With the spread of online guides and resources, do-it-yourself divorce has never been more accessible.
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, however, many factors to consider:
- When is DIY divorce your best option?
- When is it not?
- What are some common risks and pitfalls 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 where
- there are no children and
- little or no shared property to divide.
In these situations, pro se divorce usually works 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.
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. 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.
What are the benefits?
When it comes to pro se divorce, the biggest draw is obviously the price. Handling matters yourself is often 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 is little more than a few hundred for filing the paperwork.
This strategy allows both sides to work together towards a common end. It often results in less adversity and simpler cases tend to resolve much faster.
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 willing to work together, it’s a viable option.
When there’s friction, however, it doesn’t take much for a situation to get messy. 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. Dividing assets and debts, establishing a parenting plan, deciding on support, get tricky and emotional even in the best situations.
Inexperience may come back to bite you. Divorce is a complicated business. If you don’t know what to look for,
- you may leave potentially valuable assets on the table or
- agree to an unfair split when it comes to the division of property.
- You may wind up saddled with unforeseen tax burdens or even debts.
- In child custody cases, it’s possible to agree to a less-than-optimal parenting plan because you don’t know any better or that other options exist.
Depending on the circumstances, ending a marriage often involves more than just filling out forms. Court appearances, mediation, evaluations, and other 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 pitfalls you may not know to look for. This even goes as far down as filling out forms improperly. You don’t want to reach the end and have a judge throw out your divorce agreement because you made mistakes along the way. Mistakes may wind up costing more time and money in the long run.
Should You Represent Yourself If Your Spouse Has An Attorney?
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. But in general, unless you have legal experience, you don’t want to go up against an expert practitioner without help.
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.
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.
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