Representing Yourself in a Divorce
Deciding whether or not to represent yourself in a divorce is a big choice to make. The option you choose could majorly impact the outcome of your case.
If you work with an attorney, they will act as your legal counsel and can assist you throughout the entire progress. They will know the laws that pertain to your case and will tell you what you need to do nearly every step of the way.
That said, hiring legal representation can be expensive, making it hard for some faced with this decision to go this route. Others may feel confident that they can handle the ins and outs of their own case without an attorney.
If you decide not to hire an attorney, it's crucial that you understand the responsibility you are taking on with this decision.
Representing Yourself in a Divorce
If you are thinking of representing yourself in your divorce, here are some tips to help you make it through your case.
Get to Know the Laws in Your State
Having at least a basic understanding of the laws that will impact your divorce case is vital for any person representing them self in a divorce. Even if you're not a lawyer, you will be responsible for knowing the rules that will come up during your case.
Getting to know the laws in your state can help you focus your case to achieve the outcome you desire. You can learn many of these laws online, or you may also consider seeking out local or online classes that can educate you on these laws.
Visit the Courthouse Beforehand
Before your case goes to court, go to your local courthouse to see what information you can glean. Simply going to the courthouse will give you an idea of how long it takes to get there and how to navigate the building.
Sometimes, you may even be able to view a hearing. If this is possible, see if you can sit in on a hearing similar to what your case is about. This will give you an even better idea about what to expect when it's your turn.
Treat your court hearings like job interviews. Just like in a job interview, what you wear and how you carry yourself matters.
Wear clothing that is clean and fits you well. Choose a more conservative outfit, even if that's not what you'd typically wear. Dress pants with a button-down shirt and dress shoes is often an excellent outfit choice for both men and women.
Choose a modest hairstyle for this occasion. Make sure your hair is clean and combed neatly. If you have long hair, you may want to pull it back into a ponytail or braid for the hearing.
Try not to over-accessorize with jewelry, scarves, or other additional pieces of clothing. If you have tattoos or facial piercings, consider covering these up or removing them before the hearing. For piercings, you could use clear plugs or small studs to keep the piercing from closing while making it less noticeable.
Be Patient and Polite
Your attitude and the way you carry yourself will speak volumes about you and could heavily influence the court's decision. Stay calm and collected throughout your time in court. As stressful as some moments may be, do your best to keep your cool.
Maintain a friendly attitude with everyone you meet in court that day, including your co-parent. Always address the judge as "Your Honor" and don't speak out of turn or interrupt the judge. It can be helpful to write an outline of the points you want to make in court so that you don't miss something important or get caught up by nerves and say something you wish you hadn't.
Check Your Physical Mail and Email
Representing yourself in a divorce means that you are responsible for any correspondence related to your case. Missing out on an important letter or email from the court could affect how things end up for you.
Be sure to keep up with any physical mail you receive to your home or emails you receive from the court. Make sure you can access both the mail and email you receive, so, for example, if you don't know the password to your old email account, create a new account.
Keep an eye on this account and on your physical mail throughout your case. It's up to you to receive and attend to all of this correspondence.
These tips are only a few things you'll need to keep in mind as you represent yourself in a divorce, but there is more that you could know before entering that process. It's not easy for someone totally new to this system to hop in and handle their entire case on their own.
While asking for help might not always be free, there are more affordable resources available that should not be overlooked.
Ask Questions & Do Research
Asking questions is key when you're representing yourself. If the judge is saying something that you don't quite understand during your hearing, politely ask if they could explain. They might not answer every question you have, but it doesn't hurt to ask kindly to see if you can get a further explanation.
Researching your questions online can also help if you're not sure who to ask. Be aware that not everything you read online will pertain directly to your case, so be critical of what you're reading. Nonetheless, doing some research can go a long way in giving you an understanding of this process.
Unbundled Legal Services
Some attorneys offer unbundled legal services, also referred to as limited scope representation. This means that an attorney will work with you only to a point. You will choose which services you want help with from the attorney, so you'll only pay for those services that you receive.
Unbundled legal services might include hiring an attorney to prepare the documents you file in court, coach you on how to handle yourself in the courtroom, or even appear in court with you during more technical aspects of your case.
Remember, enlisting the help of unbundled legal services is not the same as hiring an attorney full-time. You will still be fully responsible for every other aspect of your case, but it may be nice to get help with any items you feel particularly unsure how to handle on your own.
Every divorce is a challenge for those involved, but representing yourself can increase the obstacles that you must face. Be sure this is the right decision for you before diving into it.