Many people cannot imagine representing themselves for their divorce in a Court of law, however many individuals do so every day. A party appearing before the Court without an attorney is known as a pro se party. Although representing yourself in your divorce is not illegal, it is not advisable without speaking to an attorney first.
The number of cases involving one or both parties appearing in court without an attorney may surprise you. According to data from the Texas Access to Justice Commission, between September 1, 2010, and August 31, 2011, roughly 22% of all family cases were filed by a pro se party. In some Texas counties, more than half of the total family law filings involved a petitioner who filed pro se. The Commission’s statistics do not account for cases where the party responding to a family law petition did not have representation, suggesting that the total number of cases with pro se parties could be higher.
The reasons for not retaining an attorney vary. Many people cannot afford to hire an attorney on a retainer basis for their divorce. Other people may be deterred from getting an attorney, believing that their divorce case is simple enough to handle by themselves. Some people believe that hiring an attorney would complicate their divorce and make their spouse no longer agreeable. Whatever the reason may be, self-representation in family law cases can become a significant issue with financial consequences in the long run. Unfortunately, many pro se parties end up being unprepared for the possible legal consequences of representing themselves and can possibly risk or waive their legal rights.
Risks of Self-Representation
The greatest challenge for pro se parties is understanding the full extent of their parental and marital property interests under the Texas Family Code. To become a lawyer in the state of Texas there are extensive requirements, such as graduation from a four-year undergraduate school, and graduation from an ABA-accredited law school under a three-year program. After graduation from law school, to become a lawyer you must pass the Texas State Bar Exam. The Texas State Bar Exam is a three-day exam designed to test your knowledge of state and federal law. Law school curriculum alone does not adequately prepare a lawyer for courtroom etiquette, practices, and procedure. This knowledge comes from years of practice and continuing education. A lawyer must participate in multiple hours of continuing legal education each year to keep their license current and keep up with the ever-changing legal system.
Many judges understand that pro se litigants lack the specialized training and experience that an attorney has. As a result, many judges will tolerate the reasonable inexperience of a pro se party. However, some judges may also not tolerate the reasonable inexperience believing that as a pro se party you are expected to come into their Courtroom the same way as an attorney would. Judges are also prevented from giving a pro se party legal advice at the bench, and many pro se parties come into Court requesting guidance.
When the court’s hands are tied, an unrepresented party risks overlooking a legal rule that favors their position, missing an evidentiary objection, incorrectly completing a court form or motion, or missing a deadline. The dangers of self-representation are more apparent where a pro se party must stand against a party with an experienced attorney who is ethically obligated to zealously represent their client’s interests.
There are some instances where self-representation can unnecessarily extend divorce litigation. For example, if both parties in a divorce are unrepresented, they may become distracted by their own personal life issues and present a motion to the Court for irrelevant claims that have no legal relief. Even though the parties are not paying attorney fees, they will still pay Court costs, and possibly irritate the particular Judge they are in front of. In contrast, if only one party has an attorney, the unrepresented party might get overly defensive, feel their rights are unprotected, and closed-off during informal negotiations.
A Different Kind of Representation
A pro se party who cannot afford or retain an attorney throughout their divorce can still reap the benefits of working alongside an attorney. Some law firms offer limited-scope representation—sometimes called do-it-yourself divorce—where a party hires an attorney to handle only specific aspects of their divorce.
For example, a party might want to use an attorney to draft specific documents, such as the Final Decree of Divorce or property documents. The attorney would not appear in court on behalf of the party at any part of the case.
Do-it-yourself divorce can be particularly beneficial in the following scenarios:
- Uncontested divorces
- Marriages with no minor children
- Marriages with minimal property
- Divorces with an Agreed Possession Schedule and Child Support
Given the increase in pro se parties in the Courtroom, there are more resources and cost-effective legal options to help unrepresented parties preserve their legal or parental rights.
Get Cost-Effective Legal Services from Simple Texas Divorce
If you plan on representing yourself in your divorce, there are resources available that allow you to work alongside an experienced family law attorney. At Simple Texas Divorce, we offer itemized legal solutions to parties who cannot take advantage of the traditional retainer-based services of an attorney. We offer different flat-fee divorce packages where a licensed attorney will draft the necessary documents for you to obtain a legal divorce in the State of Texas. We also offer add on services in the event you need property documents for the sale of your home, or a special legal document in order to properly divide your retirement account. Our office will also provide instructions so there are no questions when filing or finalizing your divorce. By hiring a Simple Texas Divorce Attorney, you can rest assured that the material aspects of your case are in the hands of an experienced family law attorney, so you do not stress about what will need to be completed in order to finalize your divorce.