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What is Pro Se Divorce? Everything You Need To Know

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What is Pro Se Divorce? Everything You Need To Know

Going through a divorce can be an emotionally and financially draining experience. With attorneys charging hundreds of dollars per hour, many couples consider representing themselves, known as proceeding pro se, to save on legal fees.

However, attempting to navigate the complicated divorce process on your own, without understanding the basics, can end up costing you more in the long run.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about pro se divorce, from deciding if it’s the right choice for you to breaking down each step of the process. Continue reading on for advice from family law attorneys and couples who have gone through do-it-yourself divorces.

With the right information and eyes wide open to the challenges, you can decide if unbundled services, mediation, or tackling it solo is your best path forward to dissolve your marriage in an organized, thrifty, and strategic manner.

What Does Pro Se Divorce Mean?

A “pro se” divorce is when one or both partners represent themselves in court without an attorney. The term comes from the Latin phrase “pro se,” meaning “for oneself.”

People choose to get pro se divorces for several key reasons:

  • Cost – The average contested divorce costs $15,000 to $30,000 in legal fees. Representing yourself radically cuts these expenses.
  • Speed – Not having to coordinate schedules with an attorney can help move the divorce along faster.
  • Control – Representing yourself allows you to be in the driver’s seat and make your own claims.

While those motivations are understandable, it’s important to weigh them against the complexities of divorce law and risks of going at it alone against an experienced attorney.

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Key Steps in the Divorce Process

To decide if a DIY divorce is right for you, it helps to understand the typical timeline and components like:

  1. Filing the Petition – This formal request starts the divorce in court and lays out key information related to assets, debts, children, and support requests.
  2. Serving your Spouse – You must properly deliver copies of documents to your spouse, meeting rules about how this “service of process” is done.
  3. Discovery – This evidence gathering phase includes disclosing financial records, written Q&A, and sometimes depositions.
  4. Negotiations – Most divorces settle out of court. You’ll propose terms and attempt to compromise on areas of disagreement.
  5. Trial – If you can’t settle, disputed issues go before a family court judge at trial. Here you must introduce evidence and make legal arguments.
  6. Final Judgements – Once decisions are rendered on all issues, the judge formally enters orders to finalize the divorce.

Is Pro Se Divorce a Good Idea?

The Pros and Cons Like most major choices in life, taking your divorce into your own hands has both advantages and drawbacks.

Let’s examine them objectively.

Potential Benefits

Saves on attorney fees – Biggest reason couples go pro se. Lawyers typically change $200-$500 per hour. Representing yourself cuts out those bills.

Maintains privacy – By managing it yourself, you don’t have reveal personal financial or other sensitive information to an attorney and their staff.

More control – You make the direct decisions rather than relying on an attorney’s judgement. This can lead to a more tailored and satisfactory outcome.

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Educational experience – Many use the challenges of a pro se divorce to learn about family law and court procedures.

Potential Downsides

Complex rules – Court procedures, forms, and filings can be difficult for non-lawyers to navigate. Missing deadlines can sabotage your case.

Struggle getting up to speed – You may have to spend substantial time doing legal research to grasp concepts related to divorce in your jurisdiction.

Trouble thinking objectively – Emotions run high during this transition. An experienced third party like an attorney can guide clear thinking.

Aggressive ex-spouse – If your former partner hires an attorney and you don’t, you will struggle to defend yourself from legal maneuvers.

Less closure – Some studies have found the difficulties of pro se divorce lead to lingering hard feelings that make moving on fully more challenging.

As you weigh whether self-representation meets your needs and aligns with your strengths, be honest about your tolerance for risk and how complex your marital situation is regarding combined assets, child custody factors, spousal maintenance, and other issues.

Tips to Succeed Going Pro Se

If after assessing the pros and cons you decide to take the DIY road to dissolving your marriage, utilize these tips to boost your likelihood of an efficient, cost-effective, and less stressful process:

1. Learn your state and local rules – Don’t wing it! Pour over resources like self-help legal books, court websites, and free assistance clinics. Know the required forms and procedures.

2. Take advantage of unbundled legal services – Rather than pay a lawyer tens of thousands to handle your entire case, pay a few thousand to get expert help drafting key filings and coaching you on law and strategy. Lawyers offer limited scope retainers.

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3. Conduct negotiation and discovery very carefully – On your own you’ll lack legal muscle to compel the other side. Be strategic in exchanges. Leave emotions out of correspondence.

4. Consider mediation for areas of dispute – An alternative to litigation, mediation can help you settle issues amicably through dialogue rather than fighting it out before a judge uncertain of the outcome.

5. Use online tools to complete and file forms – Websites like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer have DIY legal document preparation services for novices.

6. Stay flexible and know when to get help – When in doubt or feeling overwhelmed, consult experienced counsel, even if just for that discrete issue. Identify gaps in your self-representation abilities.

While daunting, thousands of individuals across the country successfully represent themselves in family court each year. With thoughtful prep, savvy negotiation tactics, willingness to pay for a la carte legal help when prudent, and a patient positive attitude, you can be one of those divorce do-it-yourselfers who comes out the other side with finances and sanity intact.

Also Read: How to File for Divorce in Fort Wayne, Indiana

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