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5 Risks of Representing Yourself in a Divorce

Published: Dec 22, 2023 in Divorce
Disgruntled couple in front of papers and wedding rings

Written by Anthony Piccirilli

Divorce can be emotionally and financially draining, so it makes sense to look for the most painless route possible. Some people assume their best bet is to forgo legal representation (and the fees that come with it) and be their own divorce attorneys. While everyone has a right to represent themselves, a “DIY divorce” can actually cause more trouble for you and your wallet down the line.

If you’re wondering whether you should represent yourself in a divorce, read this first. To learn more about your options, contact an experienced Pittsburgh divorce lawyer for a free initial consultation.

When to Consider Self-Representation

Self-representation, also known as “pro se” representation, is an approach to divorce that more people have considered in recent years. However, handling divorce litigation without an attorney doesn’t work for everyone.

You might consider representing yourself in a Pennsylvania divorce if:

  • You have a legal background or strong understanding of divorce laws and procedures in your jurisdiction.
  • Your ex is also representing themselves, and you trust them to be fully cooperative, objective, and timely throughout the divorce.
  • You and your ex-spouse amicably agree on every aspect of your divorce, including property division, child custody, child support, alimony, and more.
  • You have a considerable amount of free time to invest in researching and navigating the Pennsylvania divorce process by yourself.
  • You have the necessary skills to write an effective complaint, spousal agreement, and other important legal forms before their deadlines.
  • You don’t feel strongly about the outcome of your divorce, just that it happens, so you’re willing to accept any result.

There are helpful online resources that can point you in the right direction to pro se divorces. However, these guides offer general information. They aren’t the same as receiving personalized guidance and support from a client-centered divorce attorney.

Is Pro Se Representation Effective in Divorce Cases?

Surprise, surprise: a divorce lawyer thinks you should hire a divorce lawyer. But don’t take it from us – see what the research has to say on the efficacy of pro se divorce litigation:

  • Studies reveal that, on average, family and divorce judges view pro se litigators as having “less merit” than their lawyered-up counterparts. This cognitive bias puts self-represented parties at a disadvantage in the courtroom from the start.
  • According to anecdotal studies, a majority of people who represented themselves in their divorce reported feeling disadvantaged, stressed, and “lost in the dark” throughout the process, with some respondents admitting they gave up their rights after realizing how complex the divorce process was.
  • In an American Bar Association survey, 62% of judges claimed pro se litigators had “worse outcomes” in their civil cases (including divorces) due to their lack of representation.

You have a right to represent yourself, but the courts will expect that you adhere to the same rules of a qualified divorce attorney. So, until there is an equitable solution for the courts to approach pro se cases without unfairly favoring them, you may be better off hiring an attorney to help you avoid challenges and a negative outcome.

5 Risks of DIY Divorces in Pennsylvania

Ultimately, your choice of legal representation is yours and yours alone. Pro-se representation may be a sound option for your case, or you may wish to hire a lawyer for additional support. Either way, you deserve a good resolution in your divorce case, and the risks of that not happening may be higher if you don’t obtain a lawyer.

There are many potential downsides to divorcing in Pennsylvania without the help of an attorney, including:

1. Lack of Resources

If you represent yourself in a divorce, you might not have the same access to valuable resources that a lawyer would. For example, your attorney can gather testimony from expert witnesses like independent real estate appraisers, financial consultants, child psychologists, and others to supplement your divorce case. Without these resources, it could be much harder to prove your claim for certain assets or custody.

2. More Anxiety and Stress

When you’re in the throes of a major life change, you are already more susceptible to stress and anxiety than usual. Handling the legal process of your divorce alone can make things worse. The time and energy it takes to understand Pennsylvania divorce laws is likely a lot greater than you expect, and that’s only the first step. A lawyer can shoulder the burden and provide you with support and guidance during a time when you need it most.

3. Less Control Over Your Situation

You might be considering self-representation so that you can divorce on your own terms, without the interference of another party. However, an attorney can actually provide you with more control and confidence than representing yourself would. Pro se litigation can easily become overwhelming, and many people find themselves in over their heads when faced with the reality of the Pennsylvania court system.

The right lawyer should help you understand how the law applies to your unique situation and can provide clarity on any questions or concerns you have. They will be someone on your side to advocate for your best interests, ensuring you feel informed and empowered about your case.

4. Higher Chance of Mistakes

It’s not that you aren’t capable of navigating your divorce alone. But if you rely on the Internet as your main source of legal information, you’re not guaranteed to get accurate and personalized results. Documents might be outdated, instructions can be unclear, and simple mistakes on your divorce paperwork can lead to major delays in proceedings and frustrations with re-filing.

An experienced lawyer can help you fill out and file the necessary documents on time, using their legal insight to avoid critical mistakes and make the process smoother.

5. Undesirable Outcomes

Pennsylvania divorce laws are complex, and one wrong move could lead to disastrous consequences. Your ex might receive more assets or better demonstrate their financial need for alimony because they had an established Pittsburgh divorce attorney representing them.

You should approach your divorce with a streamlined strategy, strong evidence, and effective negotiation skills. Now is not the time to settle for less. An attorney can help support your case and deliver the best results possible for you because they know from experience what works and what doesn’t.

Don’t Go It Alone – A Divorce Attorney is Here to Help

Self-representation in a divorce can be risky, especially when so much is at stake. In many cases, it’s essential to hire a legal advocate who will stand by your side every step of the way. Even if you think your divorce will be straightforward, challenges can arise, and you might regret not getting assistance early on.

At Pittsburgh Divorce and Family Law, we believe everyone deserves someone who listens to them and consistently provides the best representation possible. Pennsylvania divorce attorney Anthony Piccirilli has helped countless clients achieve their divorce goals, find the closure they need, and begin a new chapter of life with peace of mind.

Contact Anthony Piccirilli today at (412) 471-5100 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Pittsburgh divorce lawyer.