A Pro Se party in a Family Law case is a party who has chosen to act as his/her own lawyer. The judge will assume that a Pro Se party is fully familiar with the rules of procedure and applicable statutes, just as if the party was a licensed lawyer. Taking the short cut and not hiring the best lawyer for you and your case is not a good course of action because of the multitude of decisions and future ramifications involved in these kinds of cases. Additionally, when mistakes are made because one or both of the parties chose not to have a lawyer, the future conflicts, emotional toll and higher financial burden can be overwhelming.
Costs and Filing Fees
The State of Colorado regulates and determines the costs and filing fees on all civil actions, including divorces and child custody matters. The individual Clerk and Recorder of each judicial district is responsible for collecting the filing fees when a new action is filed. These filing fees and court costs are required regardless of whether a party has a lawyer or not. Examples of some filing fees and costs are as follows:
|Dissolution of Marriage/Legal Separation Petitions or Initial Child Custody actions||$230|
|Post Decree Modification of Parenting Order or other kinds of post decree motions||$105|
|Personal Service of Process upon the Opposing Party||$40-$75|
A Pro Se party may file actions and pay the fees, but the disadvantage of not having an experienced family law attorney is evident early in the divorce process.
Pro Se Disadvantage
The rules in Colorado require family law litigants to meet for a “good faith settlement conference” prior to attending Temporary Orders hearing. Temporary Orders usually means that the Magistrate will enter some stop gap rulings, such as with respect to Temporary Spousal Maintenance and Child Support. A Pro Se party is going to be at a serious disadvantage during the early stages of the case because she/he does not have the knowledge necessary to fully understand the law and apply the laws to the facts of the case sufficient for a Temporary Orders ruling. In other words, a Pro Se party is not going to know in advance what kinds of rulings and monetary orders are appropriate.
The rules in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Colorado, require all parties who fail to reach an agreement as to all disputed issues in their Family Law case to attend and conduct mediation in “good faith” before appearing at the Final Orders before the presiding judge. Mediators may be chosen from an approved list in the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR), or parties may agree to use a Private Mediator. Mediators must complete many hours of training and be accredited and certified in order to perform in this capacity. The costs vary for Mediation, usually in the range of $60.00 to $75.00 per hour, per party.
As the saying goes, not all Mediator’s “are alike.” Effective Mediators are those who roll up their sleeves and spend considerable time and energy talking to the parties and thoroughly exhausting all reasonable efforts to find solutions to parties’ legal disputes. An experienced family law attorney can properly direct their clients to those Mediators who are extremely skilled in reaching settlements. A Pro Se party, on the other hand, is at a disadvantage because they do not know which Mediators are most likely to help them resolve conflicts without proceeding to arbitration and/or trial.
Arbitration is a procedure where the parties select a neutral expert to act as Mediator/Arbiter. In this way, the same person who serves as the Mediator also serves as the judge, making decisions and rulings where the parties may be deadlocked or unable to achieve a settlement. It is up to the parties to mutually agree on the selection of an arbiter. Arbiters are usually highly experienced mediators, some of whom are also retired judges with a vast amount of experience in family law. Again, without the aid of an experienced family law attorney, a Pro Se party is disadvantaged because he/she does not know the professional reputation of available arbiters.
Pitfalls of Acting Pro Se
For a lay person who does not have any training or experience in law, much less Family Law, there are many pitfalls of representing yourself, such as:
- Waiving or giving up future financial or retirement benefits, such as pensions or military retirement amounts, PERA benefits, Life Insurance proceeds, etc.
- Failing to understand the implications of dividing property and tax laws
- The impact of Spousal Maintenance and taxes, from the viewpoint of either the obligor or oblige
- Failing to properly calculate Child Support, the payment of extracurricular or unpaid medical or other health benefits for children
- Lack of specifics or detail in a parenting plan that do not account for the “best interests of the children”
- The long range consequences of division of debt, bankruptcy or the loans of the parties
- A lack of understanding and appreciation for the use of experts, such as accountants, parenting professionals, therapists, alcohol/substance abuse evaluators, etc.
Because of the extreme financial consequences involved in most family law cases, parties who chose not to have lawyers may ultimately end up paying more than necessary to seek future remedies from a court due to misguided and ill-advised decisions. The decisions a party in a divorce or custody case makes today will have profound implications for many years to come. An extremely qualified Family Law Attorney who will fight for the rights of their client is a party’s best advocate in a legal system that is highly specialized and complex.
The potential losses that one may incur when acting Pro Se far outweigh the costs of hiring an experienced Colorado family law attorney—especially if you find the right attorney. Gordon N. Shayne has focused on the practice of family law for over ten years. In addition to his extensive expertise in Colorado family law, the Law Office of Gordon Shayne is sensitive to clients’ financial situations. While every effort is made to serve our clients’ best interests, cases are managed efficiently to minimize costs above and beyond the initial retainer.
If you are seeking experienced legal counsel for your Colorado divorce, contact the Law Office of Gordon N. Shayne.
Disclaimer: The blogs posted on ShayneLaw.com are offered for informational purposes only. These blogs are not a solicitation for legal business and should not be construed as providing any legal advice or legal opinions as to any specific fact or circumstance. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of an appropriate legal professional. To obtain legal advice or opinions about Colorado family law, personally consult with a licensed Colorado attorney.