When considering divorce, you may toy with the idea of representing yourself. For example, you may think your divorce will be relatively straightforward. Or maybe you consider yourself a savvy negotiator and highly intelligent. Or the idea of saving yourself money by not hiring a lawyer appeals to you. Though all your objectives may be well-intentioned, representing yourself in your divorce is generally not a good idea due to both technical and substantive pitfalls and the many risks associated with doing so.
Being your own divorce lawyer can leave you vulnerable and at a distinct disadvantage. This is especially a danger if your partner has obtained legal counsel and you have not. Even if the split between you and your partner is amicable to start, and even if it stays that way, it is always safer to have the knowledge and expertise only an experienced and capable divorce attorney can provide.
A lawyer representing your partner will understandably advance their interests and priorities. Your partner’s lawyer does not have an obligation to protect your interests or advance your priorities and, in fact, cannot give you legal advice. Your own family lawyer is there to guide you through the divorce process and after it, advising you of your rights, any legal options you may have, and making recommendations based on your best interests.
Divorces, like health, can take a turn for the worse unexpectedly. They can be more complicated situations than you realize due to laws or legal procedures you don’t know exist. In only the most unusual of situations are “do-overs” possible if outcomes turn out differently than you expected. Therefore, you should come to the divorce process represented by a Seattle family law attorney who handles divorce cases on a routine basis and has the experience to know the law, procedures, and best courses of action to recommend for your circumstances and best interests.
The idiom “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” did not arise out of nowhere. To illustrate why, here are nine reasons why you shouldn’t represent yourself in your divorce.
1. What happened before you filed for divorce could be more consequential than you think.
That the best offensive is a good defense doesn’t only apply to sports. A divorce lawyer can pinpoint evidence that opposing counsel may try to use against you in divorce negotiations, including transaction history, social media, and correspondence, among other factors. Particularly in the age of technology, every piece of information is traceable. Of course, it is important that you are honest with your divorce attorney from the outset.
Excessive spending, attempts to hide assets, or efforts to create marital waste, which refers to the intentional depletion of joint assets, can become contentious and expensive issues. Similarly, anything posted on social media or in writing, such as emails that become accessible to your partner, could also be fair game. Therefore, it can be challenging to know what you should protect yourself against without a lawyer advising you.
2. Filing deadlines
From the beginning of the divorce process, meeting deadlines is critical to your case. Failing to do so can cost you significantly, whether financially or with something money can’t value, like parenting time. Failing to meet an important deadline can also have an unexpected domino-effect imperiling future rights or options you might otherwise have.
For example, if opposing counsel serves you with a petition for divorce, you have a specified amount of time to answer. Failure to do so on time could result in your spouse receiving a default judgment. In other words, a judge could construe your silence as an agreement to the terms included in the petition.
The same scenario could apply to motions that arise during your case. Missing the deadline to respond might mean that you do not give yourself a say in how much child support will be paid, where the children will live until trial, who must pay which bills, or who will live in the family home until the case concludes.
Not knowing when evidence or documents must be filed with the court or submitted to the other party as your case progresses might mean you are prevented from showing the judge critical evidence or having important witness testimony at trial.
The good news is that an experienced Seattle divorce lawyer can ensure that all of the required documents are submitted correctly and in a timely fashion to protect your rights and advance your goals in a divorce.
3. The discovery process can be complicated.
During the discovery process, both parties must exchange pertinent documents and records to the information needed to negotiate and draft your divorce agreement or, if necessary, prepare for trial. If you do not have an attorney to represent you, you may not know what information and document requests are allowed within the scope of discovery or are relevant to the case.
You may not know what types of information is “privileged” and what must be done to legally keep it private. In addition, you may not know what to ask for or how to interpret the information you receive once you do get it.
Often, soon-to-be-ex-spouses are not forthcoming with information. Without an attorney, it can be difficult to access documents from your spouse and their legal team. To that end, a lawyer can subpoena such information relatively easily and quickly, saving you the time and frustration involved in seeking alternate strategies for obtaining the requested information.
4. A lawyer could help keep you out of court.
By employing a lawyer, you may have a better chance at resolving your case using alternative dispute resolution and staying out of court. Lawyers trained in mediation, arbitration, and collaborative divorce, for example, can advocate on their clients’ behalf, potentially avoiding the contentious and adversarial nature of a hearing, trial, or other court proceeding.
