Do I need a lawyer to file for a divorce?

In Malaysia, when you approach the counter of a court to file your divorce petition, it is common for the court staff to reject your petition presented for filing and request that you have a lawyer to file the petition. If you can't afford a lawyer, they will recommend you to contact the Government Legal Aid Department (Malay: Jabatan Bantuan Guaman) 1. They may have a variety of reasons for doing so. Below are few of the main reasons:
  • concern that you may not be able to pull it off without a lawyer if you do not really understand the procedures and legal requirements of the court;
  • a divorce, particularly contested divorce, can be quite messy and you need a lawyer to properly represent you and defend your interests;
  • technically, you may make a lot of mistakes or have problems with your submission if you lack legal understanding, thus affecting others as well;
  • never handle such case and have no proper guidance on next course of action, especially courts in smaller districts or states.

Self-representing in most cases uses more court resources. If you lack legal understanding and do not understand court procedures, you can irritate court staff and make judges angry for wasting their time and court resources as it can result in more time for hearing and work at subsequent stages.

Judges have expectations of self-represented litigant and can be quite harsh at times - on staff as well. They will tell their staff not to bring to them a filing that does not comply with court requirements. Court staff will have to play a more active role in this matter. Thus, the involvement of solicitors can make a huge difference to their task.

On a brighter note, you may find comfort in finding judges who enjoy handling cases with self-represented litigants.

In fact, unless your divorce petition does not comply with the court filing requirements the clerk should not refuse to file your petition solely because you are acting in person. Courts in Malaysia have no nationwide approach to this issue.

Legally, you can file a divorce petition on your own. However, you should understand the situations where self representation is appropriate. You should also be competent enough to perform the skills needed to represent and defend yourself. The court staff are not solicitors and cannot offer you legal advice. These are obvious challenges.

In addition, all documents have to be in a specific format and include concise statements or required information. The content of a divorce petition can have significant impact on proceedings dealing with finances and children. And if you know the required procedure and have proper guidance it is possible to achieve victory against even represented parties.

The common answers from those choosing to arrange their own divorce without involving lawyers are:
  • cannot afford a lawyer;
  • bad experience with lawyers;
  • lawyer is not very committed to their interests.
  • do not wish to spend money hiring a lawyer;
  • believing their divorce case is not complicated and a lawyer is not needed;

Filing a divorce petition puts legal proceedings in motion. Court decisions may affect you financially. Therefore, it is necessary and helpful to get legal advice and representation in court, particularly if:
  • you are uncertain whether you have grounds for a divorce;
  • your spouse does not agree to a divorce;
  • if you can't reach an agreement on child custody;
  • if either party does not agree on how you'll split up money, property and possessions; or
  • you are emotionally exhausted and can't cope with a divorce.

In seeking legal advice, you can look for a local solicitor. Don't act impulsively when making a hiring decision. It is critically important to choose the right one -- one that has the skills you need and represents you in a way you feel comfortable with! Personal referrals are important in the hiring process. Make a list of prospective lawyers and talk to each one with some preliminary questions.

If you can't afford a lawyer, you may wish to take advantage of legal aid administered by the Government Legal Aid Department (Malay: Jabatan Bantuan Guaman) or the Bar Council Legal Aid Centre (Malay: Pusat Bantuan Guaman Majlis Peguam)2.

To be eligible for legal aid, your annual income must be less than RM25,000. If your income exceeds RM25,000 but less than RM30,000, you'll have to pay a one-time contribution of RM300.

Means test will be conducted where you'll have to furnish information of your income which includes salary, savings and rental.

Detail interview will be recorded to identify issues, remedies and needs of applicant.

Approach them with courtesy. They are more than happy and willing to assist eligible applicants.

  1. Official website of the Legal Aid Department of Malaysia

  2. Official website of the Malaysian Bar Council

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Knowledge Base ID :   1500
Last Reviewed :   February 12, 2014
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