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Considering 'pro se' divorce and why it doesn't often work

If you're considering divorce, the prospect of reaching out to a family lawyer, disclosing your financial information and laying what feels like the personal failure of your marriage before a judge does not seem appealing. Isn't there an easier, more private way to handle your divorce?

In Texas, you could opt for a pro se divorce. This means divorcing spouses do not hire attorneys and elect to work things out on their own. A pro se divorce may sound tempting, but here are three reasons why it could backfire on you.

1. It oversimplifies things.

A few years ago, the Texas Supreme Court approved a set of forms couples can use if they're seeking a pro se divorce. Theoretically, these forms apply to any divorce, but they're really only helpful for those with limited assets and no children. This oversimplification isn't designed to handle complex legal issues like dividing up:

  • Family business assets
  • Retirement accounts, stock options and other investments
  • Real property investments like the family home, rental properties, cabins or vacation homes
  • The costs of private school, college funding, special health care needs and other unique child expenses

Furthermore, Texas courts must accept the forms when used, even if there are "non-substantive defects" in them. That means a judge won't necessarily tell you that you've made a mistake or that your agreement looks lopsided or "unfair." They will presume you understand the risks and ramifications of certain choices.

2. It doesn't let cooler heads prevail.

Tensions will rise and tempers will flair in the heat of a divorce, even one that is more or less uncontested. You want an advocate on your side who doesn't have an emotional investment in each issue. It can be crucial to obtaining a settlement that actually puts you on the best path to singlehood. Having this more practical-minded clarity in your divorce will ensure you don't miss the forest for the trees when it comes to the big issues.

3. Legal mistakes could cost you.

As hinted at above, most people don't deal with the legal and financial ramifications of divorce on a day-to-day basis. People who pursue pro se divorce risk:

  • Trading away certain rights for uncertain gains
  • Improperly valuing their assets, leading to future financial disaster
  • Misunderstanding the tax implications of certain decisions, resulting in more financial difficulty
  • Impacting their relationships with their children in a negative way

Any mistakes could end up costing you far more than the advice of a skilled family law attorney.

A possible alternative?

If a courtroom divorce simply won't work for you, you might consider mediation. In mediation, a mediator facilitates the discussions for divorcing spouses. The mediator must remain neutral, so they cannot give you specific legal advice. However, they can offer perspective on certain issues you might not have known or thought about.

Mediation also keeps matters private. If you can resolve your issues in mediation, you only need to file your final agreement with the court to make it legally binding. This also means you could save time and money on your divorce, since you will not need to rely on the court's schedule or appear in court more than once.

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