Alternative dispute resolution utilizes neutral third parties to help oversee divorce settlements. It avoids the time, money, and frustration of courtroom litigation. In mediation, for example, your lawyer will facilitate negotiations with the mediator, helping you reach an agreement with the other party.
5. Your divorce isn’t a TV episode or reality TV.
Even if you are the world’s most devoted fan of “Law & Order” or any other TV show depicting courtroom proceedings, it still does not qualify you to represent yourself in court. Possibilities abound as to the unforeseen problems that can arise during a divorce proceeding. The best way to protect yourself from these issues is to hire experienced legal counsel.
From knowing courtroom etiquette to understanding the rules inside a courtroom, your divorce lawyer can help you navigate the legal landscape. Going to court can be a nerve-racking experience for the novice, but not for your divorce attorney. Your time before a judge is limited, so you want to make sure you use every minute in your favor.
6. You may not know what a fair settlement is for your situation.
Employing a family law attorney to draft, review, and negotiate a settlement is crucial to protecting your interests in your divorce. A family law attorney has the knowledge and experience necessary to understand all relevant factors to your case, spot potential issues, and source consultants and experts such as a forensic accountant or tax specialist, if necessary.
When you forego legal representation, you are more likely to agree to terms that may seem favorable when you enter into the agreement but ultimately prove unfair in the future. You may also unwittingly or unknowingly prevent yourself or your children from receiving valuable rights, monies, or property to which you and they are legally entitled.
Your goal in divorce is to achieve a settlement, a settlement that is equitable and meets your needs and best interests so you can emerge from the divorce process with a solid foundation to begin your post-divorce life. A divorce settlement should endure for years, and a competent Seattle family lawyer will maximize your opportunity for such a result.
7. Divorce is not one size fits all, so online documents are too general.
These days, there are many services on the internet selling online divorces. These companies provide some of the many documents you will need to complete your divorce — with one huge caveat: They do not apply specifically to your divorce, your family, and your individual issues.
No two divorces are ever identical. Your case will not be “just like your brother’s wife’s cousin’s divorce.” Even if you have the same number of children, both own homes in the same town, and earn similar incomes, your case will include unique issues.
Only divorce lawyers have the necessary range and depth of experience to advise you about your specific case. In addition, they are trained to understand how legal principles may be analogous — or distinguished — from one case to the next. As helpful as online resources are, there is no replacement for a real-life lawyer who can provide you with individualized counsel.
8. You’re too close to the situation.
Divorce is an emotionally-charged process, to say the least. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to remain calm enough at all times to see your case through impartial eyes. Acting on feelings of frustration and anger or demonstrating any extreme emotion can undermine your case. It can also cause you to miss important details.
Everything is personal because it involves your life, your children, all the property you have acquired to date, and your future. It is all on the line and potentially at risk. By hiring a Seattle divorce lawyer to represent you, you bring to your case a knowledgeable and level-headed individual who can advise you and advocate for you with objectivity.
9. You have a lot at stake, especially if you are a parent.
If you are a parent and your divorce involves your children, you will have additional factors to consider, many of which can become complicated. Hot-button issues include parenting time, what will go into the parenting plan, child support and can, in some circumstances, also include emergency situations and domestic abuse.
When it comes to issues involving children, they tend to be emotionally charged. Consequently, you will want to have a family law attorney who will put the best interests of your children first in any decision-making. You will likewise want to have a lawyer who understands that the choices you make during your divorce can impact your children well into their adulthood and, therefore, values a strong co-parenting relationship.
Especially in a high-conflict divorce, where children are at risk of becoming bargaining chips, you want a lawyer on your side who is committed to helping you create a positive and safe environment for your children and knows how to reach this goal. In addition, you want a divorce lawyer who believes in the value of education to better your family life and will direct and support your learning.
Find a Seattle divorce attorney to represent you in your divorce today.
There is no legal requirement to retain a divorce lawyer in Washington state. However, the best way to ensure you receive fair treatment during settlement negotiations or in court is to have strong legal representation.
Our team of Seattle divorce lawyers understands how mentally trying a divorce can be and does not want you to go it alone. Regardless of what stage you are at in your divorce, one of our compassionate Seattle family law attorneys can give you the attention you want and deserve. Call us today.