A growing trend in family law is to represent oneself. Recent statistics in Utah reveal that the vast majority of domestic relations cases filed are those where one or both parties are not represented by counsel (“pro se” is the legalese we use in Utah). I caution against going it alone, but not for the reasons you may think.
Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?
I had a client many years ago who had done her own divorce with the fill-in-the-blank packet of forms provided by our courts at the time. The divorce itself was amicable and the parties wanted to save money. When things took a turn for the worse a few years later, the parties wound up dealing with additional problems because of how the divorce documents were drafted. My client was fond of quipping that the original divorce cost her $40 and the fix was $40,000. While the numbers weren’t that extreme, the point remains valid that in the end way more money was spent than saved.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Court rules can be complex and confusing and even services designed for the self-represented are not the most user-friendly. Our court system can be unforgiving and once mistakes are made they may be extremely difficult or impossible to fix, not to mention the cost involved. I get it: attorneys can be expensive and when money is tight hiring a lawyer may seem like a luxury one cannot afford. The example above should be a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks they shouldn’t at least consult with a qualified attorney. My advice: get advice and do things right the first time.
As an alternative to traditional representation, I consult with self-represented people on an hourly basis to advise on legal procedure, to review documents they have drafted with our Online Court Assistance Program (OCAP), or to draft court documents after a successful mediation. This option is affordable for many and can avoid costly mistakes.