What is it about us divorce lawyers? Why do some people run to us while others view us as Superman would view kryptonite? In my humble opinion, as a lawyer that has practiced family law for 8 years, I think it is this – some people just don’t want to admit that their marriage is over. But we’ll save that story for another day.
Clients hire me all the time that have a considerable amount of value in their marital estate (i.e. more than $500,000), but for whatever reason, their spouse is reluctant to get a lawyer. I will send my initial letter of representation to the other spouse and let them know that I represent their husband/wife, and ask them to voluntarily exchange financial documents. Then I get a response back that outlines a proposal for settlement that is completely unrealistic, or we just get no response at all.
Why is a pro se spouse so bad?
A pro se spouse (pro se is the Latin term meaning “for oneself” or “on one’s own behalf” and is used to refer to people who choose not to get a lawyer) will start emailing and calling my office to make demands about documents they need or what they want me to add to the settlement documents. My personal favorite is when they call demanding that I send them documentation that I have either already sent them or that they need me to draft for some reason or another. I then need to politely explain to them that I am not their lawyer (I usually need to tell them this more than once).
Unrepresented spouse’s can be a problem for your case in several respects. First, they will cause unnecessary time delays and expense to your case. Because they don’t understand the legal process or the rules of civil procedure, they will make improper requests and demands of both you and your lawyer – which cost lots of time and money to respond to. Second, they will delay resolution because they don’t fully understand the legal implications of the settlement agreement. Rather than just hire a lawyer to explain it to them, they will sit on the agreement and do nothing.
On the other hand, a bad lawyer can be just as bad, if not worse to deal with – because a bad or inexperienced lawyer will do the same kinds of things (delay, cause unnecessary expense, file frivolous and unnecessary motions, etc.), but they do so all while telling your spouse that these things are necessary to protect their legal interests. Hard to say no to that, isn’t it?
So what is the best option? Neither you nor I (i.e. your lawyer) can force your spouse to do anything. If they want to go it alone, that is their legal right. If they want to hire a bad lawyer, that is their right also. But I can give you a list of attorneys that I know will be helpful to moving the case along quickly and efficiently, without causing unnecessary expense or delay to you or your spouse. You can give this list to your spouse and hope that they hire one of them.