It's happening whether the courts and the lawyers like it or not.  People are taking legal matters into their own hands and they are representing themselves "Pro Se" in their own divorces.

If you were to look at the filings box in the Providence Family Court alone you would find that "Pro Se" individuals have their own box and it makes up about 70% or so of the filings that are coming in.  

The remaining 30% or so of filings are from attorneys.  This is a huge jump in Pro Se filings from last year and even greater than the year before.  No doubt the economy has a lot to do with it.  People simply don't have the money to hire an attorney to represent them so they are forced with "giving it the old college try" as it is said.

I'm both proud and disappointed that it is happening.  I am proud that more and more people are taking it upon themselves to exercises their own rights.  It is something that has rarely been done over the past decade or so of my practice in the Rhode Island Family Court.

However, what I am most disappointed and discouraged with is the number of people who are doing their own filings without getting any advice at all from attorneys.  No doubt the cost to do so would be nominal when compared to representation from a lawyer, but still people are even passing that up.  

I've be an advocate of the "Pro Se" movement to some extent for several years now since the economy plummeted several years back.  However this is neither what I envisioned, nor what I meant.  The fact is that people are going forward in pure ignorance.  While they may get by their proceeding, that does not mean that they got it right.

An uncontested divorce, like any other legal proceeding requires thought and requires knowledge of the law before settling a case.  Pro Se individuals, with a few exceptions, are not doing any homework at all. They are just going into court and hoping the judge will be kind enough to lead them through the court proceeding.

For those judges who do lead them through the proceeding, I understand why they do so.  They have a calendar of cases to take care of and they can't have a few cases like this mucking up their progress, so they help by asking a few questions that they as judges want the answers to.

In short, this is wrong.  It reinforces the ignorance people have and it makes them believe that since they have a judge leading them through the proceeding that they are perfectly safe.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

In one case I saw and heard a judge put through a divorce in 5 questions.  That's it.  5 Questions!  Well, the couple was thrilled to have it that easy, but they won't be so pleased when they have to return to court in a year or two because of he problems that are going to arise as a result of the judge's decision to "ram" the proceeding through the court because the judge had somewhere to be.

No divorce can properly be put through in 5 questions.  Not one!  Not only was I stunned but 5 other attorneys and I discussed this in the hallway as the judge closed the court for the day for reasons unknown to us.  

A judge does not protect your rights.  A judge may well have good intentions by asking some quick questions to help you through a proceeding but the Judge does not protect you or your rights.  That is your job!  So if you let the judge ram the proceeding through without objecting and you lose valuable rights or the judge somehow damages you in the proceeding, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Remember, you are your own attorney.  So, if that is the case, act like one and wake up.  If this isn't your area of expertise, then contact a family law lawyer for Rhode island and take a few dollars and pay for some time to make sure you get things done right.

You need to identify the rights you have that you need to protect.  Then you need to know how to protect them.  Your rights are valuable!!!  If they aren't spending a hundred and fifty dollars on to get some good solid legal advice then clearly you deserve to lose them because you don't care about them enough.  You get ONE SHOT!  That's right, just ONE SHOT when you go for your hearing and if you don't do it right then you may do something that you can't undo.

There are attorneys such as myself who are ready, willing and able to help you get through these proceedings properly and to protect yourself.  Give a call.  It won't cost you a million dollars and you'll be surprised how much help you'll get for $145 dollars from a guy who is looking out for your best interests because that's exactly what you are paying him to do.

Give me a call.  Get it right!  Protect your rights!  

Call 401-632-6976 . . . You'll be glad you did!
By: Christopher A. Pearsall

The why is relatively easy to answer.

The Rhode Island family court system recently has taken a dramatic turn since the appointment of the newest Chief Judge Haiganush Bedrosian.

Judges previously expected parties in a divorce know what they are doing when processing their divorce hearings.  There has been a substantial trend in judges helping people through the divorce proceeding.

So many people are doing a passable job on their initial filings to make it passable with the clerk's office.  Then people are counting on the judge to help them through the actual proceeding.

This trend started when the Courts began providing divorce packets containing rough questions that may or may not be asked during an uncontested divorce proceeding.

Well, that's what people are thinking and it would seem to make sense now wouldn't it?   Is it that easy?  Based upon rough estimates about 75 to 80% think that it is.  That seems to be approximately the number of "Pro Se" individuals that are filing  their own divorces with the court.  

Do you have the right to file your own divorce?  Certainly you do.  You have the right to represent yourself.  

Yet 90% of the callers who contact me each week assume they have an uncontested divorce.  Usually I hear something like this.

"We don't have anything to argue about.  Everything is agreed to.  It should be so easy that a lawyer should have to do almost nothing so it should be really cheap."  

The next question that usually follows is "How much do you charge for an uncontested divorce?"  

But usually they don't have an uncontested divorce and they have misunderstood the concept entirely because they really don't know what an "uncontested divorce" really is.

To this point we know why people are filing their own divorces without the help of a lawyer.  They know it's cheaper and they think it's easy so they don't think they need a lawyer.

But what are these folks missing?  Check out my next article.


    Attorney Pearsall is a RI Lawyer whose practice has been exclusively devoted to Rhode Island Divorce and Family Law Matters for more than 12 years.


    February 2013



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