Nationwide, almost half of all family law litigants are pro per (also referred to as pro se), meaning they represent themselves in court.

In the county where I practice, the number is closer to 80 percent. The main reason for this is economic: People simply can’t afford to hire a lawyer. Predictably, this becomes more common in a sagging economy. While representing oneself is certainly an option, it carries obvious risks. Real estate matters are complex even without a divorce, and few untrained people can manage them without help. What’s more, the legal process is virtually incomprehensible to a layperson.

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If you go into court pro per while your spouse is represented by an attorney, you’re automatically at a severe disadvantage. There are low-cost alternatives: most areas offer some form of free legal aid. And new attorneys sometimes take cases pro bono (for free) to gain experience, or they will take on certain aspects of your case, commonly known as unbundled legal services or under a limited scope retainer. Don’t hesitate to explore the options in your area.

Eyes Wide Open

The court system exists to provide remedies for legitimate disputes. It can be your friend; it can also be a severe drain on your time, your resources, and your life. Be sure this is the route you really want before taking the plunge. And make sure you’ve explored the various alternatives first.


About Laurel Starks

Laurel Starks is a divorce real estate specialist. Trained in both mediation and collaborative divorce methods, she speaks frequently on real estate and divorce issues to legal and alternative disputes resolution groups.

A former host of the talk radio program Real Estate Matters, Starks also serves as an expert witness in real estate matters related to divorce cases, including the mishandling of procedural aspects therein. She handles the sale of real property in family law cases, and is one of the top producing realtors in the nation. She was nominated in 2016 for the coveted Innovator of the Year by Inman News, the real estate industry’s leading news source. Laurel lives with her husband and two sons in Southern California.

Starks is the author of The House Matters in Divorce: Untangling the Legal, Financial and Emotional Ties Before You Sign on the Dotted Line, published by Unhooked Books.

From “The House Matters In Divorce,” by Laurel Starks. View this book at this link: