Typically, during divorce proceedings in Oregon or Washington each spouse has a legal representative. These attorneys handle strategy and planning, filings and paperwork needed by the court, negotiations, and even daily communication and correspondence with the other party. While you and your spouse are responsible for setting goals and the desired outcome, it is primarily your divorce attorney that will bring those objectives to fruition.
Given the importance of a legal representative in the divorce process, most people elect to engage an attorney. However, this isn’t mandatory, and some people choose to proceed unrepresented. If your spouse refused to hire a divorce attorney it is likely to impact the case and proceedings. The following four points are what you most need to know about divorce cases where one party is unrepresented.
Your Spouse Cannot Ask Your Attorney for Information or Advice
In Oregon and Washington, the lawyer for one spouse is not allowed to advise the other spouse or speak on their behalf. This is a strict boundary that is for the benefit of both parties, and it extends to all aspects of the divorce. This means when if your spouse chooses to be self-represented in the proceedings, he or she cannot ask your attorney for advice or information at anytime or for any reason.
Throughout the divorce, your lawyer will communicate directly with your spouse, but during these interactions will not include any form of legal counsel. Of course, you may make the decision to pass along information or facts to your spouse, but this is not required or necessary.
Unrepresented Divorces Often Take Longer
When one spouse is unrepresented in a divorce it is common for the divorce proceedings to take longer. Tasks that are familiar and straightforward to your attorney will take your spouse much longer to complete. This can include interpretation of court orders and production of required documents. Your spouse is likely to hit roadblocks in the unfamiliar territory of divorce, and will need additional time to overcome any complications.
As well, during a divorce the legal representatives exchange a great deal of information and correspondence. Whether the divorce is contentious or not, hundreds of emails and phone calls are necessary to reach a final resolution and settlement. If your spouse is unrepresented he or she will need to receive, digest, and respond to these communications – but that is likely to take far more time than when the activity takes place between two attorneys.
Your Mentality and Decision-Making Shouldn’t Change
It might seem unlikely now, but when a spouse is unrepresented during a divorce the other party often makes concessions that aren’t in his or her best interest. There is likely to be an imbalance of information and experience between your informed divorce attorney and your partner. Your spouse may even seem vulnerable to an unfair result. However, this factor doesn’t change what you want and need from the divorce process. And it shouldn’t impact your mentality or thought process.
Compromise is necessary during divorce, and can benefit both parties. There will be several times during mediation or negotiations when you divorce attorney will ask if you are willing to compromise one point to push harder on another. For instance, accept less in alimony in return for a better custody arrangement and additional child support or allow your spouse to keep one piece of martial property if you can keep another. However, the compromises you make shouldn’t be influenced by your spouse’s decision not to hire a lawyer, but based on your own objectives.
Expect to Be Frustrated
Without an experienced divorce lawyer, your spouse is likely to make procedural mistakes and cause inefficiencies along the way. These missteps could be minor, such as forgetting to answer your attorney’s email for a few days, or significant, for example neglecting to file a required court document. Other mistakes include missing deadlines, neglecting or not knowing court procedures, and misinterpreting a legal document. While these mistakes are likely to have a negative impact on your spouse’s case, they also create issues for the court and your counsel.
These mistakes also complicate the overall process. Divorce is an experience everyone wants completed as timely and smoothly as possible, but when your spouse refuses to hire a lawyer this is unlikely to happen. Your divorce attorney cannot correct errors by your spouse, but these missteps do need to be addressed and overcome for a court to issue a final decree or judgment. Suddenly, what could be straightforward takes much more time and effort, from you and your lawyer. Over time, this becomes frustrating.
Other Questions About the Divorce Process
If you have questions about divorce proceedings in Oregon or SW Washington, contact our family law firm at Gearing Rackner & McGrath. Our practice is entirely dedicated to matters of family law, including collaborative divorce, child custody, spousal support, and legal separation.