What are three risks of self-representation in divorce?

This article lists three reasons people going through a divorce should not represent themselves.

One of the first decisions anybody going through a divorce will have to make is whether to hire an attorney or represent themselves. Increasingly, people are choosing self-representation, often because they believe that self-representation will save time and money. However, as Huffington Post recently reported, those who choose to handle their divorce cases themselves often become overwhelmed by the complexities of the process. What’s worse is that self-representation often places a person in danger of making a mistake that could have lifelong consequences. Below are just three of the main reasons why self-representation is often a bad idea during divorce.

1. Knowing the process

For most couples, divorce is a very emotional process. For the courts, however, divorce is a legal process and, as such, both spouses will have to comply with the laws and procedures surrounding their divorce. Lack of training and experience in family law puts self-represented parties at an extreme disadvantage, especially when the other spouse is represented by a lawyer. Judges cannot grant special favors to a self-represented party just because that party is inexperienced with the law. Each side in a divorce is expected to know the procedure and judges are prohibited from giving either spouse legal advice.

2. Long-term consequences

Divorce settlements have consequences that both spouses will feel for years to come. Some issues have long-term financial and emotional implications, like support and child custody arrangements. Other long-term issues, however, may get overlooked by a self-represented party who may be more concerned with immediate consequences. Pensions and other retirement benefits, for example, may not be priorities for a relatively young couple going through a divorce, but the failure to properly address how these assets should have been divided can lead to long-term adverse financial consequences.

3. Emotional baggage

Because of the emotional nature of divorce, it is difficult for spouses to think objectively about their situation. As the Wall Street Journal points out, trying to get revenge on an ex-spouse by dragging out the divorce process or making unreasonable demands is often the best way to ensure neither party is happy after the final settlement is signed. An attorney can stay above the fray and assess his or her client’s best interests without getting bogged down in emotional conflicts. Having that sort of objective advice is often the key to reaching a divorce settlement that is fair. A divorce litigant needs to have the benefit of an attorney that focuses on the financial aspects of the divorce, without confusing those considerations with the emotional scars from the relationship.

Even in the best of circumstances, divorce is a difficult and often confusing process. Self-representation often makes the process more complicated. An experienced family law attorney, by offering guidance and expertise, helps the client avoid unexpected financial pitfalls, avoids letting emotions sway reasoned considerations, and is able to offer the client the knowledge of how the process will work and how long the process will take. The comfort this provides helps alleviate the emotional toll that the divorce would otherwise inflict.