Abraham Lincoln had it right when he stated, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Maybe the term “fool” is a bit harsh, but pro se litigants (representing themselves) almost always lack an understanding of court procedure and generally lack an understanding of the law, which can have devastating consequences in their case, some times without them even knowing. Case in point, I recently represented a gentleman who had been separated from his wife and trying to get divorced for ten (10) years, with no results. Both of them were representing themselves in the divorce, and apparently neither one of them knew how to move the case forward to complete the divorce. But, the fact that a divorce could go on for years and not get completed, is not the Danger of Being Unrepresented I want to address in this anecdote.
My client first opened up a divorce case in 2003, and requested among other things a custody and visitation determination. However, as the years went by the child lived with his mother and reached adulthood. Moreover, as they lived separated over the years, they divided up their assets and debts naturally. So, by the time the client came to my office for representation only one issue of contention remained. The wife wanted a judgment for years of back child support.
There are three (3) things the wife (representing herself) probably did not know. First, because she never filed a counter-claim for divorce the only matter pending before the court was my client’s Petition. Second, Oklahoma law (Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 683 (2009)), allows a petitioner to dismiss his action without any court approval required. Third, in a divorce case you cannot request retroactive child support. You can only go back to the date the action was filed. So, after meeting with my client for only a few minutes, I had determined the path for a quick victory. I drafted and filed a dismissal of my client’s petition, ending the current case and any possibility of wife ever getting an order for any child support.
The wife first learned of the dismissal at court and was quite confused on why client would dismiss the divorce. At the docket call she complained that client had not paid child support. The Court then advised her that the case has been stricken from the docket because it has been dismissed by my client and there is nothing the court can do for her. She rhetorically questioned whether he was wanting to get back together. The judge and many of the other attorneys in court knew exactly what was going on, but no one told her. As far as I know, she still has not learned that the dismissal prevents her from ever being able to request child support, since the child has aged out.
Now we can simply file a new divorce case with no issues in contention and get the parties divorced.
Had she been represented, this surely would not have happened. First, the attorney would likely have pushed the case forward long ago, to collect child support when it is due rather than years after the fact. Second, any attorney worth his salt, would have filed a counter-claim for divorce. If this were done, my client could have dismissed his petition, but not hers. So, it would have remained pending to request the tens of thousands in back child support.
If you have been pursuing your case pro se, and want to see if there are any surprisingly simple solutions to get what you want, or otherwise want to speak with an Oklahoma lawyer, call me at (918) 879-1681.