The short answer is “from the beginning”. Yes, I can hear you exclaim “of course a law firm will say that!”. Before you scroll away, take a look at what we have to say.
Why do people represent themselves?
Over the course of our work, we had encountered a number of divorcing spouses who preferred to represent himself/herself because of various reasons and legal fees is not necessarily the main reason. Whatever the reason, we would advise a divorcing spouse to, at the very least, obtain legal advice. This is to protect your rights and to pave a path for your legal battle, so to speak.
One must not forget that a court of law is about legal principles, benchmarks and thresholds. It can be very complex and confusing for a layperson. There are lots of articles and resources on the internet for the tech-savvy spouse to research and read and one may feel confident enough to don the legal armour for his own legal battle. However, it will be the least discussed topic which would tip the scale out of your favour. For instance, what is the date of reference for determining the pool of matrimonial assets and do you know that you will be “penalised” for the non-full and frank disclosure of matrimonial assets. How then do you turn a full and frank disclosure of assets to your advantage?
Sometimes, the legal and practical consequences for an outcome can be very unfavourable to you when your case is not properly presented to the judge. Many litigants-in-person loss their focus when they represent themselves because of the emotions involved resulting in crucial points being overlooked and non-critical but personal issues being repeatedly raised.
You think you can appeal
You think you can have a second bite at the cherry? Perhaps not. An appeal is allowed only where there is an error of law or an error of fact regardless whether your case was well presented to the trial judge. An appeal judge will not overturn a decision easily and there is a legal threshold to be satisfied. Incidentally, have you heard of the 10% “rule”? Not only is the appeal process costly, appealing against a decision will be difficult where the groundwork (ie. the initial stage of the divorce proceeding) had not been laid out satisfactorily.
Whilst we do not encourage divorcing couples to “battle it out”, do consider the gravity of not being legally represented. Worse still, some individuals ignore notices sent by the family court only to find out years later that the court had made a decision against him/her in his/her absence. Lawyers are not magicians and will not be able to successfully appeal against every decision that is made against you. Remember, there is a (relatively high) legal hurdle for every appeal.
Back to basics
Do justice to yourself by seeking legal advice as early as possible and protect your rights from the very beginning. Speak to any one of our lawyers or email us about your case and judge and experience for yourself the benefit of engaging a solicitor. Our hourly charge for consultation will be waived upon confirmation of engagement of our services.