When considering filing for divorce or starting a custody case, you must also decide if you want to pursue your case alone or if you want to hire an attorney to represent you. The answer to this question largely depends on your particular situation and the facts of your case. Representing yourself in your custody case or “doing your own divorce” might be the more efficient path if the opposing party is not contesting anything or there is literally no property or debt that was acquired during the marriage. However, even in these rare circumstances, you do not know what your rights and options are or what the ramifications of the agreements you enter in will be. This article discusses the pros and cons of representing yourself in your New Mexico family law case

A woman is asking a question and an attorney is answering it.

Pros toward hiring an attorney 

Most people recommend getting an attorney for a divorce or custody battle because the pros drastically outweigh the cons. Here is a list of reasons why getting an attorney is beneficial for your case. 

  1. Attorneys can serve as a mediator. In the midst of a divorce, it is not uncommon to be upset with your soon to be ex-spouse. Things can escalate and get heated without actually coming to any agreements if an attorney is not present to mediate the meeting. 

  2. Quick process- With the help of an attorney, your divorce or custody battle will most likely go by much quicker and more smoothly than if you didn’t have one. 

  3. Protect your Success- It is highly suggested to have an attorney especially if you have to divide property, businesses, and other assets with your spouse. Each state has different laws on how to go about dividing assets. Hire a local New Mexico attorney to help you with this process and ensure you are keeping what is rightfully yours. 

  4. Child custody- It is important to get a child custody attorney when in a custody battle because it is very easy to lose rights and privileges if you do not represent yourself properly. If your spouse had hired a lawyer, you will need to hire one so that you are not at a disadvantage. If money is an issue, you can seek out free legal services. 

  5. Explains your case- Having an attorney will also benefit you in how you understand your case, what you are entitled to, and what your options are. They will explain things that you perhaps don’t understand or didn't know about.

  6. Paperwork- Because these attorneys do this paperwork every day, they are well aware of how to fill it out properly and efficiently. 

  7. Legal and emotional support- it is a good idea to hire an attorney because not only will they provide you with legal support and advice, they will also listen to your frustrations and concerns and that can be a helpful outlet for some people. 

 

Representing yourself in your New Mexico divorce or custody case

 

When representing yourself in court, the official term is “Pro Se Litigant” which is Latin for “for himself in a legal case (litigation)”. If you decide to go this route the court will provide you with a packet of information that can help you with filing a divorce or opening a custody case. These packets range from $10-$20. This is as far as the court will go with legal help or explanation. They will not provide you a lawyer or give you any legal advice. Getting a divorce may seem like it's a pretty straightforward process in some situations but in New Mexico, there are specific laws that differ from other states. There are a variety of different issues that must be resolved like division of property, division of debt, child custody, and child support. New Mexico is a community property state, which means that assets and debts are usually divided 50/50, which applies to child custody as well. Again this is not as straightforward as it may appear as there may be separate property and undisclosed assets. It is best to get an attorney in New Mexico who knows the processes and procedures in the jurisdiction that will actually hear your case. For example, there can be significant differences in the process between the First Judicial District (Santa Fe) and the Second Judicial District (Bernalillo). 

How to file for a divorce in New Mexico?

The first thing you must establish is if you and your spouse have lived in New Mexico for at least six months. You must go to the district court in your county that you and your spouse reside and fill out a petition as well as other paperwork. Then you must state under oath, that you and your spouse want to dissolve the marriage because you are no longer compatible. You will have to pay a court fee of around $135-$155 payable by cash or money order. The divorce process usually takes about 30 to 90 days and does not conclude until the final decree is signed by the judge. 

If you want to file the divorce by yourself, your spouse has 30 days to answer the serving and respond to the court. To file and or receive a divorce serving you must be 18 or older. The four reasons for filing a divorce in New Mexico include Adultery, abandonment, cruel/ inhumane treatment, or general incompatibility. These grounds are just a formality as anyone can get a divorce for any reason. To serve your spouse you must bring a court-stamped copy of the petition you filled out to the respondent. If you don’t want to see that person, you can pay the county sheriff to deliver the petition for you. You can also serve your spouse via mail. The post office will require the receiver to sign for it which they will send to you in the form of a receipt. Immediately after being notified that your spouse has received the serving, you must report back to the court with the proof. 

 

Cons if you decide to go Pro Se in the courtroom. 

 

  1. If you are not a divorce attorney, you will be inexperienced. Some terms and complexities come up in the courtroom that you might not be equipped to handle just due to your lack of legal training with local, state, and federal laws. Attorneys have spent years learning these laws and understanding how the courtroom proceedings usually go. The courts also hold you at the same standard as an attorney, so you must come prepared with research about your case.  

  2. You have a biased opinion of your case. The court will always regard you as biased when representing yourself in court. Giving long emotional speeches can be detrimental to your case. 

  3. Emotions- Going through a divorce is a very emotional process and it's hard enough to go through it even with an attorney. Researching can add additional stress and make you take any deal to speed up the process instead of weighing the other options and examining the other pathways. 

  4. Paperwork- There is plenty of paperwork that you must fill out correctly, and it is easy to misunderstand and altogether miss something within the information. It is best to have a trained lawyer look over these documents so that something important doesn't end up coming back in the future to cause problems. 

 

The specific area of divorce that gets complicated is when the division property and businesses are involved. With these two assets come tax exemptions and or consequences. This can be scary for little family-owned businesses especially. At Genus Law Group our motto is “Protect Your Success” and that is exactly what our skilled Albuquerque family law attorneys plan to do. If you feel like this is a journey you would like help with, call us at 505.317.4455 for more information or to schedule a consultation today.

 
Anthony Spratley
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Experienced Divorce, Child Custody, and Child Support Lawyer Serving Albuquerque and Beyond