If someone asked you to perform brain surgery, would you be able to do it? Now, unless you're a doctor who has been trained in brain surgery, the answer to that question is no.
Why no? Because you haven't been trained how to do brain surgery. The law and going through a divorce is no different. If you're not a lawyer who is familiar with divorce court, you have no idea how it works or what is involved.
People who don't have attorneys and represent themselves in their divorce face a host of obstacles in addition to the normal stresses of going through the divorce process. They have to learn and understand the law and procedure and figure out everything works. That's not easy.
What do you need to know?
A lot. Is it impossible? No. Is it difficult? Yes.
The court system is full of convoluted rules and procedures. These are public knowledge, but it can be difficult to look up this information. Online research makes it a lot easier, but it still can be challenging to find answers to your questions.
You can call the clerk at the courthouse and ask, but depending on whom you talk to you might get help, or you might get the standard, "we can't give you legal advice" response.
Most courthouses even have a legal library that you can access, but unless you know how to do legal research, or what you're looking for, it might give you more of a headache than you had before going.
Evidence – what can I use?
If figuring out legal procedure wasn't confusing enough, the rules of evidence is a whole other bag of worms. Even lawyers get confused about this area of the law.
If you're representing yourself, then a lot of this is trial and error. Depending on your judge, this can be a good thing, or not so good. Judges are supposed to treat people without attorneys equally compared to those with attorneys. This sometimes is true, and other times the judge will be more lenient with the self represented person.
Where many people get mixed up when it comes to evidence is when they get witnesses to testify on their behalf. Most people have heard the term, hearsay, but it's a complicated rule of evidence and often misused. Other types of evidence, such as photos or other tangible proofs are easier to use if you have them.
Once you think you have a handle on the procedural aspects of the process, you will realize that the negotiation of your settlement agreement is just as overwhelming and stressful. If you don't come to an agreement and settle, then you have to go to trial…and that is always a tossup.
Negotiation is an art. You can learn how to do it by doing research and reading books, but the only way to get good at it is by doing it. To be successful at negotiating a favorable result for your divorce, you have to know not only what you want, but why you want it and how it is important to you and your post-divorce life.
If you have been married for more than a few years, then you most likely have a bunch of assets that are subject to distribution. If you are doing this solo, it can be a rough road negotiation who gets what, especially if your divorce is contested and hostile.
Knowing when to fight and when to settle
One of the most difficult parts of the divorce process is knowing when to fight and when to be reasonable and settle a dispute. Even attorneys have trouble with this part.
Every divorce is different. That's because the facts of your life are different from that of every other person getting divorced. Your income is different, the length of your marriage, your assets. You can't compare your divorce to someone else's so don't waste time trying.
There will be many battles to be fought during a contested divorce so it's important to pick and choose which ones to fight. You can't fight them all. If you do, the judge won't take kindly to you and you probably won't do well.
It's all these things that make the divorce process confusing, overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Attorneys go through specialized training for years to prepare to engage in litigation and the court process.
It's like I said at the beginning of this article; if I'm not trained to perform brain surgery, I wouldn't be good at it. Unfortunately, for people who can't afford an attorney for their divorce, they don't have a choice. They have to figure it out as they go along.
Jason Levoy a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy is a divorce attorney who coaches people who can't afford an attorney how to represent themselves with confidence and integrity in their divorce. In addition to writing for major publications, he runs a premier online divorce membership community with video courses that teach you how to represent yourself like an attorney. Learn more about Jason at www.jasonlevoy.com .