Pro Se Mistakes Feed

The PRO SE Divorce Movement has its Consequences!

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Authored By:  Christopher Pearsall, RI Divorce Attorney
a.k.a.  " The Rhode Island Divorce Coach ℠ "

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There's no doubt that the economy is tight for everyone and money is scarce.  That factor alone is enough to explain why people are filing their own divorces and trying to save money by not hiring lawyers to take them through the Rhode Island divorce process.

Yet if you are going to go this route and not even bother to speak to a lawyer and get some solid legal advice regarding your rights, then you need to understand that there are consequences to your actions.

Here are three (3) important points that you should consider:

Point No. 1:  Judge's do not protect you. - You are responsible for protecting your own rights, plain and simple.  It doesn't matter if judges ask you fundamental questions to lead you through your divorce.  These questions are only fundamental and judges who may be helpful are trying to move their calendar along.  It is not their job to protect your legal rights.  Only you know the facts and circumstances of your life, your assets, your debts, the gifts you have received from third parties, any items or funds you may have inherited, your children, who the primary caretaker is, etc....  These are the things an attorney would ask about in order to advise you about your legal rights, options and alternatives.  


Yet a judge isn't allowed to give you legal advice.  So when you answer basic questions because you came before the judge willing to risk your legal rights based on your own knowledge, you need to know that a judge's guidance through the proceeding with basic questions means "nothing" except that a judge is covering just enough to be able to render a decision in the case.  If you miss something important during the divorce proceeding because a judge doesn't address something that should be addressed in your divorce, then you should know that you may have risked losing your rights or even waived it all together.

Point No. 2:  Be Prepared to Pay the Price. - The vast majority of people who go before the court and represent themselves (Pro Se) in their own divorces don't think of everything that a good divorce lawyer does.  Every day that I'm in court I see people represent themselves.  I hear them in the hallway and they mention something that I know is very important in their divorce. Yet when they go before the court, nothing is mentioned about it whatsoever.

So what happens?  Plan to be back in court.  Yes, I'm serious!  A good many Pro Se divorce litigants will, in fact, be forced to go back before the court to try to fix something from their goofed divorce.  Yet this time don't expect a judge to lead you through anything. Judge's may ask a few questions in post-judgment divorce matters because you are not doing a very good job explaining the issue, however, it will still be up to you to make a legal and/or factual argument.  

In the end, by my estimation about 8 out of 10 people fall flat on their face, waste their time, lose time from work and get no relief from the court whatsoever and are told that they should have had a lawyer or at least received solid advice from one before they handled their own divorce.  So, in the end if you are one of those 8 out of 10 who have to court, be prepared for the hard facts.  You may have to pay the price for not getting coaching from a regularly practicing attorney in the family courts and find there is nothing you can do after the fact.


Point No. 3 - Doing Things Right Doesn't Cost a Fortune.  I understand that money is tight.  I also understand that people want to save money every where they can.  Yet your legal rights in a divorce proceeding is NOT the place to get so cheap that you don't go and find out about your legal rights and figure out what to do.

There aren't any books that tell you about the rights that are important to your particular case.   Nor are there any books that explain to you the procedure of even a Nominal Divorce and the "why" of each step so that you understand what you are doing and the consequences.

Even this website does not cover everything in detail because each couple's life is different.  Perhaps someday I will write an extensive book on the subject but that is for another day.

Five years ago I developed a coaching program which I believe to be reasonably affordable and spaced out so that people could know their rights, understand the process, understand the law and the courts at least generally and get a grip on their own situation and how to correctly process their own divorce.

Despite it's affordability and the chance to space out Coaching sessions so that people wouldn't have to spend thousands up front on a lawyer but they could know their rights, etc... and make sure they took care of their divorce correctly.  Not being informed is a poor way to conduct your divorce.  Affordability and knowing your rights is only a telephone number and a small payment away.

Yet strangely enough people are complaining about the cost of knowing their rights and what it has taken my years to learn.  It has even taken me additional years to be able to present each stage in an understandable yet comprehensive way in a reasonable amount of time.

Your rights aren't something to play with.  You only have one chance to put your divorce through correctly!  Don't be foolish!  One mistake can make a huge difference.

