Everyone has heard the old saying, "Anyone who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client." However, we often have folks come in to consult with our attorneys who are shocked to hear how much attorneys cost and how expensive family court litigation can be in the most difficult cases, so in an attempt to save money during their case, they try to move forward Pro Se, or representing themselves instead of hiring an attorney. Many people assume acting as your own lawyer is a good way to save big bucks. While it may save some expense on the front end by not paying legal fees, if you are considering representing yourself in a divorce or contested child custody case, you should carefully consider the costs, both financial and emotional, associated with acting as your own attorney. Ask yourself these questions before making your decision:
Do you have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the laws of South Carolina and how they apply to the facts of your case?
The first downside to representing yourself in a South Carolina family law action is the fact that most people don't understand the law that impacts virtually every aspect of their case. Things like filing requirements, deadlines, court rules, and procedures – all things that take years to really understand and master and which can be difficult or impossible for those without legal experience to fully understand. This lack of experience can not only be frustrating, but very costly. It can result in missed opportunities or inadvertent waivers of important rights throughout the case. It can also result in a ruling against you to pay the other party's attorney's fees if it can be proven that delays or problems during the case resulted from your ignorance of Court procedures or your refusal to seek legal advice when it was clear you needed assistance with your case.
Are you harboring too many emotions or hard feelings about the other party to be objective about the facts of the case?
Another problem for those representing themselves is the fact that it can be difficult to separate your role as a legal representative from your position as a party to the divorce or custody case. One of the biggest advantages of hiring a lawyer is knowing that the advice you are receiving is coming from a third party with no personal stake in the outcome. Rather than having advice clouded by hurt feelings or anger, the legal advice of a skilled South Carolina family law attorney is instead based on legal understanding and experience.
Are you able to think strategically about the case in order to address the current issues, but also plan for issues which will arise in the future?
One of the most common problems encountered by those who attempt to go it alone in Family Court is that problems begin to crop up – sometimes right away, but often months or years after the Final Order has been filed. One tried and true rule in Family Court is that 'the devil is in the details.' While it might seem easy to slap together a settlement agreement or even copy one from a book you found in the library, only rarely do these “rush jobs” address all of the important issues that truly need to be covered which are specific to the facts of your particular case. Without years of experience handling such matters, pro se clients, unfortunately, don't know which things to watch out for and which issues could grow to become major problems down the road.
Though representing yourself might sound like a great way to cut corners and save money, the fact is that it could end up costing you far more than you ever imagined. The saddest part is that when (not "if") problems arise down the road, there will be some which you might be able to clean up later, but other issues will have no remedy. We urge all of our potential clients and those involved in family court litigation of any kind to think twice before representing yourself in a divorce case and putting yourself, and your family, into that situation. Consider hiring an experienced family law attorney right from the beginning so that your rights are protected from start to finish.
If you, or someone you know, is dealing with a family law case, our experienced family court attorneys can help. Call (864) 598-9172 today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys to discuss the options available.