Often when non-lawyers imagine going to court they picture themselves being represented by a knowledgeable and experienced attorney. The courtroom and legal system can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with the process because of the immense amount of specific procedures and rules that must be followed. However, despite their inexperience in the legal field, many California spouses are self-represented in their divorce. When a party to a divorce action is not represented by an attorney he or she will be considered “pro per”.
San Diego spouses decide not to retain attorneys in divorce actions for a variety of reasons. One of the most prevalent reasons is the cost. Family law attorneys in San Diego typically charge between $175.00 and $450.00 per hour depending on the experience level of the attorney. Depending on the particular case and the work involved, a spouse’s attorney fee bill can potentially cost tens of thousands of dollars. In order to avoid that cost, many litigants utilize free legal resources available throughout the San Diego community. Unlike in criminal law, family law parties are not entitled to representation. Therefore, there is no “public defender” equivalent in the family law system.
In order to reduce the cost of getting divorced, if the parties are splitting amicably, some divorcing couples will elect to have one spouse hire an attorney to handle all of the formalities. In this type of case, only one of the spouses is represented by the divorce attorney. The attorney will only owe professional duties to their client, not the other spouse. If the parties are in agreement regarding all issues, the attorney can prepare all of the paperwork for an uncontested divorce while the spouses only incurs one set of legal fees.
Another alternative often utilized by San Diego family law litigants is limited scope representation. Spouses can retain an attorney to review work they have done alone on their case. Additionally, parties can hire an attorney to represent them in an important hearing or for one or two issues in the case. If you cannot afford full representation and are worried about the custody and visitation or property issues in your divorce, you may be able to find a divorce attorney willing to handle those limited issues.
Despite the cost of legal representation, it is important to consider what is at stake in a family law case and whether it is worth the risk of self-representation. The consequences of making a mistake in a family law proceeding can be devastating and may persist long-term. Also, it may be prudent to consider the time and effort that is often required in a family law case and whether you will have the ability to miss days of work for court hearings and devote hours to preparation. If you are unsure about whether you want to handle your divorce alone, contact a San Diego family law attorney for a consultation to find out more information.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.