Even now I am helping pro se individuals repair issues caused when they drafted their own marital settlement agreement and forgot to consider what might happen if different things were to happen.

In several cases the use of the a word that was close but not quite what was meant by one of the parties caused a tremendous problem years later.

Take the time to get it done right.  Knowing your rights for a few hundred dollars is an investment well-worth making.  It certainly beats a mistake that can cost you thousands. 


Can I Settle My Divorce Case without a Lawyer?

Recently, I was at the Providence Family Court waiting in line to file some documents for a client.  I heard two people talking to each other at the counter.  From the gist of the conversation I could tell that they were both filing their own divorces and being helped by separate clerks.

One person seemed very confident about his filing and the other younger man didn't seem so confident.  Rather than asking one of the lawyers who were still standing in line waiting to be helped, the less confident man asked the other one if he could settle his case without a lawyer.  The more confident fellow responded "Absolutely, you just put down what you and your wife agree to on paper and submit it to the judge on the court date."  The less confident man seemed reassured that there wasn't more to it and he went on his way breathing a sigh of relief.

Certainly people can settle their divorce cases without a lawyer.  Heck, I see people do it all the time and I'm sure it's not limited to Rhode Island.  I've seen people do it on the day of their divorce on a single piece of lined notebook paper.  It doesn't look fancy but it works for them.

Yet the interaction between the two men got me thinking.  Do people do it better without lawyers or would it be better if they had a lawyer?

As a lawyer you'd think I'd jump in and say that people can't do it and you need a lawyer and all that stuff and there's much more to it than just what people scribble down on a piece of paper because they don't know the law.

Thankfully I was a philosophy major in college for 5 years and it taught me to think until my head hurt.  It was a good match for law school.  Yet the point of mentioning this is that it taught me not to simply advocate for my profession and more clients but to think of the REAL answer and to give it to people straight with no sugar coating.  In otherwords, for people to hear the truth.  

So what is the truth?  The truth is this.  Yes, you can settle your divorce without a lawyer.  AND, you could do it WITH a lawyer!  It's an easy question to answer.  

Then there's the much harder question to answer,  If you can settle your divorce case without a lawyer should you?

I had to ponder that question for a while and make a few assumptions.  Let's assume that you have enough money at least to have an attorney do the bargaining and drafting of the agreement with your spouse.  

Now ask the same question under those circumstances.  Should you settle your divorce case without a lawyer?

I thought about this for days.  I didn't jump to conclusions.  I considered every angle imaginable just with the assumption that the person had enough money to have an attorney bargain for the settlement with your spouse or your spouse's lawyer and then write it up for you.

Get this.  After all of that here is what I came up with. 

Can you settle your divorce without a lawyer?  Absolutely.  Should you?  If you can't afford a lawyer at all for any part of your proceeding then "Yes."  After all, what are you going to do except do it yourself.

Now add in the assumption that you could pay for a lawyer to do your bargaining and write up the Marital Settlement Agreement for you.  Should you?

Here's my answer.  "Yes and No."

Can the person in that position still settle their divorce case without a lawyer?  Absolutely?  Should they do so even if they have the money for a lawyer to do the bargaining and write up the agreement?  Yes, they should try to settle it.

Now the question is "Why?"  Why would I come to such a conclusion when my job is to protect people's rights?

The answer is quite simple.  People who can communicate together will settle their divorce and generally speaking they will settle it in a manner that is acceptable to each them.  In fact, I would be willing to bet that they will do a much faster job than an attorney who will be focusing on the details from the start as lawyers usually do.  

People want their divorce done and over with and therefore they usually process the most important things quickly and settle them.  They don't focus on the details as lawyers do.  Therefore, the fundamentals of the settlement process will usually be completed much more quickly and much more easily than an attorney will handle it.

Keep in mind that I am talking about the fundamentals and not the entire agreement.  Should a person who has the ability to pay a lawyer to draft a final agreement draft that agreement on their own.  Then my answer is "NO."

