Can I be forced to represent myself in a divorce case ifI cannot afford an attorney?

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Can I be forced to represent myself in a divorce case ifI cannot afford an attorney?

My wife filed for divorce. I have been too trusting and was presented with a piece of paper that my spouse stated was acknowledgement of a case being filed. It was actually something stating that I was representing myself. I went into court and tried to explain to the judge my situation and was told I have an attorney or I represent myself and in his court people that represent themselves lose.

Asked on October 14, 2011 under Family Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

1) Your spouse certainly has the right to file a divorce case against you--therefore, you, or you and your attorney, will have to go to court, unless you and your wife can negotiate a mutually acceptable settlement outside of court.

2) The courts have to appoint a free attorney in criminal cases, for people who cannot afford a lawyer. But there is no constitutional right to an attorney in civil cases, including divorce matters. So while you have an absolute right to hire your own attorney, one will not be appointed for you if you cannot afford one. Therefore, if  you do not hire an attorney, or find one willing to work for free (see #4, below), you will have to represent yourself.

3) As a general matter, people who represent themselves will lose more often than not.

4) *Possible* sources of free legal help to try:

a) Legal Services--they often, but not always, can provide free legal assistance to those who cannot afford an attorney; I don't know how many divorce cases they take on, however.

b) Contact state and local bar associations and ask for a referral to any attorneys who will do the work pro bono (for free)--sometimes you can find one.

c) Contact local law schools, the professor(s) who do family law--it's possible the school may have a clinic where the students, under professorial guidance, provide legal assistance.

d) Contact advocacy groups for divorced men or single fathers--they may know lawyers who will help for free, or at least a reduced rate.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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