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Representing Yourself In Divorce? Watch Out For These Traps

Consideration was given for the editing and publication of this post.

Every week thousands of individuals file for divorce from their spouse and the majority will attempt to go through the process without the assistance of an attorney. The problem with this is that non-lawyer litigants commonly get bogged down in trying to find their way through the procedures. This causes them to often fall victim to the strategic maneuvers of the opposition which can severely impact their case.

If armed with some basic fundamentals, self-represented litigants would be in a much better position to move through their legal cases. The following list is provided as a basic starting point it does not represent all the areas for concern and is in no way intended to be a substitute for attorney advice.

Date of Filing

Though a lawyer’s advice should never be the deciding factor in a person's decision to file for divorce, too many people wait far too long to bite the bullet and file. There is a point where the trust of a marital relationship transitions into an adversarial situation. Many times, the first one to file and push the case forward will gain a strategic advantage especially in cases involving children.

Issues of custody, support, and division of assets become extraordinarily complicated when the parties have been separated for a long period of time and then the divorce case starts up. By this point there is usually a well-established status quo on custody, financial, and support issues. Additionally, by this time the trail can grow cold on assets and income that a party may be trying to conceal.

Custody Issues

It is extremely important to work to get overnight time-sharing with minor children going for both parents immediately upon a separation. This is because once things get ugly it is common for one parent to try to withhold contact with the kids from the other parent claiming any number of safety concerns. This usually comes out of nowhere and catches the other parent completely off guard and is avoidable. This is why not hesitating too long in filing for divorce and establishing voluntary, verbally agreed on, or a written agreement for time with the kids immediately upon separation.


In most jurisdictions, the courts require both sides to complete financial discovery with strict deadlines for compliance. Most self-represented people do not realize the importance of these deadlines and find themselves facing sanctions for missing these due dates in the form of paying attorney fees for the other side.

Always use great care when reviewing your summons and all documents you are served with as there will usually be some indication of the discovery requirements. Also, do not forget that if you are served with any pleading you only have a certain number of days to respond. This is another reason why it preferred to contact a divorce attorney if you are served with a petition for dissolution of marriage .


Many litigants go into divorce cases intending to represent themselves in order to save money from attorney fees. It is very common for people to intentionally delay filing the case. Whether this delay is for lack of funds to litigate, fear, denial, or hope of reconciliation the fact is that it usually only hurts the case to try to delay the inevitable. If the other side starts to behave in a way that seems adversarial then there should be little question of what needs to be done.

This list represents only the tip of the iceberg of the information to keep in mind in your divorce case and it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney who specializes in divorce in your area.

One of the reasons for this is because the most important part of your divorce case to pay attention to is the strategic approach you will take throughout the case. This is a skill that only comes with years of experience with judges and courts dealing with divorce cases and is best obtained by use of an experienced lawyer.