Are You Thinking About a Do-it-Yourself Divorce?

September 6, 2023 | By Marcelina R. Policicchio

Someone who opts to proceed with litigation without an attorney is called a “pro se party.” Pro se is a Latin term that means “on one’s own behalf.” While it is legally possible for you to represent yourself in your divorce action, there are a few factors you should consider before opting to go through the process alone.

  1. How well do you and your spouse get along?

 If your relationship with your spouse is poor, or if there is a history of high conflict, matters could become very complicated and difficult for you to handle on your own. It may be in your best interest to consider hiring an attorney if there have been instances of abuse or intimidation between you and your spouse, there is a history of untreated substance abuse, or you suspect your spouse may be hiding assets. Additionally, what may be perceived as a good relationship may quickly deteriorate as the issues involved, such as alimony and the division of assets are discussed, and disagreements arise. Having professionals deal with the negotiations can help preserve the relationship so that future contact between you and your soon-to-be ex does not become tense or hostile.

  1. Will I be held to the same standard if the court knows I am representing myself?

Pro se litigants are expected to be held to the same standard as attorneys. Even though you may not have any experience with the law, pro se litigants are still expected to follow the rules. That means that you will have to follow the same procedure and abide by the same deadlines as represented parties. Representing yourself does not allow you to claim that you do not understand or that you are not required to follow statewide and local rules of court. In this instance as in many legal proceedings, ignorance of the law is no excuse. You will be expected to have familiarized yourself with the rules and procedures pertinent to your case. 

  1. What happens if I have a question?

If your spouse has decided to retain a lawyer, it is important to remember that your spouse’s attorney is responsible for representing your spouse’s best interest. Your spouse’s attorney cannot give you any legal advice or answer any of your legal questions. Judges, law clerks, and other court staff cannot provide you with legal advice, meaning they cannot tell you what you should do or advise you on any legal issues. However, in some counties there are help desks that can provide you with forms, help you file pleadings, and offer you general guideline advice. This limited guidance is not a substitute for an attorney and is primarily procedural in scope.  

  1. When is it too late to seek legal representation?

It is never a bad idea to check with an attorney if you feel confused, overwhelmed, or you are otherwise worried about the trajectory of your divorce. In most circumstances, you can retain an attorney at any point during your divorce proceedings; however, it is important to be mindful of deadlines. If you have a big deadline coming up, like a hearing or a trial, an attorney will need time to get caught up on your case and prepare. If you are uncertain about how you want to proceed, you should reach out to an attorney as soon as possible.

  1. What if I want an attorney but I can’t afford one?

When one party can afford an attorney and the other can’t, depending on the status of the litigation, the lower-earning party may be able to file for support. If you are not eligible for financial support from your spouse, and you meet certain income requirements, you may be eligible for free or low-cost legal assistance. Most counties have lawyer referral agencies that help assist low-income parties with free or reduced-fee services. 

  1. What if my spouse doesn’t want to get a lawyer either?

It is possible to complete the steps for a divorce without either side having an attorney. In most circumstances, parties can opt to go attorney-free when they have minimal assets to divide and agree about the division of those assets. Another option available to unrepresented parties is mediation. A mediator is a non-biased third person who has special training. The purpose of a mediator is to assist and guide parties toward the resolution of their disputes. Using a mediator can help parties reach a final agreement, but the mediator is not responsible for explaining the consequences or collateral effects of that agreement and its effects on the parties to the divorce. That is why, whether you and your spouse reach an agreement on your own or through mediation, it is still a good idea for both parties to hire attorneys to finalize the process and draft a comprehensive final agreement. If mediation interests you, and you would like to find out more about it, additional information related to divorce mediation can be found here.

Divorce cases require a complex analysis of various factors. Decisions reached and agreements made during a divorce proceeding can have far-reaching consequences for both parties. If you have questions related to your divorce action, please contact a member of our team to determine what steps you should take based on your individual circumstances.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Marcelina Policicchio - Pittsburgh family law attorney

Marcelina R. Policicchio


Pittsburgh Family Law Attorney Marcelina divides her time between family law and business transactional work. As a Pittsburgh family law attorney, her family law practice primarily includes matters such as adoption, custody,...

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