I was married for 10 years, and got a divorce last year in Massachusetts. My wife was represented by an attorney, I didn’t want to waste the money on an attorney, so I represented myself. During the divorce, I was not allowed to speak with my wife at all (Except to call her to arrange a time for me to pick up the kids) and was forced to only speak to her attorney, who would call me whenever he wanted something and would never let me speak to her about what we were going to do. I felt like I was being harassed and that it was not fair that I couldn’t speak to my wife and work things out. Also the judge and the people in the court didn’t offer me any help, except to say I should hire an attorney. Why should I hire an attorney, when she is the one who cheated on me for five years? Because of the harassment and the fact the courts were not willing to help me, I feel I was forced into signing a separation agreement which gave her most of my property and didn’t give me much visitation with my two kids. She now has full custody of the children and I only get to see my kids four hours per week. Not to mention she also moved the man that she was cheating on me with into the house shortly after I moved out. Can I have the divorce or separation agreement avoided? What can I do in this situation? What are my rights?
I have clients come into my office all the time asking this exact same question, although the answer is not what the client ever wants to hear, it’s just the simple fact. When you go into court and you represent yourself, you are expected to have the knowledge and skill of the law, just like an attorney does. Just because you represent yourself pro se, does not mean that you do not have to follow the rules of court. Basically, you have to be able to do everything an attorney knows how to do and the courts will not and legally cannot give you any assistance. The courts are a third party, they are not there to help you with your divorce, they are just there to facilitate the legal process. When someone is represented by an attorney, the opposing side, in this case you, cannot contact that person at all. This is the reason your wife’s attorney could call you, but you couldn’t speak to her at all, obviously unless it pertained to the children. Because you need to call your wife to arrange times to be picking up the kids or dropping the kids off, but besides for that you cannot discuss the case with your wife at all, as she was represented by an attorney and you representing yourself are considered an attorney in the court eyes.
As far as having the divorce separation agreement being voided, and having a new one drawn up because you feel you were taken advantage of somehow, the answer is yes and no. Yes the issue of the children, is something that can always be addressed again at a later point if there is a change in circumstances that the court deems important enough to address the matter. You cannot go into court saying the custody agreement isn’t fair that you signed, just because you don’t like it after the fact. But if there was some danger to your children, if your wife was not following the divorce agreement to the letter of the law or some other situation that strongly impacted your child’s life in a negative way was coming because of the mother or some job change on your part needed you to change the visitation schedule around, you cannot readdress issues of a divorce separation agreement simply because you don’t like what you signed. Once the divorce is finalized and the court approves the divorce separation agreement, you must live by it, especially the parts that pertain to the division of assets (property & money) of the marriage.
Basically, the moral of this story is, you pay a lawyer a little bit now or you pay a lot more for years to come, because you are not represented by legal counsel. The rules of the court are what they are, simply because you do not understand them, does not mean you get to readdress the issue at a later time. I have many people who come to me after they handle their own divorce from beginning to end and didn’t like the outcome, feeling they were taken advantage of by their spouse’s attorney. This is not a reason to have anything readdressed that was finalized in your divorce and settlement agreement, which was accepted by the court. That last day of your divorce hearing, when the judge was explaining to you if you understood the separation agreement and all its parts that you signed, and you agreed out in open court, you are stuck to that decision. This is the reason why it is so very important for you to have an experienced attorney on your side representing your rights. Remember, not all attorneys are equal, choose an attorney by experience, not by price. Because the same thing happens to people represented by attorneys who do not know what they’re doing, when their spouse has a very experienced attorney representing them.
Joseph F. Botelho, Esq.
BOTELHO LAW GROUP
Attorneys At Law
901 Eastern Ave.
Fall River, MA 02723
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