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Johnson Westra Broecker Whittaker & Newitt, P.C. We serve clients with integrity of heart, clarity of mind, and God-centered compassion.
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What is Pro Se Divorce?

Overworked businessman

People hear a lot of legal phrases thrown around in connection with divorce–collaborative divorce, mediation, no-fault, etc.—but they are not sure what these terms actually mean, or what they involve. People may have heard the phrase “pro se,” or may otherwise be interested in the concept of self-representation. Below, we discuss what it truly means to go “pro se” in your divorce, and why we advise against it. If you are facing the prospect of divorce in Illinois, get a seasoned Chicago divorce lawyer in your corner to protect your finances, your family, and your way of life.

What Does it Mean to Go Pro Se?

When litigants are “pro se,” that means they are representing themselves in court instead of being represented by a lawyer. These parties are responsible for handling every aspect of their divorce on their own, from filing the complaint and motions, to arguing at hearings, requesting and producing discovery, and keeping track of what issues to appeal. The case will proceed the same as any other divorce, except the party will be handling all of the typical lawyer duties personally. Parties have the right to represent themselves, but they should not expect any help from the other party’s attorney or the court when they do so.

Disadvantages of Going Pro Se

Representing yourself in court has significant limitations. All court proceedings are complex and nuanced. It is important to know the law and the process. A technical mistake can lead to you losing out on the right to make certain types of arguments or present certain kinds of evidence. You may not know you have certain rights or the ability to contest certain types of claims. Many pro se litigants make arguments they believe are important but are irrelevant for legal purposes, such as bringing up their spouse’s adultery or making allegations concerning alcoholism. If your former spouse is represented, you will certainly be at a disadvantage in court and at the negotiating table.

Divorces are a lot to process at the best of times. Representing someone in court is a full-time job; we know, because it’s our job. When you are divorcing, you are already dealing with the social, familial, personal, economic, and other issues associated with getting a divorce. Adding on to that the burden of drafting and filing court papers, reviewing and providing financial evidence, learning court procedure and state law, and other matters is a recipe for becoming overwhelmed.

We strongly advise against going pro se when issues are being contested in the divorce. You are more likely to lose your rights to your property, lose custody rights, and receive less in property distribution. Ultimately, having a qualified and dedicated lawyer on your side is well worth the cost.

When is Pro Se Appropriate?

The primary advantage of going pro se is that it will allow you to avoid paying for a lawyer. If you have any issues that will wind up being contested in court, such as child custody, property distribution, child support, or alimony, having a lawyer on your side is well worth the cost. If you and your spouse completely agree on all issues, and your divorce does not involve a significant amount of property or disputes over custody, then it might be worth it to represent yourself in reaching a quick agreement (assuming, of course, your spouse does the same; you never want to be the only party without a lawyer on your side). Even if you handle the representation yourself, it is still worth consulting a lawyer for advice before filing and before signing any final agreement, just to be safe.


If you are dealing with divorce, child custody, spousal support, or any other family law issue in Illinois, contact the passionate and dedicated Carol Stream family law attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt for a consultation on your case at 630-665-9600.

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