People who self-represent during divorce may be likelier to misunderstand their rights, accept unfair settlements and advocate for themselves poorly.
Divorce proceedings can be confusing and legally complicated. Nevertheless, many people in Spokane may attempt to complete the divorce process independently, rather than seeking the assistance of an attorney. Many spouses believe the financial benefits of self-representation, which is also referred to as pro se representation, outweigh the potential drawbacks. However, in many cases, the following risks of self-representation make seeking professional assistance advisable.
1. Misunderstanding legal rights
Many divorcing spouses may not be fully aware of their legal rights, and they may agree to disadvantageous settlements as a result. Marital property division offers a typical example. Under Washington law, almost all property that a couple acquires while married, including personal income and retirement benefits, is considered community property. This property belongs equally to both spouses and must be divided equitably between them, unless spouses agree otherwise. Spouses who aren’t aware of this law may agree to give up property that they are entitled to.
Similarly, people who represent themselves may not fully understand the legal criteria that are used to determine other aspects of a divorce settlement, such as alimony, child custody arrangements and parenting time. Consequently, they may be in danger of accepting settlements that are not objectively reasonable or fair.
2. Being taken advantage of
Self-representing spouses who understand their rights still may be at risk for an unfavorable settlement if the other spouse engages in unscrupulous practices. Often, people who lack legal experience may not realize that a spouse is hiding information, withholding cooperation or violating state laws. An attorney may be able to identify common signs of this misconduct and help a spouse remedy the situation.
As an example, some spouses may hide marital assets in an attempt to avoid sharing those assets. Forbes notes that there are a number of well-known tactics that spouses can use to conceal hidden marital assets. These include underreporting income, creating false debt, overpaying creditors, temporarily transferring assets to others and undervaluing physical items. Unfortunately, spouses who go without legal representation may not know to look for these telltale actions.
3. Self-representing ineffectively
Another risk of pro se representation is that some people may not be capable of advocating for themselves clearly and effectively. It’s crucial for divorcing spouses to express their desires unambiguously, portray their situations accurately and avoid giving misleading impressions. Spouses who fail to do so are unlikely to reach favorable settlements. Poor representation may be especially harmful if the other spouse has an advocate who can present his or her case persuasively.
4. Experiencing needless struggles
Finally, spouses who handle their own divorce cases may experience unnecessary confusion, stress and loss of time. With an attorney, spouses may be able to navigate the divorce more efficiently and with less emotional upheaval. An attorney also may save a spouse significant effort by completing necessary paperwork, investigating information the other spouse provides and preparing for any necessary court appearances.
Exploring alternate options
Considering the potential drawbacks of pro se representation, people divorcing in Washington should at least think about consulting with an attorney before choosing this option. An attorney may be able to assess a person’s situation and offer advice on whether obtaining professional representation is advisable.