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Why handling your own divorce is a bad idea

30 March 2008

Heather Mills’ decision to represent herself in her divorce proceedings against Sir Paul McCartney was at the very least unusual, given the huge sums involved. But the practice is becoming increasingly common in the family courts.

One of our family lawyers explains a few of the reasons why it is not a wise idea to represent yourself in court in a divorce case:

  • When you stand up in court, you will be up against those who are well qualified and well paid to understand how the system works and what the likely outcome will be.

  • There is no definitive set of accounting rules: the court relies heavily on guidelines laid down in major cases, as well as on the facts of the case. Without a thorough knowledge of judicial guidelines you will be struggling.

  • Although it looks easy in films, cross-examination is an art that very few are able to master to a high standard. Anything less is not likely to succeed and could also be repetitive and annoying.

  • In a family court, there is no jury to impress, only one judge – and poor presentation is likely to antagonise. While you may be given considerable latitude, it is not the judge’s job to make up for deficiencies in your presentation and argument so you automatically start with a disadvantage.

  • It’s false economy. A good lawyer ought to be able to achieve a fairer and better value result than a litigant struggling to do so alone. On top of that, failure to understand and comply with court orders can result in orders for costs being made against you. It’s also the lawyer’s job to try to broker a settlement to avoid the expense of lengthy and costly proceedings, but trying to do this on your own can be difficult.

  • Achieving a settlement may be harder. Without knowledge of what the court is likely to order if an agreement cannot be reached, a litigant in person cannot assess what kind of deal would be reasonable or unreasonable. You need to be familiar both with the law and the current thinking of the appeal courts, which does tend to change.

  • Acting for yourself can send out all the wrong signals: that you’re not taking the matter seriously, you are penny-pinching, arrogant, unwilling to compromise or maybe just downright difficult. Is this the impression you want the court to have?

In short, it looks bad and it probably won’t save you money!

As always, if you need pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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Jonathan Eager FCILEx
Senior associate
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Jonathan Eager
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