Can You Choose Self-Representation in a Divorce Proceeding?
Interviewer: In a divorce, do both parties have to hire lawyers or does can person be assigned a lawyer such as a public defender?
Paul Tafelski: No. You’re not entitled to a lawyer in a divorce case. There’s no such thing as a public defender for a divorce case.
Some people choose to represent themselves. Although there’s an old saying even among lawyers that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
For the most part, it’s not a good idea for people to represent themselves unless you have absolutely nothing that can be taken from you. Or, there is no way for you to be treated unfairly because there are no assets, no children, etcetera.
Individuals with Low Income May Obtain Assistance from Legal Aid
For the most part, somebody who has a very low income can try to contact their local legal aid association and they might get some help. But otherwise, it’s up to people to hire their own attorney or go in alone. It can be tricky for people to represent themselves because, by law, the courts are not allowed to give legal advice.
For example, many people feel like if they can just get in front of the judge and explain their situation to the judge. The judge will tell them what to do or the judge will help them out. Or, somebody will show them how to fill out the paperwork. It’s against the law for a judge to give that kind of advice.
Family Law Is an Area Where an Individual Is Best Served by an Experienced Attorney
Oftentimes, people show up in court expecting some kind of help like there’s going to be services that are available to them. They get a rude awakening and really struggle through the whole process. There are a lot of aspects involved in family law that really require someone with experience. One needs to not only solve the problems, but to just even identify what they are. An experienced attorney will identify what issues they need to worry about. Anytime, especially there’s a custody case, it’s nearly impossible for someone to get by with self-representation.
Most people have the sense to realize that when somebody sues you and is using a lawyer against you—they’re trying to take or keep as much of your property as they can. They’re trying to take or keep as much of your children’s time as they can. Most people will realize that, “I better get a lawyer too.”
Once in a while, you may have some people that are somewhat brainwashed by the other spouse and told, “Hey, you don’t need a lawyer. Don’t worry. I’ll be fair. Why waste the money?” Unfortunately, they’ll go along with it.
Occasionally, some of them don’t ever catch on and they do end up being taken advantage of. But for the most part, most people will realize that when somebody sues them with a lawyer that they need to at least talk to a lawyer and get some advice.
When You Are Being Sued for Divorce, It Is Advisable to Take Advantage of an Attorney’s Free Consultation
That’s one of the reasons myself and a lot of attorneys do offer a free consultations. This is because even just talking to somebody for 15 to 20 minutes about their situation, can often open their eyes to all of the things they have to be concerned about.
An Attorney Protects Your Best Interests in a Divorce
When someone actually sues you for divorce whether you want it or not, it’s really no longer the issue. You have to respond. You cannot just sit idly by. Otherwise, the action will certainly turn out against your best interests. Most people do understand that.