Pro Se Divorce: Is Pro Se a Good Idea?

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I know what you’re thinking; I could get a pro-se divorce. How hard can it be, right? Well, have you ever tried navigating a maze blindfolded with your arms tied to your ankles? That’s a child’s play compared to my five-year divorce saga. Picture this: three attorneys, each more clueless than the last, a career that took a nosedive faster than my credit score, and a bank account that echoed with the sound of emptiness. By the end, I was representing myself, not by choice, but because my wallet gave me the silent treatment. If you’re thinking you can handle this, so did I. The toll it took on me, my mental state (because after this divorce process they feel like two separate things) and my kids—well,  let’s just say we are going to need a bigger boat… filled with therapists.

Key Takeaways

  • Pro se divorce is when you represent yourself in court instead of hiring an attorney.
  • It’s a way to save money and take control of your own case.
  • There are pros and cons to going pro se, but for those who are willing to put in the work, it can be a great option.
  • The genie in a bottle of tools for Pro Se litigants… AiLawyer

 

Seeking Free Legal Aid?

So here’s the deal: in the vast land of the United States, the availability of free attorneys in divorce cases isn’t as common as spotting a shooting star. It’s not mandated by federal law, and each state has its own way of handling the situation. It’s like trying to find the perfect family vacation spot—a bit overwhelming! I happen to know firsthand hand, they are not offered in the state of NJ. However, if you are a victim of domestic violence, there is a great resource that will pay your legal costs up to $10,000 in certain circumstances. In an unexpected plot twist of something helpful coming out of the NJ court system, I snagged $10K for my third attorney. How? The Victims Crime Compensation Fund in NJ, which each state in the US has established as some form of victim compensation fund,. After I restraining an order against Mr. Ex. The order was for multiple reasons, but the way I was able to qualify for funding was proof of economic or financial abuse (more about this below) Who knew adversity could have a silver lining?

Now, don’t fret just yet. Some states do offer a glimmer of hope by providing free or low-cost legal services for those in dire financial straits. These legal aid warriors might not wear capes, but they can be a lifesaver in your divorce battle. To uncover whether your state is a pro-se paradise or a bit underwhelming, you’ll need to do some good ol’ research

The truth is, not all states are equal in their support for pro se divorcees. Funding and resources can differ significantly, leaving some areas well-equipped while others are a bit lackluster. It’s like playing a game of hide-and-seek, hoping that legal aid will pop out from behind a corner when you least expect it. To uncover whether your state is a pro se paradise or a bit underwhelming, you’ll need to do some good ol’ research—the kind that makes you feel like a detective hot on the trail. Dive into your state’s laws and regulations and reach out to local legal aid organizations for the latest scoop on what’s available.

None of this really helped me in the end until I found Ai Lawyer. This tool helped me write motions, research statutes and case precedent, and understand the laws, my rights, and the complexities of the process in my state for my exact situation. It is crazy good. It’s how I was able to defend myself in one of the most complex cases in New Jersey of the decade.

Financial Abuse Is a Form of Domestic Violence

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: financial abuse. It’s like your money’s taken hostage, and the ransom note is written in passive-aggressive post-its.  Domestic abuse isn’t always physical. I was a victim of economic abuse, a sinister form of control where one partner restricts the other’s access to money, making them financially dependent. In New Jersey, this form of abuse was scrutinized and recognized as relevant. I dug deep, researching NJ precedents and statutes, ensuring I was armed with knowledge. For those interested, here are the specific details for NJ precedent and statutes: These may or may not apply in your state, but hopefully they can help to understand your own situation a little better.

In sum, the Court found that economic abuse can be a form of domestic violence because it can serve as an instrument of control.  Whether the tool be physical dominance, emotional manipulation, or monetary interference, the common denominator is always control.  Thus, if a person, no matter the means, is trying to exercise influence over another, he or she may be committing an act of domestic violence Economic abuse is not limited to the facts outlined in the CG v. EG case. (See  CG v. EG for a summary of the case.)

