Do-It-Yourself Divorce?

Representing yourself in court can be scary.

Representing yourself in court can be scary.

Do I have to hire a lawyer to get a divorce?  The answer is no:  you have the right to represent yourself in court. Pro se (pronounced “pro say”) is the term used to describe a party who represents himself in court, without an attorney.  In as many as half of the divorces filed in El Paso County today, neither party hires a lawyer.  The most common reason a person will represent himself is the high cost of hiring an attorney.  While you can represent yourself, for the reasons stated below, I don’t recommend it.

Why does divorce cost so much?  The old punchline says….“Because it’s worth it!”  But seriously, divorce costs so much because it is a long and complicated process.  The State of Colorado has adopted divorce laws and procedures designed to ensure that property is divided fairly and that children’s best interest is protected.  Those laws require both parties to disclose and document all property, debts and expenses.  Furthermore, Colorado courts actively manage all lawsuits, including divorces.  This means that certain hearings and deadlines are imposed in every case–even in cases where the parties have agreed to everything.  Ironically, these procedures were designed to ensure fairness and to prevent parties and attorneys from abusing the legal process.  But they have the effect of complicating every case, even the most simple ones.

Another reason divorces cost so much is that the law of divorce is much more complicated than most non-lawyers realize.  There are laws about the characterization of property, laws concerning the division of parental responsibilities, and procedural laws which govern the case from beginning to end.  There are laws of evidence and proof, which dictate how we prove the value of property and who can testify.

But I can do it myself, right?  Yes, you can represent yourself in a divorce or family law case.  Neither party is required to hire an attorney.  Courts are generally prohibited from giving legal advice to non-lawyers, but there are a number of resources available to help parties through the process.  For instance, the Colorado courts website has a Self-Help Center with information and forms.  The forms can be downloaded in Word or pdf formats, and can be filled in on line.

Helpful Links  Here are links to pro se legal resources and legal aid in Colorado–

Colorado Judicial Branch Self-Help Center

Colorado Judicial Branch Forms and Instructions

Fourth Judicial District Self-Help Center (El Paso County Courts)

Fourth Judicial District Legal Help List and Pro Se Resources

Additionally, the El Paso County Bar Association has legal resources for the public available on its website–

El Paso County Bar Association, For the Public

If you need legal representation and absolutely cannot afford an attorney, contact Colorado Legal Services–

Colorado Legal Services

But should you?  Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  You have the right to remove your own appendix, and Evan O’Neill Kane did just that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

As I stated earlier, divorce is a very complex subject.  There are several substantive legal issues, including property (characterization, value, and division), spousal maintenance, and parent-child matters (including custody, parental rights and responsibilities, child support, visitation, etc.).  And then there are the procedural issues, which include how to go about filing for divorce, the requirements for the pleadings, service of process, drafting orders, and presenting your case before a judge.  Lawyers are trained to handle all of these matters.  The judicial system was designed by lawyers for lawyers.  Handling the case by yourself is risky.  If not done properly, it may actually cost more to fix problems after the fact than it would have to hire a lawyer to do it right the first time.

If you simply cannot afford an attorney, it may be helpful to talk to a lawyer about the process.  The Law Office of Kirk Garner offers free half-hour consultations.  Also, we offer unbundled legal services, which is a fancy way of saying that we will handle a limited part of the case if you cannot afford to hire me to represent you throughout the entire process.  You won’t know that you can’t afford it until you talk to a lawyer to discuss your payment and representation options.  Call today.