Friday, November 15, 2013

Must I have an attorney to get a divorce in Illinois?

You are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce in Illinois. A person proceeding without a lawyer is acting pro se (pronounced pro-say).  While permissible, representing yourself is rarely advisable if your case involves children, maintenance, significant property, or debts.  If you are considering going it alone, you should at least consult with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. Undoubtedly you will benefit from the opportunity to learn about the process and its pitfalls.  Meeting with a lawyer can also help you decide whether to proceed on your own.

While some cannot afford a lawyer, others choose not to use a lawyer as a way to save money. Today many people are empowered by information found on the Internet. But, the benefits of a lawyer are more than merely an information bank. Good lawyers possess skills such as judgment, wisdom, and the ability to help you make choices based upon your long-term interests. Lawyers know not only the law but the judge as well: what does the judge like and dislike in the presentation of a case. Also, when you represent yourself, you are deprived of the ability analyze your circumstances objectively and might make decisions based upon emotion rather than reason. As Abraham Lincoln famously observed, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The same can be said about non-lawyers!

In order to help people conduct a simple divorce on their own, the Illinois legislature has created a “Joint Simplified Dissolution Procedure.” The statute can be found at 750 ILCS 5/451. This provides a streamlined procedure for people with no children or assets to get a divorce. If you are interested in using the Joint Simplified Dissolution Procedure, contact the clerk of the court’s office in the county where you live. The clerk’s office has a brochure and other printed materials to help you proceed on your own.

Excerpt from "Divorce in Illinois" by Steven N. Peskind, published by Addicus Publications (2013)