I frequently get asked by clients, potential clients, and people just looking for North Carolina divorce information, whether they can handle their own divorce. The legal answer is always yes you can… any person can represent their own interest in court without a lawyer. All the way from small claims cases to death penalty defense, you can be your own lawyer.
Everyone has the right to stand up in their own case and be his or her own lawyer. In legal lingo someone who represents him or herself in court is pro se, meaning he or she is “for one’s own behalf.” What it really means in family court in North Carolina is that you are going it alone and you will be expected to follow the same rules, procedures, and laws that attorneys know to follow.
The real question, and the important question, is whether it is a good idea to handle your own divorce? No, it is not.
In the usual family law case in North Carolina there are about five separate sub-parts in a normal divorce case: divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, and equitable distribution. Each of these is, in reality, a separate legal case. For example, spouses can be divorced after one year of separation, but the decree of divorce will not resolve equitable distribution, child support, child custody, etc.
A decree of divorce is only a document that ends the marriage. Other matters are usually settled by a separation agreement when parties can agree and by the district court judge when parties can not agree. There are often tax and real property issues that need to be addressed and evaluated. A mistake can be very costly.
In addition to the complex legal issues and the pro se party’s lack of training and knowledge in rules, procedure, and the law, it is extra-ordinarily difficult for a pro se person to be objective. Objective and reasoned guidance is one of the most under-appreciated benefits of having a lawyer. It is hard to make good decisions when you are in the center of a storm.
If you decide to represent yourself to save money you must evaluate the cost of not having an attorney. Before you decide to represent yourself, consult with an attorney and make informed decisions about the risks.