With the spread of online guides and resources, do-it-yourself divorce has never been more accessible. But when is so-called pro se divorce the best fit? What if your spouse has a divorce lawyer?
What is “Pro Se Divorce”?
From a legal perspective, the term for representing yourself is pro se. It comes from Latin and means “for oneself.” While not exclusive to divorce, a pro se approach is common in the dissolution of marriage.
There are many factors to consider:
- When is DIY divorce your best option?
- When is it not?
- Do you need a divorce lawyer if your spouse has one?
- What are some common risks, pitfalls, and complications of pro se divorce?
When is DIY divorce your best option?
If you’re an experienced divorce attorney, the decision to represent yourself is much easier. Most people, however, haven’t gone to law school, passed the Oregon State bar exam, or practiced law in a professional capacity. So the question remains, when is DIY divorce or representing yourself your best option?
In a general sense, pro se divorce is best suited for simple, straightforward cases.
This usually applies to:
- Shorter marriages.
- Marriages with no children.
- Marriages with little or no shared property to divide.
In these situations, pro se divorce usually fits best. It’s possible to download the forms, fill them out, pay the fees, file the paperwork, and be done on your own. In many cases, representing yourself is the quickest, easiest, cheapest way to proceed. Both parties can walk away and return to their lives with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Related Reading: Divorce And Filing Forms: What To Know
When is DIY divorce NOT the best option?
While pro se divorce works well in simple, straightforward situations, things often get complicated in a hurry. The more moving parts there are to deal with, the more problems arise.
- Depending on the length of the marriage, you may be eligible for a portion of your spouse’s retirement benefits. You may even be able to draw Social Security against your ex’s work history.
- Things get even more tangled when a divorce involves children. You have child custody, visitation, and parenting plans to contend with.
- You need to know how Oregon calculates child support, who pays what, how long it continues, how it impacts taxes, and much more.
- Spousal support is another area of concern. Depending on the circumstances, you may be eligible to receive spousal maintenance. On the other hand, you may have to pay. There are multiple types of spousal support in Oregon, and each applies to different, specific criteria.
- Dividing property and assets complicates matters. If you jointly own a home, cars, or other high-value property things get knotted in short order.
- The same goes for shared debt, whether it be mortgages, loans, or joint credit card balances.
- If your spouse has an attorney. Going up against someone with experience puts you at a serious disadvantage. Having someone with an intimate knowledge of the laws and the process protects your best interests.
Do You Need Attorney If Your Spouse Has One?
Can you represent yourself if your spouse has an attorney? Yes. Should you? Probably not. If your spouse hires a divorce lawyer, it’s in your best interest to hire an attorney to represent you. There’s more to it than that, and again, it varies by case.
You don’t want to get through the whole process only to have the court throw everything out because your divorce settlement favors one spouse too much or because you made an easily avoidable error when filing paperwork.
With dividing property, assets, and debts, if you don’t know what to look for, people often leave potentially valuable assets on the table or agree to an unfair split. You may wind up saddled with unforeseen tax burdens or debts.
In child custody cases, it’s possible to agree to a less-than-optimal parenting plan or child support payments because you don’t know any better or that other options exist.
So in general, unless you have legal experience, you don’t want to go up against an expert practitioner without help.
What are the benefits of Pro Se Divorce?
When it comes to pro se divorce, the biggest draw is obviously the price. Handling matters yourself often ends up exponentially less expensive. Good divorce lawyers aren’t cheap.
When you use a step-by-step guide or online kit, the damage inflicted on your wallet drops sharply. Instead of potentially thousands of dollars in attorney fees, the cost can be little more than a few hundred for filing the paperwork.
This strategy also allows both sides to work together towards a common end. It often results in less adversity and simpler cases tend to resolve much faster.
Related Reading: What Are Grounds For Divorce In Oregon?
What are the risks?
Though there are definite benefits to representing yourself, pro se divorce also comes with certain risks. Saving money is fantastic, and if both of you are truely willing to work together, it’s a viable option.
Many couples start the road to divorce with the best intentions. But it’s important to ask yourself whether you and your spouse can truly collaborate, because inexperience may come back to bite you in several ways.
Mistakes may wind up costing more time and money in the long run.
Court appearances, mediation, evaluations, and other legal appointments take a great deal of time. You may have to take days off work and rearrange your schedule.
Every step of the process has potential hazards and dangers you may not know to look for. This even goes as far down as filling out forms improperly.
Related Reading: How Do Major Purchases Affect Divorce?
Pro se divorce may seem like the best idea, and in many cases, it may fit your needs and be an effective, less expensive, stripped-down approach to ending a marriage. Though there are potential benefits, potential hazards also exist. Before moving forward, it’s important to be aware of both and closely consider the specific needs of your case.