Nationwide, almost half of all family law litigants are pro per (also referred to as pro se), meaning they represent themselves in court.
In the county where I practice, the number is closer to 80 percent. The main reason for this is economic: People simply can’t afford to hire a lawyer. Predictably, this becomes more common in a sagging economy. While representing oneself is certainly an option, it carries obvious risks. Real estate matters are complex even without a divorce, and few untrained people can manage them without help. What’s more, the legal process is virtually incomprehensible to a layperson.
If you go into court pro per while your spouse is represented by an attorney, you’re automatically at a severe disadvantage. There are low-cost alternatives: most areas offer some form of free legal aid. And new attorneys sometimes take cases pro bono (for free) to gain experience, or they will take on certain aspects of your case, commonly known as unbundled legal services or under a limited scope retainer. Don’t hesitate to explore the options in your area.
Eyes Wide Open
The court system exists to provide remedies for legitimate disputes. It can be your friend; it can also be a severe drain on your time, your resources, and your life. Be sure this is the route you really want before taking the plunge. And make sure you’ve explored the various alternatives first.