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Can I represent myself if I don’t like my lawyer?

The short, easy answer is, yes. But it is much more involved than a simple yes. Divorce can often be a debilitating event in a person’s life if not one of the most stressful. There are phases to a divorce that, depending on your circumstances, can get quite complicated and time-consuming.

The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory at The American Institute of Stress, states that divorce is the second leading stressful event in life. It is second only to death. Nothing prepares you for the process and it can affect every aspect of your life while the process is on-going.

Divorce not only cause emotional burdens but financial ones that we aren’t always equipped to understand or navigate as are attorneys who specialize in divorce and matrimonial law. Even so, you have a right to represent yourself in any court case.

There are several reasons why you might want to fire your lawyer. Perhaps, you feel your attorney is displaying unprofessional behavior and you believe this would hurt your case. You might feel your attorney doesn’t understand your case or your needs or that they aren’t fighting for you as you feel they should.

You can hire another attorney to represent your case as long as your first one has been fired. You can also represent yourself, but just as in the other instance, you must fire the first attorney. You might think you can save money by representing yourself or because you know every detail of your marriage, you feel you are better able to present your case in court.

There are times when divorcing parties only need to appear in court so that the judge can determine they both understand their rights. Other times, there might need to be several court appearances in order to give evidence, make arguments or bring in witnesses to testify if needed.

People who represent themselves are called “Pro Se” from the Latin “for yourself” or “on one’s own behalf.” But do you really want to be by yourself in such a stressful time? If you do not have a legal background, it can seem like a nightmare to navigate the court system. Do you understand the language and nature of motions, denials, tactics, deadlines?

When there are children and property involved it can get even more complicated and frustrating if you don’t understand the nature of directives and extensions, objections and appeals. Pro Se representation presents many unique challenges.

Phases of a divorce can be heavily tedious even for expert divorce attorneys. There can be eight phases of a divorce trial depending on your circumstances:

The Complaint and Summons
Answer to the Complaint and Counterclaim
Discovery of Facts and Production of Documents
Legal Motions and Hearings
Pre-Trial Conferences and Court-Ordered Mediation
Trial
Judgment for Dissolution or Decree of Divorce
Compliance with the Court Judgment

There are logistical preparations for each phase of your trial. You are already invested in the logistics of your emotions, are you ready or able for the legal ones?

We all know how difficult it is to navigate the rough waters of life with our full attention and capacity to the storm. While you have full rights to represent yourself in your divorce, you should first conduct a full and honest assessment of your life and situation before making any decision to fly Pro Se. It could mean the difference between moving forward with health and happiness or looking back on a chapter of your life with bitterness and regret.