Representing yourself in court in a family law case is looking increasingly appealing for some in the current climate. Changes in Legal Aid rules to slash eligibility for money to support divorce cases is one big reason on the face of it. Another is along similar lines but more general – in the tight economic circumstances, people simply do not believe they can afford to employ a solicitor to pursue their divorce settlement. One obvious alternative is to represent themselves in court.
However, the likelihood is that this is not only false economy but could also ultimately lead to a worse long-term settlement than might otherwise have been achieved.
The issue of litigants in person has been in the news this month with the publication of the Criminal Justice Council’s Access for Justice for Litigants in Person report which addresses the need for a simpler, fairer and more efficient way for litigants in person to represent themselves in court without a lawyer. It appears to have been broadly welcomed in the legal profession, and its intentions are noble. However, here’s the thing for me: there’s a reason lawyers train for so long. And that’s why they are the best people to be representing someone to get a divorce settlement.
Lawyers undertake training to understand the legal system. They gain experience which gives them an insight to likely outcomes in specific situations. Both of these are vital to get the best settlement in a divorce case. They also enable a lawyer to give clients a realistic view on what they might expect as an outcome, managing expectations so they do not unnecessarily keep flogging a dead horse, hoping for a result that is never going to happen.
In the last year, several judges have been critical of time wasted by litigants in person not understanding the system, and so pushing for an unrealistic outcome. And while not spending money on a solicitor may save cash in the short run, there are still court fees to pay, the cost of lost time at work trying to prepare for your case adding to the expense and, ultimately, leading to a less beneficial outcome.
I am not saying there is no place for litigation in person but there is no substitute for a good family lawyer. And the end financial benefit is likely to far outweigh the cost involved.