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Consequences of representing yourself in divorce

Consequences of representing yourself in divorce are best looked at from both perspectives, that off the represented and the unrepresented spouse, in the view of Cheshire family law specialist solicitors Stonehewer Moss, as the latest official statistics suggest one third of cases before the divorce court about finances involve both spouses having no lawyer in court. If unrepresented and without any legal training, you will be involved in a formal process described in the Court rules and practice directions as almost inquisitorial; the District Judge is encouraged to case manage so as to achieve the overriding objective enshrined in the rules, to deal with the case justly and to that end allocate proportionate time and expense to it. At present, in the early years after the removal of legal aid, the facts suggest the courts are struggling with this objective as both parties being unrepresented inevitably increases the burden on the court and their staff, with the rules now requiring the court office to produce bundles of papers for the parties and the judge in court. A court both managing the paperwork and making the decisions is setting the agenda. Michael Brennan, the accredited specialist at Stonehewer Moss, remarks on this point, “Advocacy is not just about making killer questions and closing speeches, it is about setting the agenda for the case and defining the issues to your best advantage; if you represent yourself you may have the illusion of being in control but in reality you have handed over this opportunity to set the agenda to the court. Ultimately case management and decision making powers are with the court but you are letting your opportunity to influence the outcome slip by not having a technically competent lawyer represent you. Knowing the Judges can also be  a benefit and cannot be acquired if you represent yourself, as one notable characteristic of judges in the family court is that they do not always favour one party through-out the process and to assume so after one positive hearing unrepresented could be a mistake.”

If you are unable to afford a solicitor, it is possible to have a person you trust in court to offer moral support but not to act as your representative. This can be a family member as long as your opponent does not successfully object. Such persons are described as McKenzie friends and there are fee charging services out there but be wary; they have a political agenda often that the court may be wary of and there are concerns being expressed by the Judiciary about such unregulated activities. Take a back step and consider the emotional heat created by both appearing against your ex as your own lawyer and possibly assisted by a close friend or relative that may antagonise further.

The Family Court is confidential in most instances and if representing yourself you may find it difficult to access all the information a lawyer might on your behalf. Michael comments,”Often the Court requires sensitive information to be produced and it may prove impossible to give copies to an unrepresented person. In addition, the finances process through a divorce requires offers to settle to be produced to the court in the preliminary stages that should be withheld from the sight of the court at later stages and an unaware litigant may get in to difficulties that could have legal costs consequences if the court decides adjournment was your fault through ignorance of the rules.”

Looked at from the view point of a represented spouse at court in a divorce, Stonehewer Moss believe the latest official statistics show a trend towards self representation that should be considered before embarking on the Court process. Being expensively represented has clear benefits but if you are set in court with your solicitor waiting for your turn, almost patiently, and find your substantial asset dispute is being held up while a couple argue in person without solicitors about their debts, you may rue deciding to issue and to pay by the hour. Michael remarks, “The Court process has rightly been described by another solicitor in the media as unglamorous recently and you should not issue thinking you are going to get the undivided attention of the judge. Many District Judges will take the unrepresented first, making you wait; the logic seeming to be that they can manage the self represented first and then clear up the rest with the lawyers later on. I recommend that you treat issue at court as the last resort and try options such as mediation and collaborative law first. I have felt the frustration of client attending at what ought to be a negotiation hearing only to find the court list packed over capacity. The second thing I recommend, is to explore fixed fees with your solicitor as the stage payments may look daunting but usually it will be cheaper in the end.”

Consequences of representing yourself in divorce are often subtle, often frustrating and usually expensive in money and  emotional energy.

For advice negotiation and representation in family law cases including divorce finance telephone our accredited solicitor on 01606872200 e mail or visit to view further blogs.


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