Pitfalls of Self Representation (Pro Se)

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Why You Need a Family Law Attorney During Your Divorce

For anyone who is contemplating divorce, you know that emotions are high and much is at stake.  A marriage is so much more than just a relationship between two people.  A marriage can involve children, bank accounts, debts such as student loans, mortgage loans, career decisions, joint business ventures to mention a few.  This means that when you get divorced, you and your spouse and/or the judge will be required to make many important decisions that affect your life, such as who should get the marital home, who should get the credit card debt, and who should pay for the children’s college tuition.  This process can be complicated, and it is important to tackle this venture with a competent family law attorney who can properly express your wants and desires in the divorce process and can ultimately help you move into the next phase of your life.

Our office frequently has new clients who have attempted (and failed) to go through the divorce process pro se, which means without an attorney.  However, it is not long before the person realizes that it is not as easy as originally contemplated and that he or she needs an attorney.  Getting a divorce is so much more than filling out the proper forms, especially when your children’s well-being is at stake.  Kathleen often uses the analogy that she is not a pilot and therefore would not even think about flying a helicopter, especially with her family on board.  Neither should a non-lawyer go into court and attempt to navigate his or her divorce without a competent family law attorney.   Your family is going to be affected by the divorce process as well as the ultimate outcome.

If you are thinking about going through the divorce process alone, consider the following:

Saving money

Getting a divorce does not have to be expensive.  It is far more expensive to attempt to get a divorce pro se and then have to hire an attorney to undo mistakes made.

It is also important to hire a family law attorney.  Family law is a unique area of the law, and it is important to use your money wisely by avoiding hiring a lawyer who only dabbles in family law.  It will ultimately take the lawyer who is not experienced in family law arena more time to complete tasks than it would a competent family law attorney.  As you know, time equals money.

Your children

A parent’s divorce can be a traumatic event for a child.  It is extremely important that the process go as smoothly as possible for the well-being of your children.  It will not benefit your children if you attempt to go pro se and you end up with a custody plan that is not in your children’s best interest.  Also, you may be committed to pay your spouse a greater amount of support than is required.  Your child support and spousal maintenance payments may overwhelm your life  because you did not have a representative who could accurately present to the court your complete financial story.

Your spouse has already hired a divorce attorney

Too often we hear: “My spouse hired an attorney and he/she said I really wouldn’t need my own attorney.”  This is a red flag!  Your spouse’s attorney is there to represent your spouse, not you.  Therefore, while it might appear that this is a nice peace-offering, no one is advocating for you and your interests in the divorce process.  It is possible that you will end up signing a settlement agreement that you later come to regret.  We often see clients who come into our office seeking a modification of maintenance or child support because they misunderstood or were misled in the initial divorce proceedings.

You just can’t get along

When every conversation with your spouse turns into an argument, it is very hard to have productive dialogue about who is going to be awarded what assets.  Who, for example, will be awarded the wedding china in the divorce?  A family law attorney can help facilitate communication between you and your spouse.  If you and your spouse are not on speaking terms, your attorney can show you tools to help communicate.  Remember, the more you can effectively talk to your spouse during your divorce, the more money you can save in attorney’s fees. (How to Reduce Your Attorney’s Fees)

If there are allegations of abuse, it is even more important to have representation.  If you are being accused of abusing your spouse or your children, you could be facing criminal charges in addition to divorce proceedings.  If you or your children are the victims of abuse, there are additional legal safeguards that can be put into place and it is important to consult with your attorney about your options. (Orders of Protection)

Spousal Maintenance

Did you give up a career path to stay at home to raise your kids?  Did you put your education on hold to raise your children and are now going back to school?  Does your spouse make significantly more money than you do?  Maintenance, sometimes referred to as alimony, can be awarded to either spouse.  In Missouri, there is no set formula for maintenance, and the duration of your marriage is only one of many factors the court considers when awarding maintenance.  In order to be awarded maintenance, you must demonstrate to the court that you need this monetary support from your soon-to-be ex.  In order to properly plead and prove that you are in need of maintenance, it is important to have a family law attorney working on your case.

Stocks, Bonds, and Pensions (oh my!)

All of your assets (as well as your debts) will be distributed in the final divorce judgment.  However, it is important to actually get the legal right to the asset that has been awarded to you, especially for assets such as pensions which may not “pay out” for years to come.

Are you or someone you know considering getting a divorce in Missouri?  Do you have questions about the divorce process?  Kathleen Shaul practices solely in the area of family law and has dedicated her career to helping Missouri families.  Kathleen and her legal team are available to handle your questions and concerns.

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