is an old adage that “A lawyer who represents themselves has a fool for a client.” In the divorce process, one or both parties can represent themselves, however, you first need to decide if that’s a good idea for you and your spouse given your facts and circumstances.
Sometimes it is a good idea as you and your spouse are able to communicate with each other respectfully, and you are both on fairly equal footing when it comes to understanding all of your finances. Are there times when it’s not a good idea to represent yourself in your divorce? Absolutely.
Whether one or both parties are pro se, in many cases it can end up costing you more than if you had hired a lawyer.
If it’s been a short marriage, you both are well informed of your assets and debts, your assets and debts are simple and straightforward, you are both in agreement that it’s time to move on and you have an agreed upon plan for moving forward and dissolving your marriage, then it could cost you less than retaining an attorney. However, if one party has been the sole manager of the family finances you may find out after the divorce is over that there was actually more money in your accounts and/or there were more assets and/or joint debts than you realized and/or had been relayed to you. Problems arise when your divorce decree addresses those accounts and/or assets in fully inclusive, general terms, where you won’t be able to go back and ask for a different division. Additionally, there may be statutory child related provisions in your decree that result in unintended post-divorce consequences either because you were not fully versed on the ramifications of these provisions, or understood them to mean something different. These types of decree language post-divorce issues can bring on a myriad of problems.
If you are pro se and draft your own divorce decree, inevitably there will be legal issues that are addressed in that decree that you don’t fully understand.
Or there may be issues that are not addressed but become major issues when a circumstance arises after the divorce. You may discover that you did not intend to agree to something, but the language in your decree says you did agree to it. Additionally, there may be additional legal documents (sometimes separate, specialized court orders, real estate documents, asset transfer documents, etc.) needed to fully effectuate the division of certain assets which were never created.
You must follow what’s in that divorce decree.
When you go back to court to change something, the judge will review the original decree and look at the circumstances at the time that the order was entered versus the circumstances now. In some cases there are ways to fix a particular provision in the divorce decree, but the process needed to obtain this change/fix/modification is very costly – both in time and money. In many cases, there is no “fix.”
I’ve had plenty of cases where people have come to me after a pro se divorce realizing that they had made a mistake (or two, or three). The decree they created has numerous unintended consequences due to the legal language that is required to be in a decree which they did not fully understand when they signed it. In Texas, when it comes to a legal document, we are all expected to have read and understood whatever it is we agreed to sign. In some cases with those unintended consequences, you may be able to modify it, however, this process will cost you a lot of money. In some cases, you may not be able to modify it. This is particularly true for a division of assets in which that door could be absolutely closed once the decree has been entered with the Court.
When one spouse is pro se, there is no one to explain to that spouse the legal, financial, and emotional ramifications of the positions both parties have taken.
No attorney in Texas can represent both parties in a divorce. When both parties are pro se, neither party is receiving professional advice. Pro se is often chosen because someone thinks they know it all and/or think that everything is straight forward and relatively simple. That decision may very well wind up costing you more money in the long run. Hiring an expert will save you money, both in the short term and in the long term. At the very least, before you sign a legally binding court order in a divorce or child related matter, take the time to carefully review the proposed order with a family law attorney.