I attended a Dane County Family Law Group (DCFLAG) meeting today, at which local family judges estimated that 80% of the parties in Dane County family law cases (divorce, paternity, child support and custody, etc.) are not represented by lawyers. I imagine the same is true in Sauk County, Columbia Count, and other surrounding counties. The judges lamented that not only do unrepresented spouses tie up limited court resources, they have a severely negative impact on the result for families.
The most common misunderstanding is that the judge will help parents, spouses, etc. resolve their family law issue, or at least explain it. Although the judges try, they do not, nor are they supposed to, advise parties in a Dane County family law dispute. This problem is not limited to lower income parties. The judges indicated that most Dane County family law disputes involve parties who could easily afford lawyers, but choose not to retain one.
The presenting judge at today’s meeting gave the example of a husband who was surprised to find out that he had to split his state pension fund with his wife. The judge noted that the husband could have made some persuasive arguments to keep more of the pension, but did not know how to apply the law or present those arguments. The judge could not do it for him, so the husband lost quite a bit of his pension. Retaining a good Dane County family law attorney would have been money well spent for this person.
My experience is similar. I often consult with Dane County family law clients who try to proceed without a lawyer, thinking they will save a little money. The best advice is to at least consult with a lawyer. Legal fees are not beyond the means of most people. You will likely learn that legal representation will be money well spent for you as well.