DIY domestic litigants

One pitfall of having a legal blog is I receive frequent calls from folks seeking free legal advice.  A common question is whether they need an attorney to handle their family law problem.

The analogy I use in answering that question is whether someone needs a mechanic to do car repair.  A few folks are capable of rebuilding a transmission or replacing an engine; others would have trouble changing a tire or their replacing their oil (count me in that category).   Many car repair tasks fall between these levels of difficulty.

Family law is kinda like that.  With minimal training, most folks can probably handle a no fault divorce with no property, child, or support issues.  The Supreme Court’s actually promulgated forms for pro se litigants to handle uncontested divorces.  Negotiating uncomplicated child support agreements is relatively easy, especially if one is familiar with the South Carolina Child Support calculator, located here.  But even newly licensed attorneys should associate with more experienced attorneys to handle complicated issues like child custody, permanent alimony, high dollar equitable distribution, and abuse and neglect cases.  Handling such cases pro se is akin to self-performing brain surgery.

Further, there’s a big distinction between handling your own car repair and handling your own domestic dispute.  Car repair isn’t routinely emotional (though some folks are quite attached to their vehicles); family law is.  Even attorneys who specialize in family law hire other attorneys to represent them in domestic disputes.  It’s useful to get the dispassionate counsel that attorneys specialize in providing, and it’s hard to be dispassionate about one’s own domestic problems.  A good family law attorney can counsel an even better family law attorney in thinking realistically about his or her own domestic problem.

Ironically it is often the folks with the most complicated problems, such as relocation cases, who seem most interested in the money-saving that is the primary benefit of self-representation.  The folks contacting my office inquiring whether they need an attorney–rather than handling the matter on their own–almost certainly do.


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