Everyone likes to save money but do you actually save money when you represent yourself in a divorce? That depends on your definition of saving. If you believe that time is money, consider these scenarios. If you have taken off work four or five days to go to Court and each time the Judge rejects your Settlement Agreement because it does not address certain issues, are you saving money? What if you were entitled to assets you didn't understand were marital property but since your agreement did not address it, you didn't receive any portion of the assets? Did you save money in that situation? What if you got stuck with marital debt that was money your spouse acquired in their expensive photography hobby? Did you save money? As you can see, you may have saved money at first but in the end you may have lost money.
Does that mean you should always hire an attorney? No. Some factual situations do lend themselves to operating pro se, "for himself". These cases almost always involve short term marriages with very little, if any, marital assets and liabilities. Think Britney Spears' 55 hour marriage to Jason Alexander had it been a divorce and not an annulment. Individuals should proceed pro se with caution in cases dividing retirement accounts, real property, cases involving children, long term marriages, or family violence.
One of the most disheartening things I see in court are pro se litigants who have come before the Judge multiple times and each time the Judge has been unable to grant the divorce. Is the Judge being difficult? No but the Judge must ensure the law is followed. Settlement Agreements need to address all the issues of the marriage. If there are children, child support needs to be calculated according to Georgia law and not on an arbitrary number. It is obvious that these parties chose the pro se route to save money but after taking time off work they are now in jeopardy of not only losing income but of losing their only stream of income.
Another misconception is that the Judge will cut you a break because you are not a lawyer. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are operating pro se, the Court expects you to know the rules of civil procedure and evidence. With the current budget situation in Georgia, the courts are strapped for money and Judges are unable to farm out criminal cases to Senior Judges as they had in the past. Therefore, they are balancing very full criminal and civil dockets. They nor their staff can provide you legal advice-- they cannot tell you how to calculate child support, or what needs to be in a complaint, or how you go about getting the other party served.
Throughout the course of litigation, there are many deadlines that are set by statute. If you are not aware of those, your case can be dismissed and you will have to refile-- there goes an extra $200. Or worse, if the other party has an attorney you can be assessed attorney's fees and other expenses of litigation for your failure to respond.
In the long run you may end up spending more time and money than if you had hired a family law attorney to best represent your interests and help you navigate the complicated landscape of divorce.