What Are the Risks of Representing Myself in My Divorce?

divorce decree

When going through a divorce, some people consider representing themselves for various reasons – one of the most common being the misconception that doing so will save them money. However, representing yourself could cost you far more in the end as navigating the legal process can be tricky. A variety of mistakes can happen when litigating without an experienced attorney by your side or issues may be missed that should be raised. These mistakes can cost you time, money, and negatively impact your results. Often, these mistakes cannot be undone by an attorney after the fact.

Timing

From the inception of your matter in the Court system, divorce procedures follow strict timing requirements. If you are the party served, you have a deadline by which you must respond. If you fail to do so, your spouse will be eligible to file a default against you and proceed with divorce unopposed which will likely have a detrimental outcome for you. A default can be undone; but there are specific legal steps that need to be taken in order to do so.

Rights

Many self-represented litigants are not aware of their legal rights and obligations during the divorce process, nor how to enforce them. Not knowing or understanding your specific rights can be disadvantageous to you during the process. For example, concerns such as your spouse hiding or selling off assets, or cutting you off financially, can occur if you do not understand your rights or how to address them.

Discovery

One crucial element of any divorce is the discovery process, in which each spouse is required to disclose and provide information and documentation necessary to negotiate a fair settlement or prepare for court proceedings. If you are representing yourself, you risk not understanding what information is necessary, and may be unaware of what constitutes a reasonable request. You may also not understand what discovery tools are available to secure the requested information or documents.

Your spouse’s attorney could bombard you with discovery requests, provide limited information, or completely refuse to supply your spouse’s information. In situations of uncooperative spouses or attorneys, it is often necessary to serve subpoenas to acquire the necessary information. For an attorney, this process is simple and straightforward and can be completed in a relatively short period of time. People representing themselves typically must request the court’s assistance, which can take months. If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets or income, proving your suspicions can be very difficult without the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Negotiation

Coming to an agreement on a fair and equitable settlement is more difficult than most people realize. Without savvy negotiation skills, you risk receiving an unfair settlement. The division of marital assets, determining alimony and child support, and negotiating custody and parenting time occasionally require the use of specialized consultants such as custody experts, forensic accountants, psychologists, and more. An experienced divorce attorney will have a network of trusted experts and consultants they can easily call upon to assist in your case.

Litigation

When a fair settlement cannot be reached, or other extenuating circumstances arise, the divorce proceedings may move towards a trial. Even if you have obtained some success in the early stages of the divorce process, representing yourself in court at trial is risky. Preparing for and litigating a trial are two of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of being an attorney. A trial requires a vast understanding of the applicable law, preparing your own testimony and that of other witnesses you intend to call, experience in cross-examining your adversary’s witnesses and experts, developing a sound legal strategy, reviewing pages of required documents, introducing those exhibits into evidence, developing eloquent and persuasive opening and closing statements, and much more. Without training, experience, and access to legal resources that a licensed attorney has, representing yourself during the trial phase may result in an unexpected and disappointing outcome.

Getting divorced can be an emotional experience for most couples, often including feelings of loss, devastation, pain, betrayal, grief, frustration, and intense anger. People experiencing these emotions are not typically in the best frame of mind for making lifechanging decisions. Working with an attorney who can speak for you, act in your own best interest, and support you throughout the legal process can help you to make sound decisions that you will not regret later.

New Jersey Divorce Lawyers at Lepp, Mayrides & Eaton, LLC Represent and Support Clients Throughout the Divorce Process

Hiring an attorney to represent you in divorce proceedings is not required, but your chances of reaching a fair and equitable settlement are significantly greater if you do. The experienced New Jersey divorce lawyers at Lepp, Mayrides & Eaton, LLC ensure clients’ rights are protected and an agreeable settlement is reached. Call us at 908-800-7676 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. From our offices located in Somerville, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Central New Jersey, including Somerset, Hunterdon, Warren, Morris, Mercer, Monmouth, Union, and Middlesex counties.