For example, financial abuse can manifest in:

  • Controlling how all the money is spent in a relationship,
  • Forbidding a partner from participating in investments or financial decisions,
  • Preventing a partner from having access to bank accounts and credit cards, refused  to show banking and crypto  account 
  • Withholding or giving an “allowance,” Sent me $100 and picked up my eye antibiotics on 5/4/22
  • Refusing to provide child support or alimony support, or
  • Hiding assets or manipulating the divorce process. Crypto 
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her/his job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews.
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities.
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent.
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions.
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts.
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance.”
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns.
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts.
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family’s income.
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine.
  • Hiding assets.
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property, or inheritance.
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay.
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score. His credit cards vs. Discover bills. Conversation in May 2022. He pays 10X his
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits.”
  • Filing false insurance claims.
  • Refusing to pay, evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

Financial abuse is devastating; the damage can last for months, years, and even decades

The Protective Order: The Shield

Are things getting a little heated? Maybe your soon-to-be ex is threatening you or maybe you’re threatening them. Either way, the court might issue a protective order to keep the peace.

A protective order is like a shield that protects you from your ex’s shenanigans. It’s a legal document that tells your ex to stay away from you and your kids. If your ex violates the order, they could end up in jail.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But DubG, what if I violate the order?” and I get it. It is really hard to not speak to the parents of your children for simple communication and logistics, but my friend, you could end up in jail too. So, don’t do it.

If you’re going through a pro se divorce, you might have to file a motion to get a protective order. In NJ, it would be through a FM matter or filing a complaint of domestic violence (DV) which in turn opens a seperate case, in the same division, “Family” but open a separate case under FV (family domestic violence) . . A motion is just a fancy way of asking the court to do something. In this case, you’re asking the court to protect you.

The Good, The Bad, and The “Did That Really Just Happen?

So, you’re thinking about a pro se divorce. Maybe it’s because you’re brave, or perhaps, like me, life threw you a curveball that left your bank account gasping for air. I embarked on this journey, and let me tell you, it was less of a scenic route and more of a rollercoaster designed by a madman.

The Good: Here’s the silver lining: pro se divorce can be like finding a designer dress at a thrift store. You save on those hefty attorney fees, and you’re in control. No middleman. Just you, your ex, and a mountain of paperwork.

The Bad: But, oh boy, the challenges. Imagine diving into a pool only to realize it’s filled with molasses. That was me, navigating through a default divorce, then a vacated default, shifting to contested, and then the never-ending cycle of non-compliance. Over 40 court hearings, 26 orders (many eerily similar), and a parade of delays. And just when I thought I saw the finish line? Another hurdle. There is always another hurdle.

The Lawyer-less: Do you need a lawyer? I thought I could handle it, and for a while, I did. But after three attorneys and a debt that could rival a small country’s GDP, I had to represent myself. It was daunting, but sometimes you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt.

Uncontested Vs Contested Divorce: The Showdown

Uncontested Vs. Contested Divorce: My Personal Tug-of-War

Divorce is never easy. But choosing between uncontested and contested? That’s a whole other beast. I’ve been on this merry-go-round, and let me tell you, it’s not always merry.

Uncontested: This should’ve been the dream. Both parties agree; there is no drama. But dreams are rarely reality. Even when things seemed agreeable, the ground would shift beneath me.

Contested: This was the heavyweight championship, and I felt like the underdog. Every decision felt like a battle, and every meeting was a war zone. And just when I thought we’d reached an agreement? Another twist.

Mediation: The Dance I Never Wanted to Learn

Mediation. It’s like being forced to dance with someone who keeps stepping on your toes. I tried collaborative divorce in 2018, thinking it would be the answer. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. Then, by court order, I had to waltz back into mediation not once but twice. It felt like being stuck in a never-ending loop of the same bad song.

