Aside from not knowing the relevant law which leaves you somewhat clueless if you aren’t a Family Law attorney, there are three additional problems with representing yourself in a separation or divorce:
1.) It is difficult negotiate for yourself when you don’t know the value of your claims or your spouse’s claims.
If you don’t know what the court in your local county is likely to award you or your spouse, you cannot properly evaluate your claims and defenses or negotiate an intelligent settlement. No one would buy a car without knowing what it’s worth. Settling a court case also requires knowing the likely value of both parties’ claims and the chances of success.
2.) You will be unable to pursue discovery effectively and might be sanctioned (or penalized) by the Court for your failure to comply with your opponent’s discovery requests.
Discovery is how we find out information about the opponent’s case and there are very clear rules in each state. Failure to pursue the discovery of information properly will leave you in the dark at trial and unable to negotiate a resolution to your case because you don’t have enough information. Also, the opposing attorney will likely serve discovery requests that require you to answer them timely and properly and failure to do so could result in sanctions (or penalties) imposed by the Court.
3.) Finally, because you cannot effectively represent yourself in court you will likely want to settle the case for the best offer you can get.
Your spouse’s lawyer will almost certainly realize this and take advantage of it by making a lower settlement offer. The person representing himself or herself (the pro se litigant) is in no position to throw down her pencil and say: “Forget it! Your offer is outrageous! I’ll see you in court!”
A pro se litigant is unlikely to be able to represent herself effectively in court and both sides know it! If you think that you can hold your own in court against a competent divorce attorney, you are probably fooling yourself. Most non-lawyers have trouble figuring out how to get the Judge to consider their evidence. An attorney will object and offer inadmissible evidence during trial against a pro se litigant who is essentially defenseless because he or she does not know the rules of evidence.
Don’t rely on the judge giving you a handicap because you didn’t hire a lawyer. Many judges see a pro se litigant as someone who is likely to waste time. Judges rarely give someone a break because they didn’t hire a lawyer.
In conclusion, ask yourself this question: If you were looking to hire someone competent to represent you in your divorce case, would you hire yourself? If you wouldn’t hire someone with your background or experience as your lawyer, then don’t represent yourself because that is exactly what you are doing!