America is a country where we all like to “do it ourselves”. On any weekend, you can go to Home Depot, Lowe’s, True Value Hardware, or any other small or big home repair stores and observe thousands of people taking classes or buying items. They then go back to their homes and attempt to do home repairs, improvements, or remodeling on their own. In doing so, they have the satisfaction of saving money, having the job done more quickly, and the satisfaction of having done it themselves. We see that spirit also in the area of divorce cases. More and more, people are attempting to begin and conclude their divorce all on their own. While doing it yourself for a home repair job may be a good idea for a handyman, it is not a great idea to do it in a highly technical area such as divorce law. A person attempting to represent themselves in a divorce case does not have the training, experience or talent to know what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
Many people are willing to represent themselves in legal matters. Sometimes it works out for them. But for the majority of other people, there can be significant problems. So how does one decide whether or not to negotiate or mediate their own case or to obtain legal assistance to do so? The following are five considerations for our Martial and Family Law firm in West Palm Beach to ponder when making this decision:
- Is there a power imbalance in your relationship? If one party always seems to dominate the other, the submissive spouse is not going to do well in negotiations or mediation with the dominant spouse. In one‑to‑one negotiation, a pro se spouse will not have an attorney assisting to protect him or her from making decisions based on being the less powerful spouse. An attorney can also prevent a client from being “bullied” during a negotiation. A divorce attorney is also necessary during mediation. Remember, a mediator does not represent either spouse. All the mediator is interested in is obtaining an agreement. The mediator does not care whether the agreement is fair for one spouse or the other;
- Is there equal bargaining ability? Does one party have more experience/ability in bargaining or negotiation? In some cases, because of their employment or experience, one party has received special training in negotiations that may give that spouse an unfair advantage. To lessen that advantage, the less experienced and less educated spouse must have an attorney be present;
- Do you have full information? Do you know what you need to know about the finances of your spouse and how to get it? Many people don’t and those people will not have that information during negotiations or mediation. In most marriages, one spouse has been in charge of the financial information including making income, paying bills, processing credit cards, and dealing with the accountant on tax returns. That spouse has a far more sophisticated knowledge of the finances of the family than does the other spouse. The less experienced and less educated spouse must have a divorce attorney in order to make up the difference in knowledge and experience;
- Has there been an equal exchange of necessary financial information to both sides? Often one party in a marriage tends to monopolize the information on all the financial issues or the children’s issues. The other side can negotiate effectively only if he or she gets access to all that information. You may not be able to get access to that information and may need to retain the services of an attorney to do so; and
- Is there equal motivation on both parties to settle? If one spouse is eager to settle the case and the other is not, the spouse who is eager may have a tendency to give up far more than is necessary or reasonable in order to obtain a negotiated settlement or resolution. An experienced attorney can assist you from becoming your own worst enemy in that regard.
A Florida divorce attorney can provide assistance to a client in the above circumstances, either by being retained by the client or by providing unbundled legal services. It is far more advantageous to the client to have an attorney prepare them for negotiations. The assistance of an attorney often is necessary to ensure that a litigant has sufficient data upon which to fully and fairly negotiate or mediate a resolution in the case. It is also advantageous to have an attorney advise you and assist you during the negotiations and/or mediation to ensure that you are fully protected from a power imbalance, differences in the level of bargaining ability, and to ensure that you obtain a resolution that is workable, reasonable and in your best interest. Consequently, at the very least, the pro se litigant must always retain the services of an attorney to assist them in preparing and participating in negotiations and/or mediation to resolve their case.
If you’re a pro se litigant and you’re in the middle of attempting to negotiate a resolution of your case, or you are looking at an upcoming mediation to protect your best interests and the best interests of your children, you should schedule a consultation immediately to assist you in obtaining the best possible resolution that you can.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss division of property in your divorce, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312. We are located in West Palm Beach.