Can I Represent Myself in My Divorce?
Once the emotional decision has been made to end your marriage, the next step is to begin the legal process of divorce. If you have friends or family members who have gone through a costly divorce, you undoubtedly hope to avoid this which may lead you to consider foregoing an attorney and representing yourself. Fort Worth divorce attorney Jon Boyd helps you decide if representing yourself is the right choice in your divorce.
The Divorce Process in Texas
The divorce process is never exactly the same for any two couples; however, the basic steps in the process are similar for all divorcing couples. The process begins when one spouse (the Petitioner) files an Original Petition for Divorce. This document includes basic information about the marriage and states the grounds on which the divorce is sought. That document, along with a summons, must be served on the other spouse (the Respondent). The Respondent has 20 days to file a formal written Answer with the court. If the Respondent fails to file an Answer, the Petition can ask for a default judgment; however, a minimum of 60 days must pass between the filing of the Petition and the final court order dissolving the marriage. If the Respondent does file an Answer, the parties begin the discovery process and/or enter into negotiations. If an out of court settlement agreement is reached that resolves all issues in the divorce, it can be filed with the court and, if accepted, will be incorporated into the final order dissolving the marriage. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the divorce will proceed to trial.
When Is Representing Yourself a Reasonable Option?
The issue is not whether you can represent yourself in your divorce, but whether you should do so. There is no legal reason why you cannot represent yourself; however, there are numerous situations in which doing so is not in your best interest. If your divorce will be a simple one that does not involve minor children, significant assets, and/or spousal support and you have reached an agreement regarding debts and assets, representing yourself may be a reasonable option. A variety of factors and issues in a divorce, however, should prompt you to reconsider representing yourself, including:
You have minor children with your spouse
You have a disabled child of any age
You have significant marital assets
You have received a sizeable inheritance during the marriage
You or your spouse are seeking alimony
The divorce was filed using fault grounds (such as cruelty or adultery)
A spouse is pregnant
You have filed, or plan to file, bankruptcy
You own a business
There are any issues that are contested (you cannot agree with your spouse)
Amicable Can Turn Adversarial Overnight
One of the prerequisites for deciding to represent yourself in a divorce should be that you anticipate an amicable divorce process. Keep in mind, however, that an amicable divorce can turn adversarial in the blink of an eye. Your spouse may suddenly realize what he/she is losing and deciding to fight the divorce. That agreement regarding the children that you thought was solidified suddenly sounds unfair to your or your spouse. Divorce is nothing if not unpredictable. If your divorce does suddenly turn contentious, and you have been representing yourself up to that point, you will need to scramble to retain an attorney in order to protect yours interests. It is for this reason that you should – at a bare minimum – consult with an experienced divorce attorney as soon as divorce appears eminent. Failing to do so could put you and your attorney in the unenviable position of trying to play catch up at the last minute.
Contact a Fort Worth Divorce Attorney
If divorce is in your future and you are contemplating representing yourself, contact an experienced Fort Worth divorce attorney at Boyd Family Law to schedule your appointment today.