In this tough economy, many divorce litigants are turning to self representation to save money. Proceeding without a lawyer can be a great way to save money, especially when the divorce is fairly amicable. Unfortunately, self representation often goes off the rails when there is conflict between the spouses, or when one spouse obtains an aggressive family attorney.

When no lawyer has appeared on behalf of either you, getting legal advice can be tricky. If your spouse finds out that she went to a lawyer, or if a lawyer enters an appearance on your behalf, this can be a perceived breach of trust. To avoid this, I recommend that you consult with the family lawyer behind the scenes, preferably a lawyer with the background in mediation or conflict resolution, as opposed to an aggressive litigator. If your case involves contested child custody issues or large items property (such as an IRA or 401(k)), I recommend that you schedule a 1 to 2 hour consultation with the family lawyer to find out your rights and obligations.

It is also helpful to have a family lawyer draft complicated documents, such as declarations, pleadings, motions and applications. Family law judges respond to certain buzzwords, and it is important to get some advice on what to say in court.

If you don’t want to pay $5000-$15,000 for the initial retainer of an attorney, I suggest unbundled services. As a California-licensed attorney practicing family law in Carlsbad, I am willing to handle certain pieces of your case, allowing you to save money by handling those aspects of your case where you do not need a lawyer. I can draft your moving documents to ensure that they are sufficient for you to obtain certain relief, such as a support award. I can edit your declarations to make sure that you didn’t inadvertently say something that will rub judge the wrong way. I can’t even lodge an appearance on your behalf for an order to show cause hearing.

To take advantage of unbundled services, you need not notify your spouse that you are “lawyering up.” The Rules of Court allow me to “ghost write” your legal documents, and you do not have to disclose that a lawyer assisted you in writing them. You can present them as your own writing.

While some judges will allow a certain leeway for unrepresented parties, San Diego Rules of Court require that you plead your case just as a lawyer would. Rule 5.5.1 states that “Litigants representing themselves without an attorney … And all attorneys will be held to the same standards of practice and procedure.”

Family law is complicated, even for those of us who’ve made it our career. When court proceedings involve your children or your financial future, the best rule is to consult with a family law attorney if you have any doubt.

Wishing you the best of luck, I remain…

Very truly yours,

Thomas D. Ferreira, Esq.

Disclaimer: Thomas D. Ferreira is an attorney licensed only in the State of California. The information set forth in this blog or on our websites are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor are they intended as legal advice on your specific matter. This information is not intended to apply to cases or jurisdictions outside the State of California, and those viewing this information outside of California, or having business before jurisdictions outside of California, should consult a local professional or lawyer. The information in this blog is not a substitute for the advice of competent counsel, and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as a guarantee, warranty or prediction regarding the results of your legal matter.

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