Can you be your own attorney in a divorce?

Can you be your own attorney in a divorce?

Judge Grace Dickler is arguably one of the most knowledgeable, experienced and respected Judges in the Cook County Divorce Division; however, even Judge Dickler had her “hands full” in overseeing a divorce between Anna and Albert. This divorce proceeding was difficult because not only did it involve issues concerning distribution of property, but it also involved issues concerning custody of four children, one of whom had learning disabilities, claims of adultery, and orders of protection. After Judge Dickler thought she had completed the case when she entered a Divorce Judgment on January 18, 2006, the parties continued to have disagreements, which led to more hearings, and an eventual appeal to the First District Appellate Court of the State of Illinois, which entered its final ruling on April 13, 2007.

woman being her own attorneyAlbert was apparently an intelligent individual who was “spurned” by his estranged spouse, who had found another lover during her marriage to Albert. Albert decided to represent himself throughout his two years of dissolution of marriage proceedings. The divorce proceeding contained your typical allegations of infidelity, lying in court, claims of bias by the Judge, allegations of drunkenness, physical abuse involving the children, and guns in the house.

Anybody who has had the unfortunate experience of participating in the divorce process in a Cook County Circuit Court has most likely learned the hard way that the Cook County court system is overcrowded, and there are too many cases assigned to each Divorce Judge. This is especially true in Judge Dickler’s courtroom, since she is the only Divorce Judge assigned to the Skokie Courthouse; therefore, when a case is filed in Skokie, Judge Dickler will most assuredly be assigned to the case. (If the person served with the Divorce proceeding does not want to take his or her case before Judge Dickler, then he or she can request that the Divorce case be transferred to Downtown, Chicago).

Now Albert, who had apparently done a reasonable job of obtaining some favorable rulings during his two year divorce, ended up with a preliminary decision on December 16, 2005 awarding him allocation of parental responsibilities of his minor children and allowing him substantial parenting time with each child. Apparently emboldened by Judge Dickler’s decision to award Albert allocation of parental responsibilities, Albert, who did not have the advice of any counsel during his divorce, decided to continue “pushing the envelope” in his newfound success as a “pro se litigant” (a litigant representing himself), and called his former wife after midnight immediately after Judge Dickler’s allocation of parental responsibilities ruling and left her a voicemail that “he was never going to stop pursuing the matter, and that the court awarded allocation of parental responsibilities of his children just to punish him.” Albert’ misguided anger, his inexperience in handling a Divorce case by himself, and his overwhelming desire to retaliate against Anna apparently was too much for Albert to handle. The allocation of parental responsibilities order which had been entered on December 16, 2005, was immediately amended to change the ruling from allocation of parental responsibilities of the minor children to the mother, Anna. The following month, on January 18, 2006, Judge Dickler completed the case, and finalized her allocation of parental responsibilities order previously entered December 16, 2005.

Judge Dickler thought that she had successfully completed the case on January 18, 2006, only to find out that Albert continued to pursue allegations of alleged missed visits that had taken place during his divorce. Most likely because of the overcrowded docket in Judge Dickler’s courtroom, and because she had already gleaned a thorough knowledge of the parties, the allegations between the parties, the best interests of the minor children, and all other aspects of this case, she ultimately denied Albert’ final petition asking that his former wife be held in Contempt of Court for not allowing parenting time on certain dates and times. Because a full hearing was not granted on Albert’ petition alleging parenting time disputes, this single ruling by Judge Dickler was reversed, allowing Albert yet another day in court to pursue his allegations of alleged missed visits with the minor children.

In summary, Albert most likely saved thousands of dollars in attorneys fees by representing himself, but he apparently “missed the boat” by not doing what was in the best interests of his minor children in continuing to pursue his custody dispute with his wife. Several lessons can be learned from this unhappy story, the first of which is:

  1. Try not to get divorced;
  2. If you insist on getting divorced, try to resolve your custody issues between yourselves without involving the court; and
  3. If you do decide to get divorced, and do decide to fight over custody, then be sure to engage an attorney to help you in your dispute.

Contact the Law Offices of Michael P. Doman, Ltd. for your divorce attorney needs.