Financial strain is one of the leading contributors to divorce. Unfortunately, divorce itself usually only increases the strain on already limited family budgets. Between the costs of a second household, lawyer fees, court costs and other new expenses it is easy to see how the situation can go from bad to worse. As a result, many people who decide they need to get divorced are tempted to “do it themselves”. I am frequently asked “can I represent myself” which is usually followed by “should I?” I will try to give you some insight on those two questions.
1. Can I represent my self in my Kansas divorce?
The answer to this question is a simple and straightforward “Yes”. There is no requirement for a lawyer in Kansas. However, the Court cannot give you any advice or assistance in preparing or filing your documents or help you make or argue your case. Many times a party in a case will want to bring a friend or family member to court with them. You can have them come with you to court and they can sit in the court room, but they generally cannot sit at the table with you or speak to the court on your behalf. If you decide not to have a lawyer you will be on your own.
2. Should I represent myself in my Kansas divorce?
The answer to this question is not as clear-cut. Each case is unique and a simple yes or no answer would be misleading. I do not know your individual situation so I cannot offer any specific advice but I can give you some things to think about as you consider your options. As a general rule of thumb the more issues involved in the case the more you are likely going to need professional assistance handling the case. If it is a very short-term marriage with no children and little to no property or debt acquired during the marriage, it is more likely that you can successfully do it yourself. However, there are many issues which can be overlooked and the longer the marriage the more issues there are to be considered. For example, do one or both parties have retirement plans? The increase in value of the plans during the marriage is likely to be a marital asset to be divided. If one side does not have a plan, or more was contributed for one than the other, it may be necessary to divide the retirement plans so each side is treated fairly. Dividing these plans can be a long, frustrating process which can have significant tax consequences if not handled properly. Similarly, if there are joint debts (credit cards, for example) it is important to take steps to ensure the debts are handled properly. If the divorce agreement assigns the debt to one party but the debt remains in both names there may be problems. jointly owned assets (house) have other considerations. Finally, matters involving children are often complex and emotional and it may be advisable to consult a knowledgable, neutral third-party to help. Kansas has specific child-support guidelines which have to be considered any time there are children involved even if the parents have reached an agreement on support.
There are options available if you are not sure you can afford an attorney. One option is to meet with an attorney for an initial consultation to at least get some insight into the process involved with your case. Like many attorneys, I offer a free initial consultation to allow someone considering hiring me a chance to meet, ask questions and see if I am a good fit for them. Another option is to hire an attorney to do some limited work on your case. This is a new trend in the law and is sometimes called “unbundled services” or “limited scope” work. The idea is that you can hire a lawyer to do one or two specific things in your case, but not everything. For example, you can hire someone to help you prepare the initial petition and summons, but nothing else. Or you can hire an attorney to prepare the necessary court order to divide a retirement account. Often clients tell me they have negotiated an agreement but do not know how to “put it on paper” – this is another good opportunity to use a limited scope arrangement and hire an attorney to prepare the Separation Agreement which includes the agreements you and your spouse already negotiated. Another option might be to hire a trained mediator to work with you and your spouse to negotiate a settlement.
As you can see, there are opportunities to try to do some of the work yourself without have to go it all alone. However, it pays to be very careful when trying to decide how to proceed. If you are not sure you should ask someone who has experience handling divorce and family law matters. What you do not know can hurt you because, in many case, it is not possible to go back later and fix any mistakes.
Please keep in mind this blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The choice of a lawyer is an important one and should not be based solely upon advertising.