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Beware of Self-Help When Trying to Solve Your Own Legal Disputes

by | Oct 14, 2022 | Civil Litigation, Family Law and Divorce

Self-help is the process of solving one’s own legal disputes without the help of a lawyer.  Many individuals attempt to resolve legal disputes on their own. However, self-help can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and could potentially lead to more serious consequences. In the United States, courts do not have to recognize private agreements when there is an issue of equity known as fairness or if a party claims lack of full disclosure or knowledge. Beware of settling a dispute informally when there is no suit pending before the court, as you can end up making things worse in the long run. You should know the common pitfalls of utilizing self-help in legal disputes and how to avoid making those mistakes.

The Power of the Courts

Even if two parties create their own legal agreement, under certain circumstances the courts have the power to overwrite it. Courts do not have to recognize private agreements between parties if the written agreement is not created in an enforceable fashion. The courts want and encourage agreement between parties. However, they may consider the fair and equitable result. Even if an agreement is written up properly, there are instances when the court exercises its authority and will not accept the document. This is particularly relevant in family law when there are minors or people with disabilities involved. The courts have a legal responsibility to protect those individuals, and if they do not believe the agreement is fair, they do not have to enforce it and may rewrite it to ensure an equitable outcome.

The Risks of Utilizing Self-Help

Attempting to settle a dispute outside of court without both parties having representation or the opportunity to have representation can result in unexpected problems. This is frequently seen in the event of a divorce. When a spouse distributes assets or property to settle a dispute privately, before or during a divorce proceeding without an enforceable pre or postnuptial or an enforceable Rule 11 Agreement, later the court may not recognize their prior agreement and rewrite it. This puts the assets and property at risk of being redistributed by the court in a manner that it deems equitable. It is extremely important to ensure legal documents are recognized by the court to protect property and assets.

How to Have a Legal Document Recognized by the Court

All settlements need to be done in a fashion that the court will recognize. For a document to be recognized in court, each party must have either had an attorney review it, or had the opportunity to have an attorney review it and waived that right. If either party waives this right, it must be documented in their agreement. 

Don’t go it alone, even if you are confident in your skills and knowledge. There are too many risks involved that could lead to a bad outcome. Legal disputes can be complex, and may take longer and be more expensive to resolve when a self-help document creates new issues. This is why it is important to have the help of an experienced attorney who knows how to navigate the legal system. Lisa Bradford has over 23 years of experience in family law and civil litigation and can help you avoid the pitfalls of settling a dispute on your own. Send an email to [email protected] or call 512-826-5957 to set up an initial consultation.