The Risks Associated with Pro Se Divorce

By Dawn Padanyi, Esquire

Most people have to work within a financial budget; and that budget usually doesn’t allow us to have everything we want.  We need to prioritize our wants and establish what is a need.

If you are going through a divorce, whether you and your spouse are amicable or not, you definitely should not proceed alone, without the assistance of a skilled, knowledgeable lawyer to advise you throughout the process.

Many people in an effort to save money will attempt to navigate their divorce solo using boilerplate forms, advice from non-lawyer friends and family, and internet websites.  Even if there is a kind-hearted friend that is a sharp-as-a-tack personal injury lawyer advising you, it is best to get yourself to a local, family law attorney to advise you in the process of attaining your divorce.

Common errors that are made in pro se divorce(s) are failing to address the division of personal property and real estate, failure to recognize what is and what is not marital property, and failure to seek alimony or alimony pendente lite while the divorce is pending, just to name a few.  This could mean that parties are leaving valuable property or income on the table that they otherwise may be entitled to or that they are giving away property that their spouse may not have a legal claim to.  Also, not taking steps to handle the division of property properly in a divorce could mean that parties get stuck paying taxes and penalties that may have been avoidable.

Furthermore, like many other professional arenas, there are also many acronyms and legalese that one could easily get lost or tangled up with in a divorce.  Not knowing that you need a QDRO to get a portion of your spouse’s 401K account (but not for her SEP-IRA) referenced in the piecemeal MSA (that you borrowed from your best friend’s sister who is a personal injury lawyer in Connecticut) could mean that your agreement for ED is non-enforceable through the CCP in PA, your agreement was not incorporated into your divorce decree, the retirement plan administrator won’t accept your MSA, your APL was never converted to alimony and you are stuck paying high taxes and penalties on your IRS 1040 because you failed to speak with a CPA or a ESQ prior to signing the PSA and your transfers were not made incident to your divorce.  Confused yet?

Don’t feel bad, it can be a confusing process if you are not knowledgeable of the laws, language and process.  I would be in a same boat trying to change the oil in my car using an internet video and my first cousin’s beloved neighbor in Boca who is a retired award-winning orthodontist.  Luckily, I have a great mechanic that can handle that for me so I can rest assured that my car won’t die on the wrong side of the Tappan Zee bridge.  (I also learned my lesson the hard way by trying to save a few bucks)

Do yourself a favor and save yourself the time, money and aggravation of a pro se divorce by retaining a skilled lawyer to advise you.  What do carpenters say?  Measure twice and cut once?  Hiring a lawyer will ensure that you do it right the first time and minimize unnecessary and costly mistakes throughout the process.

Contact the Law Office of Dawn Padanyi to advise you in your Pennsylvania divorce.