The ‘Mine Vs Yours’ Dilemma

Ah, the wedding. 
The utmost dedication. 
You’ve finally found them, and you’re prepared to tell them everything. 
Everything. 

But what happens if you decide to end your relationship? That “mine vs. yours” conflict becomes far more difficult all of sudden. You represent yourself in court during a pro-se divorce. It implies that you are in charge of allocating assets and obligations to your impending “Mr. Ex”.  And believe me when I say it’s not always a piece of cake. He wouldn’t comply with anything, delayed the case, wrecked my career, then refused to pay the amount of support that was awarded… until I slept with him, of course. For me, this was especially true because the majority of my debt accumulated after I filed for divorce. Yeah, even with a lawyer or three on my side, this was still a brain teaser.

Family law can be a complex subject, so it’s critical to know your rights.
While most states treat marital property equally, New Jersey is an “equitable distribution” state, which is substantially different from that.
In states that employ equitable distribution, courts attempt to arrive at a just distribution of assets based on a set of criteria or rules established by state law, or at least that is the intention of the law, but this was not exactly what happened.

The length of the marriage and the amount of marital property are two variables that some judges utilize while others do not. Unfortunately, we had already entered foreclosure because the mortgage was only in my name, not my ex’s, but the deed was in both of our names, plus each spouse’s contribution to the marital property, which was my entire life savings. Oh,  and don’t forget my self-worth. When this all began, I had a thriving career. I was full of life. I was happy with me, but I was not happy with me with him. 
But it’s important to know that even if you could prove a judge was biased, it does really nothing for you in NJ because you cannot sue them for financial loss due to their misconduct. Funny how that law is so conveniently placed in a very corrupt state.
Sure, I could have appealed . The cost of each of the nine days of the trial transcript required for an appeal ranges from $1500 to $2000, or around $18K for a copy of a pdf file of an AI-generated transcript. 

The equitable distribution of marital assets is determined on a case-by-case basis and is subject to negotiation between the two parties and the discretion of the judge. For example, anything that you and your spouse acquired during your marriage. That includes your house, your car, your furniture, and even your pets. Yes, your pets.

In a pro se divorce, you’ll need to figure out what belongs to you, what belongs to your spouse, and what belongs to both of you. Additionally, what you should be doing is submitting the market value of those assets, but in order to do so, you will need an expert witness or a professional appraisal certified by an expert witness and these things cost a ton of money.  Let’s say you bought a car before you got married. That car is technically yours, right? Not so fast. If you used marital funds to make car payments, that car is now considered marital property. See what I mean?

And don’t even get me started on debts. Did you know that you could be held responsible for your spouse’s credit card debt? That’s right, folks. When you get married, you’re not just sharing your assets; you’re sharing your debts, too.

So, what’s the solution? Communication, my friends. It’s important to talk to your spouse about your assets and debts before you tie the knot. And if you’re already married, it’s never too late to have that conversation. There are states that recognize post-nuptial agreements and knowing that you can leave if you want to is more than half of the battle, or at least it was for me. I tried to reconcile with my ex. But having him intentionally trap me, well, that made me run for my life. 

The Attorney Dilemma: To Hire or Not to Hire

Oh boy, the big question. Do I need an attorney for my pro se divorce or not? The answer for me was most definitely yes; I needed an attorney, but it came to a point where I simply could not afford one. A lot of this had to do with COVID. What happened to the family court system during COVID was so insanely unacceptable, but that is another blog, for sure, coming down the road.

My advise? And bear in mind that I have no expertise other than my own faceplants, no matter what. Even if you cannot afford an attorney, go talk to one, two, or three. They will give you 30 minutes at least and use that time to get as much info as possible so you can understand what the right next move for you is.

Legal Terms

Okay, let’s talk about legal terms. They can be confusing, overwhelming, and just plain annoying. But unfortunately, they’re a necessary evil when it comes to divorce. Here are some terms you’ll probably come across:

  • Alimony: money paid from one spouse to another after a divorce.
  • Child custody is the legal right to make decisions about a child’s upbringing.
  • Child support: money paid from one parent to another to support a child.
  • Property division is the process of dividing assets and debts between spouses.
  • Separation agreement: a legal document that outlines the terms of a separation.

