One question that I hear on occasion is, “Should I try to represent myself in my case?” My answer is always the same. Individuals possess the right to represent themselves without the assistance of an attorney. In some situations, I have actually encouraged prospective clients to exercise that right, after walking them through the appropriate process. My advice to someone considering the prospect of saving a little money and representing him/herself, with or without the help of a document preparer, is as follows:
Go for it! Try to represent yourself, as long as:
1. You do not have minor children.
2. There is not a significant disparity between your and the other party’s income.
3. Neither you nor the other party own any real estate.
4. Neither you nor the other party possess any interest in any retirement benefits.
5. Neither you nor the other party possess any interest in any business.
6. You have been married for less than 10 years.
If none of the above applies to you, you probably cannot mess your case up too badly by representing yourself. However, if any ONE of the 6 statements above apply, an individual simply has too much at stake to try to represent him/herself. I find that often, more than ONE of the statements, and sometimes all 6, apply in prospective clients’ cases. As is true in other facets of life, it is much easier (and much less expensive) to get things done correctly the first time, than to attempt to remedy a botched result after the fact. When considering whether to hire an attorney, it is often helpful to consider one’s alternatives which I see as:
1. SHORT-TERM PAIN, resulting from paying attorney’s fees and upsetting the other party because of the acquisition of legal representation, in exchange for LONG-TERM GAIN;
2. SHORT-TERM GAIN, by avoiding immediate attorney’s fees and “keeping the peace” with the other party, which inevitably results in LONG-TERM PAIN, which is often irreparable.
If any of the 6 statements above apply to you, you need the help that only an experienced family law attorney can provide. There are several important intricacies associated with child custody, child support, spousal support and valuing and dividing real estate, retirement and business interests that will be easily overlooked without the proper representation. Even if real estate, business, or retirement assets are not titled in your name, you may very well have acquired a community property interest in them. Even if you and your spouse agree on how to share custody of your child/ren, you need to know what your respective rights are and cover all of your bases.
-Cameron M. Fernandez, Attorney at Law