10 Oct 17

Can I represent myself if I don’t like my lawyer?

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Legally, yes, you can represent yourself. There is no law that prohibits self-representation in a divorce case. But perhaps this shouldn’t be a question of “can I?”, but instead “should I?”

Should you represent yourself in a divorce case because you don’t like your lawyer? The answer to that is more complicated, but it really boils down to this: it’s not the idea.

There are numerous reasons why a person should not represent themselves when going through a divorce.

You don’t know all the laws

No matter how thoroughly you research, no matter how much you read, or how many questions you ask, you still won’t know all the laws about divorce. On top of that, you always won’t know all the nuances that the laws have which allows the law to be applied one way in one divorce case and a different way in a second divorce case. A divorce lawyer specializes in divorce, is familiar with and keeps abreast of all the divorce laws, and can manages the nuances that can make huge differences in how your divorce plays out for you.

There’s a lot of paperwork

There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, keep track of, and file at specific points in the process. It’s a lot to deal with when you’re not familiar with the process, and if one paper gets lost, you could find the whole process stalled. If one line on one form is filled out incorrectly, you could stall the process or find yourself in some legal hot water. A lawyer can help you properly fill out the paperwork, ensures it all gets filed on time, and will keep track of things for you.

Your spouse will likely have an attorney

While this might seem like a matter of trying to keep up with the Joneses, in a divorce, this is a serious disadvantage. If your spouse has a lawyer, and you do not, there is a very good chance that you will end up getting the short end of the stick, so to speak. A lawyer cannot guarantee a specific outcome, but as long as you have a lawyer, you’ll at least have a level playing field and a chance of a fair outcome.

Judges tend to be impatient with self-representation

Some judges will be sympathetic and understanding. But most are seeing their umpteenth case of the day, after seeing countless others this week, this month, and this year. They like the routine of people who know what they’re doing, who understand the laws, and know the courtroom culture. As an ‘outsider,’ you are going to be nervous, hesitant, and probably make several mistakes. While judges are supposed to be unbiased, the more irritated a judge is with you, the less he’s going to see your side of the situation. A good lawyer can move things along, get your points made, and keep you from unintentionally digging yourself into a whole.

Emotions can run high

It’s all too easy to listen as your spouse explains their view of the marriage and start getting furious because what they describe is nothing like what it was actually like. It’s too easy to leap to your feet and shout that it’s not true, or to scream for your spouse to tell the truth. Both of these things, and many other emotional things you could do, are only going to hurt you, though. A lawyer will help you keep your cool, dispute things on your behalf, and work hard to ensure that the judge knows your side of things.

Self-representation is always an option. But it also comes with the knowledge that you will likely get a settlement that is not as good as you’d hoped, could look bad in front of the judge, and could make mistakes that could get you in trouble.

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