Phew, that was a lot of information, but I didn’t even scratch the surface. For a full glossary, check out this page. But hopefully, it helped you make a decision about whether or not to hire an attorney for your pro se divorce. Remember, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s best for your situation. Just make sure you do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The Plaintiffs, Defendants, and Non-Attorneys: The Cast

Alright, let’s talk about the cast of characters in a pro se divorce. First up, we’ve got the plaintiffs. That’s you, baby! You’re the one filing for divorce without an attorney. You’re brave, you’re bold, and you’re probably a little bit scared. But don’t worry; I’m here to guide you through this mess.

Next up, we’ve got the defendants. That’s your soon-to-be ex-spouse. They’re the ones you’re divorcing. They may or may not have an attorney, but that’s not your problem. You’re doing this solo, remember?

Now, let’s talk about the non-attorneys. These are the people who are going to help you through the process. They could be friends, family members, or even strangers on the internet. They’re the ones who will give you advice, help you fill out paperwork, and maybe even go to court with you. Just make sure they know what they’re doing, because you don’t want to end up in jail because of some bad advice.

Oh, and if you’re getting a pro se divorce in Texas, there are a few things you should know. First of all, Texas is a community property state, which means that all property acquired during marriage is considered joint property. That includes debts, too. So if your spouse racked up a bunch of credit card debt while you were married, you could be on the hook for it.

Also, Texas requires a 60-day waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. That means that even if you and your spouse agree on everything, you still have to wait two months before you can officially be divorced. It’s like a built-in cooling off period, I guess.

Alright, that’s enough about the cast of characters. Let’s get down to business and start filling out those forms. Don’t worry, I’ll be here to hold your hand every step of the way.

Court Etiquette: The Comedy of Manners

Listen up, ladies and gentlemen! I’ve got some tips for you on how to behave in court during your pro se divorce. Because let’s face it, you don’t want to be that guy or gal who gets thrown out for bad behavior. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen.

First things first, dress appropriately. This isn’t a fashion show, but you also don’t want to show up in your pajamas. I know it’s tempting, but resist the urge to wear your sweatpants and slippers. Put on some real clothes, brush your hair, and look presentable. You want to show the judge that you’re taking this seriously.

Next up, be respectful to everyone in the courtroom. That means the judge, the court staff, and even your ex. I know, I know, it’s hard to be nice to someone who’s trying to take all your money and custody of your children. But trust me, it will only hurt your case if you’re rude or disrespectful. Take the high road, even if it feels like you’re climbing Mount Everest.

And speaking of children, if you have kids, keep them in mind during the proceedings. Don’t badmouth your ex in front of them, and don’t use them as pawns in your divorce. It’s not fair to them, and it won’t help your case. Remember, the judge has one goal in mind: to do what’s best for the children. So, make sure you’re doing the same.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Just because you’re representing yourself doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone. There are resources available to you, like legal aid clinics and self-help centers. Take advantage of them! And if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused, don’t hesitate to ask the court staff for clarification. They’re there to help you.

So, there you have it, folks.  Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to a successful pro se divorce. And who knows, maybe you’ll even get a standing ovation from the judge. Okay, maybe not, but you get the point.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re still on the fence about hiring an attorney, here are some frequently asked questions that might help you make your decision:

  • Can I handle my own divorce? Yes, you can. But it’s important to remember that divorce can be complicated, and it’s easy to miss important details if you’re not familiar with the legal system.
  • How much does it cost to hire an attorney? It varies, but you can expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.
  • How much could it cost me if I don’t hire an attorney? If there are significant assets or a cash business at play, you may want to crunch the numbers with a big more weight on the yes meter.
  • Will an attorney guarantee a favorable outcome? No, they can’t. But they can help you navigate the system and make sure everything is done correctly.