Everyone is looking to save a buck. Many of us await Black Friday and holiday sales to purchase items that we want or think we need. Whether its an appliance, electronic or mattress, we await these holiday discounts, feeling self satisfied regarding the deal we believe we attained. While may litigants believe that this same bargain hunting applies to divorce litigation, they soon realize tat “going it alone,” and avoiding any legal expense, can have dire consequences.
The allure of representing oneself in litigation is enticing, and made to appear effortless in television shows and movies. In addition, there is always that one friend that prevailed in his/her small claims or landlord-tenant proceeding, and is convinced that this success should translate into each and every type of legal proceeding, never realizing that he/she may have been able to do even better if he/she was represented by counsel.
In addition to the media, the ease by which you can search the relevant law on the internet has created many “weekend attorneys,” having graduated from Google University, and who are “practicing law” unabashedly….and precariously. Unfortunately, while you may be able to find the relevant statute or caselaw in connection with your case, it will not provide: the particular nuances in that particular area of the law; clarify the discretionary nature of judicial authority in that area; or explain all the options in connection with how to proceed. Significantly, the adherence to procedural requirements in a particular case, and in general, can often effect the outcome in a case, and some missteps are irreversible and fatal.
Judges and clerks are not permitted to provide legal advice to unrepresented parties. Thus, if you are representing yourself, you are truly on your own. For this reason, a judge will often begin the proceeding by urging an unrepresented party to obtain legal counsel, warning that leniencies or courtesies from the court in connection with legal and procedural requirements will not be forthcoming.
In addition to the perils listed above, self-representation will undoubtedly prolong case, try the patience of all involved (including the judge), may expose the unrepresented party to a legal fee award payable to the represented party (often seen in matrimonial actions), and of course, may result in a negative outcome.
No matter how intelligent, resourceful and articulate you are, self-representation is never a good idea, and is the epitome of being “penny wise and pound foolish.” Of course, affording an attorney is a real issue for many people. At the very least, you should consult with an attorney. Many of them provide free consultations. In addition, the Bar Association in the county where you reside may be able to provide legal referrals in line with your financial circumstances. The bottom line is no matter what your circumstances are, representing yourself in a legal proceeding is never a good idea.