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ILLINOIS PRO SE DIVORCE – CAN I?

Updated on
March 24, 2021
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CAN I REPRESENT MYSELF IN MY DIVORCE PRO SE?

Pro se is the legal term that is used when a person opts to represent themselves. The person waives the right to an attorney. In most cases, a party has the right to represent themselves. People who represent themselves in court are held to the same standard as an attorney, they are expected to follow the court procedures and know the law.  

The benefits to representing yourself do not outweigh the risks. The only advantage in representing yourself is that there are no attorney fees charged. However, the risks or disadvantages are many. Even though a person may think their divorce will be “simple,” a divorce case is never simple. When there are minor children, child support must be calculated. When there is real estate, it may need to be sold. When there are retirement accounts, they may not be able to be divided easily and may require special documents to adequately divide them. There are also tax consequences to a divorce.

Some counties in the State of Illinois provide “Joint Simplified forms” for parties who are divorcing. However, these “forms” have strict rules, qualifications and instructions and cannot be used in all circumstances. The county of DuPage provides simplified forms online to allow divorcing parties to represent themselves. However, the forms can be confusing and if you do not qualify, your case could be dismissed.

QUALIFICATIONS TO USE JOINT SIMPLIFIED DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE DOCUMENTS PROVIDED BY DUPAGE COUNTY

  • irreconcilable difference have caused an irretrievable breakdown of your marriage
  • you must be married for less than eight (8) years
  • one party needs to reside in the county for at least 90 days (about 3 months) prior to filing
  • no children
  • your joint, annual gross income must be less than $35,000.00
  • total value of marital property must be less than $10,000.00
  • either party owns any real estate
  • both must waive the right to maintenance or spousal support
  • full and complete disclosure of each other’s assets and all tax returns during the marriage  
  • Sign a written agreement which divides all marital assets valued at more than $100.00(one hundred dollars) and dividing responsibility for all debts and liabilities.

Most divorcing couples will not be able to use the forms because they cannot meet all the qualifications set forth by the county. Even if you do not qualify for the “simplified” forms, you could still represent yourself pro se. The risks of representing yourself, however, outweigh the benefit of saving money on attorney fees.  

Most people consider representing themselves because they do not want to pay attorney fees. However, aside from getting married and buying a home, obtaining a divorce may be the single most important life event you experience. The term, “penny wise, pound foolish?” comes to mind. This expression goes to the heart of why parties should seek legal advice and representation when they are going through a divorce. A prudent person would retain an experienced divorce attorney to advise them of the law and their rights through the process. The outcome of the divorce will dictate their future. There are so many factors to consider when divorcing including division of retirement accounts, real estate and personal property.

BENEFITS OF RETAINING AN ATTORNEY VS. REPRESENTING YOURSELF PRO SE

The attorney’s job in a divorce proceeding is to obtain all the facts necessary to not only divide all assets and liabilities equitably, but to address all the issues surrounding the marital estate. An attorney can explore the benefits of seeking to claim an interest in non-martial assets. An attorney can determine whether the facts and circumstances surrounding the marriage require any other special considerations. The attorney is familiar with the court process and can represent client effectively and efficiently. Attorneys keep updated on the law.

Yes, you can represent yourself in your own divorce litigation. If you choose to represent yourself, be prepared to follow all the local court rules and the law contained in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage statute.  

If you choose to represent yourself, and the matter is concluded, you will not be able to go back to fix your mistakes. Most property settlements cannot be modified or changed. The parties are presumed to have exchanged all pertinent information with each other, and if you just forget to add something to your divorce decree and your document states that all assets are previously divided, you will close the door on any possibility of fixing the mistake.

Most attorneys will counsel you that having an attorney on your side in a divorce proceeding is ALWAYS beneficial. The attorney will guide you through the process and strive to obtain the best outcome for you.

ILLINOIS PRO SE DIVORCE – CAN I?
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