What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Pro Se Divorce
Key Points
  • Filing a pro se divorce will often save money and time. It eliminates legal fees and lengthy delivery periods and lawyer office visits.
  • Filing pro se typically means your divorce case is uncontested. Choosing to go this route can force a couple to negotiate in good faith to reach a settlement that is fair for both parties.
  • Without a lawyer you do lose the opportunity to get legal advice. If you are not sure of your legal rights you may risk making a decision that you would have made differently had you known your entitlement or options.
  • A lawyer may be able to assist in keeping emotions out of decision making.

The most obvious advantage of a pro se divorce is cost. When couples file pro se, either by using divorce kits or online divorce solutions, they save money.

The costs and filing fees vary around the country. According to estimates, an uncontested, lawyer-assisted divorce costs between $1,500 to $3,000.

A pro se divorce can be arranged and completed for a few hundred dollars.

(By comparison, according to one source, mediated divorces cost between $2,000 and $6,000 per spouse and collaborative divorces, $5,000 to $10,000 per spouse. The cost of contested actions is generally $30,000 or more per spouse. A divorce trial can easily more than double the cost of a contested divorce.)

The cost of the divorce drops because one or both of them does the paperwork and filing which is normally done by a lawyer (or his or her paralegal). This saves money.

Moreover, in some cases, the absence of lawyers eases the tensions between the estranged spouses. The two divorcing spouses deal directly with each other, not through hired advocates. When the spouses behave rationally and fairly, direct communication works very well. Problems become immediately apparent when the divorcing spouses cannot behave rationally and fairly. Pro se divorce is not for people who expect moral vindication.

The most obvious disadvantage is that divorces, even uncontested divorces, become very complicated, particularly in cases where child custody and visitation must be decided and actions involving the division and distribution of pension benefits.

Many divorce lawyers do not like facing pro se litigants. Some, on learning that the defendant plans to appear pro se, formally request that he or she retain legal counsel because when a lawyer faces a pro se litigant, the attorney fears overreaching. For example, no lawyer wants to reach a marital settlement agreement only to have a court object because it is what is termed "unconscionable," that is, grossly unfair to the other party.

In any event, a citizen has a right to act as his or her own counsel.

One legal observer 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. In the event of a court appearance, a pro se litigant must not expect special help from the court as he or she tries to limp through civil practice procedures.

Moreover, no lawyer can represent both spouses in a divorce. Indeed, a lawyer who knew both spouses during the happier days of their marriage may have to disqualify himself or herself from representing one of the them in their divorce due to a conflict of interest.

As stated, 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 paperwork work of the divorce with a divorce lawyer. It does not make for savings to have an inexpensive divorce and then have to return to court later for unfinished business or improper filings.

Pro se lawyering works best when the parties behave rationally and detach themselves from their own worst impulses, including revenge and selfishness. Very often, the pain and suffering of a failed marriage bring out the worst in the best of people. As one veteran lawyer said, "Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best, and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst." An amicable divorce often takes place after there has been a cooling off period. During this period both spouses come to realization that divorce is the best option.

One of the advantages of having a lawyer is that a lawyer can sometimes protect a client against his or her own worst impulses. As mentioned above, pro se filing does not work in divorces where one spouse wants to use litigation to punish an estranged partner. A competent attorney advises against punitive litigation. Absent an attorney to advise against such maneuvers, the pro se litigator is on his or her own and often inflicts considerable self damage.

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