Failure to hire an experienced attorney is one of the most common blunders made by those going through the Pennsylvania divorce process. While you can legally represent yourself (known as “pro se” representation) in an effort to save money on legal fees, there are many drawbacks to self-representation that may outweigh any potential cost savings.
Proceeding through the divorce process without the guidance of experienced divorce lawyers in PA can actually backfire in some situations because you may make decisions that can have a huge financial impact that could have been avoided with the help of a divorce lawyer.
Lack of Legal Expertise
The most obvious disadvantage to foregoing a lawyer for your Pennsylvania divorce is that unlike an experienced attorney, you are a novice in the legal field. There is no legal requirement to use divorce lawyers in PA, but this is largely to ensure free public access to the courts. Family courts are inclined to be unsympathetic to those who choose to represent themselves in a legal action. Courts must hold pro se litigants to the same standards as licensed divorce lawyers in PA, requiring that they follow the same rules and laws. Courthouse staff members are strictly prohibited from providing you with legal advice or guidance of any kind. To do otherwise would give a pro se litigant an unfair advantage. Unfamiliarity with local court rules can have devastating consequences for a pro se litigant in divorce. Rules of court can impose requirements that, if not complied with, may result in a pro se litigant’s having pleadings rejected for filing, having the case dismissed, or having the case never reach a court calendar.
If your spouse has retained a Pennsylvania divorce attorney and you have not, this is the equivalent of a professional athlete playing their sport against an amateur. It is relatively simple to learn the basic requirements to obtain a divorce, such as the 90-day requirement for consensual divorce, but there are several important procedural elements to consider as well (i.e., when to file for child custody or substantive issues, calculating the length and amount of alimony, determining a proper custody schedule, or who should remain in the marital home).
Limited Divorce Experience Yields Inefficiency
While this is likely only your first or second divorce, experienced divorce lawyers in PA handle hundreds of divorce cases and encounter many different family law situations. Good divorce lawyers in PA can use their experience to develop workable solutions to the particular problems you face. Another measure of attorney effectiveness is the length of time your divorce case takes. Divorce is an emotionally charged and stressful process for many couples, and many people would prefer to get through it as quickly as possible. When a knowledgeable Pennsylvania divorce lawyer is involved, the entire process will be more efficient because the attorney is a professional negotiator and is familiar with local court rules for family law matters.
Negative Emotions Adversely Affect Your Judgment
Divorce is usually accompanied by a slew of negative emotions, and these feelings of resentment, guilt, or sadness can easily influence critical decisions that you will have to make. No matter how intelligent you are, it can be nearly impossible to separate the legal issues involved in your divorce from your own emotions. Negative emotions will almost certainly have an adverse effect on your judgment.
Since it is impossible to settle a case without talking to the other side, without an attorney, you’ll be forced to speak to your soon-to-be ex-spouse or their attorney, even if you don’t go to court. This can create an uncomfortable and stressful situation for you, especially as litigation progresses and disputes arise. Experienced divorce lawyers in PA can serve as your advocates and speak on your behalf using logic and reason instead of emotion. In this context, a divorce lawyer’s role as a buffer from conflict may be as or more important than his or her legal expertise.
Settlement Agreements and Unanticipated Issues
Even for so-called “simple” divorces, if there are any issues of contention, particularly where there are minor children involved, it is imperative that you have the best knowledge and skills available to ensure that your needs are addressed and that your rights are protected. Even simple divorces should have agreements for settlements related to custody, support, and equitable division of marital property. Experienced divorce lawyers in PA can draft a proper settlement agreement that will hold up in court for years to come. Additionally, an attorney can help you to avoid unanticipated consequences of a potential settlement.
An experienced divorce attorney can advise you on the day-to-day issues that will inevitably arise. Some common issues divorce lawyers in PA encounter are when your spouse won’t pay for your utilities or when your spouse won’t allow you to see your kids. A well-crafted settlement agreement solves not only the issue at hand, but also covers possible or “what-if” scenarios that can arise in the future. For example, your attorney can help you plan for what happens if one parent, at the last minute, can’t exercise their custody right and you, as a result, have to incur a child care expense.
Although retaining a divorce attorney has a cost, the cost of not retaining one could be much higher. Measuring the relative disadvantages of pro se representation is an important step for anyone who is considering foregoing attorney representation for a Pennsylvania divorce.