Contrary to popular belief, February is not the month for love. If divorce is on the horizon, here are five reasons why you should not represent yourself.
You Don’t Know the Law
Texas family law is very complex. It draws on principles from many areas of the law—including the Texas Family Code, real estate law, contract law, retirement benefits law, and tax law to name a few. Unless you went to law school and practice family law every day, let’s face it, you don’t know the law. Even lawyers who don’t practice family law hire a family lawyer when they get a divorce. You should, too.
You Don’t Know Courtroom Procedure
The Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence govern courtroom procedure. Judges hold self-represented parties to the same standards as lawyers; they are not given special treatment. And if you don’t know the procedural rules, documents you need, filing deadlines, rules of evidence, or even what to do next, you will not secure the same result as you would if represented by a lawyer. Guaranteed.
You Don’t Know the Judge and the Lawyers
Knowing your judge’s practices and propensities is critical. How else will you know, for example, if the deal proposed by your spouse’s lawyer represents your best day in court or your worst day in court? Or the best way to present your case? Knowing your spouse’s lawyer also is important. Is the lawyer willing to go the distance and try the case, or known to bluff and settle? The same is true for the local mediators who will be assigned to your case. Succeeding in a divorce case can be a game of inches. Why would you not hire an experienced divorce lawyer and yield the advantage to your spouse from the get go?
You Need Expert Advice
A divorce lawyer can suggest strategies you don’t even know exist and assess their likelihood of success at trial. An experienced divorce lawyer also will suggest a variety of options to settle your case and make sure you receive everything you deserve. If you have gnarly issues to resolve—such as complex finances or child custody—a family law attorney can be an invaluable resource and best protect your interests.
You Need Objective Advice
Divorce is a time of heightened emotions that will impair your ability to think clearly—right at the time you must make numerous decisions affecting the rest of your life. As an objective third party, a family lawyer will keep a clear, level head and keep you focused on the critical aspects of your case. This, in turn, will enhance your credibility with the court and put you in the best possible position to secure the result you want.
Be careful whose advice you take—especially if it’s from your non-lawyer friends holding court at work. There’s an old saying that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Don’t be that person.
Sonya B. Coffman is a Board Certified divorce, custody, and family lawyer in Beaumont, Texas. She also is a CPA. Ms. Coffman regularly tries jury and non-jury divorce, custody, and property cases in the southeast Texas family courts. In fact, that’s all she does.