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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Pro Se Divorce


Term Definition Pro Se Divorce - a divorce in which each spouse represents himself or herself in court without a lawyer.
Application in Divorce Pro se lawyering in a divorce works best in cases where the action is uncontested and without fault, and in termination of a short-term marriage, with no children, both spouses working, easily distributed assets and debts. Pro se lawyering works when the parties behave rationally and detach themselves from their own worst impulses, including revenge and selfishness. Remember, as one veteran lawyer said, "Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst." Very often, the pain and suffering of a failed marriage bring out the worst in the best of people.

Many lawyers, on learning that the defendant plans to appear pro se, will formally (by registered mail) admonish him to retain legal counsel because lawyers do not like facing pro se litigants. When a lawyer faces a pro se litigant, he or she is ever mindful of overreaching. For example, no lawyer wants to reach a marital settlement agreement only to have a court object because it is seen as unconscionable.

One commentator notes that pro se litigation creates a "tension between the court’s desire to protect the ignorant pro se litigant and the need to preserve the integrity of the adversarial system in which the court is the passive adjudicator."

When a party appears as a pro se litigant, he or she must understand that the other spouse’s lawyer cannot and will not assist him or her. No lawyer can represent both spouses in a divorce.

That said, pro se lawyer can cut costs. Uncontested divorces make it is easy for a person to appear pro se, but even with this, it is a good idea to review the work of the divorce with a lawyer. It does not make for savings to have an inexpensive divorce and then have to return to court later to renegotiate a liveable child support agreement. A poorly planned divorce that ends in bankruptcy for one or both partners after it is final can more than offset the savings of a pro se divorce.

Complicated divorces require the services of an attorney at law, if not as an advisor, then as an overseer.

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