Your final Marital Settlement Agreement as submitted to the Family Court as an Exhibit is most likely going to be a contract that is going to bind you and your spouse until all the provisions are complied with.  There are too many details that lawyers DO think of that are very important that people do not think of on their own.  If you miss those details then you might as well plan on returning to court time and time again if their is anything at all of significance in your agreement.

When I mean anything of significance, this includes children, visitation, child support, debts to be paid, assets to be kept or sold, real estate, retirement plans, joint physical custody (i.e. placement), items that each party may buy before the Final Judgment of Divorce but after the court hearing, health insurance, division of retirement accounts, etc....


All of the things that I mention above involve details that the layperson and even a well-informed person is typically not aware of. Without a lawyer to look over an agreement and find the holes you may have missed with your spouse.  Remember that this agreement is not to intimidate your spouse or scare him or her, but rather it is to make sure important issues that are evident to lawyers experienced in family law are not overlooked by the layperson.

So if you can resolve your divorce with your spouse.  Great!  But have a lawyer look it over, then advise you of your rights regardless of what you may have agreed to and then fill in the holes so that everything is covered between you and your spouse.

Remember, you won't get a chance to do this agreement right.  So get it right the first time.

I'm Affordable and I'm here to help when you need me.

All My Best to You on Your Journey Through The RI Family Court,
Attorney Christopher A. Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"™ 

RI Divorce Help - Don't Cross the Line!

Who is helping you in your divorce?

It's one thing if you think you can handle it yourself or if you ask a friend their opinion on what he or she may think goes in this blank or that blank of a form but your friend should watch out how far they go.

In our present economy people are getting desperate and looking for friends or new boyfriends or girlfriends who are legal assistants, paralegals, social workers, court clerks, or even friends or colleagues have been through the divorce process for assistance in getting through their divorce.  This help or assistance often involves the filing or drafting of forms, wording, procedures, and other "help."

A word of wise to those who are cautious.  Receiving help in a Rhode Island divorce proceeding from a person who is not licensed to practice law, regardless of whether the person is receiving compensation for their time or "assistance" is very likely to be in violation of Title 11, Section 27 R.I. General Laws.

Title 11, Section 27 and it's following subsections provide for how the crime of the Unauthorized Practice of Law is handled and how it is punished.

Recently, RI  Senate Representative Medina was arrested allegedly in connection with receiving money in conjunction with promises to provide legal assistance to people under a separate business name.
While this may not be your situation, it is similar to the situation of two other people I heard from in a non-attorney/client capacity at the courthouse last week.

Though she did not disclose her identity, one woman openly disclosed that she was a social worker who was very familiar with the family court system, but "just not this part of it" and tried to pick my brain for a moment or two before I entered court to attend to my client's hearing.

It only took moments for me to understand that she had been drafting all the paperwork for the gentleman sitting next to her who was either a friend or her boyfriend.  I inquired if she would like my card in the event she needed professional legal advice on the matter.  She declined and stated that she would figure it out and that the man sitting next to her didn't have the money to spend.
Even after I explained that I was not soliciting representation from her inquiry but rather was suggesting that perhaps some legal advice from any experienced attorney in the area of family law might be helpful she again declined and I wished her friend well in his court endeavors.

Though I was unable to obtain the woman's name and left the courtroom before the man's case was called for hearing, I was concerned that she was participating in the unauthorized practice of law without a license which is a criminal violation of the law.

Desperation leads people to do a lot of things.  Yet while I am an advocate for representing your own rights if you know what you are doing.  I believe that most people do not usually know what they are doing.   Additionally, help from friends and persons other than licensed RI lawyers who are experienced in the practice of divorce and family law is insufficient and is likely to not only likely to expose the "helper" to criminal charges but may place you in a bigger mess than you ever expected.

There is no substitute for a licensed and experienced RI lawyer in this area of law.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth more than literally a TON of cure when it comes to your legal rights.

All My Best in Your Journey Before the RI Family Court System,
Attorney Chris Pearsall - "The Rhode Island Divorce Coach"

Whether you need affordable representation or coaching through an uncontested Rhode Island Divorce (or a contested proceeding), feel free to call me.  

Proudly serving Providence, Kent, Washington and Newport Counties in family law proceedings for more than a dozen years.

Call me Now at (401) 632-6976.