Pursuing a child custody case in Family Court pro se can be advantageous from a strategic point of view. Most people think that filing for custody or being sued for custody automatically requires a lawyer if they want to prevail. However, this is not always the case. In fact, in a lot of instances, having an attorney only exacerbates the issues. Making the decision to file for custody, to respond to a custody petition, or choosing the path for the custody case as pro se, can impact the outcome of your case.
Meaning of Pro Se in Custody Cases
Representing yourself in your custody case means that you are speaking for yourself. It means that you are your own advocate and that you make your own decisions in your case. The decisions you make are with respect to procedure, the method used, and the path your case proceeds. You get to decide when you should file your petition, how to respond to the other party’s petition if you should attempt mediation if you should settle, and if you should go to trial. These are just some things you would have to feel confident enough to make decisions on your own. And because you are making these decisions on your own, you are more than likely the one who is responsible for the outcome of your overall case. Being pro se is still not encouraged in most courts, mainly because the courts are concerned with the amount of time and resources needed to accommodate non-lawyers. However, it is your right to represent yourself, no matter what the judge tells you.
Advantages of being Pro Se in Custody
There are actually some advantages or benefits to representing yourself in your custody case. Of course, there are some disadvantages too but I would like to focus on the benefits because many would love to know about them. Did you know that pro se litigants have the advantage of getting some fees waived? Yes, as a self-represented litigant, if you have economic hardship you can apply for court fees to be waived. You can’t do this with lawyer representation, for obvious reasons. (Of course, unless your attorney is pro bono, then you’re likely to have your fees paid by that organization.) Pro se litigants often get their cases heard “on the record” without making a formal request. This means that the court will take the initiative to have a recording device or court reporter records everything that is being said in court. This is extremely important just in case you decide to appeal the court’s decision. Also, the judges often allow more flexibility in the rules/laws of the court when the litigant is representing themselves. This is critical because most pro se custody cases get dismissed because of the litigants’ failure to understand and follow the procedural rules.
Pro Se Custody as Strategy
When preparing for your Family Court custody case you should take the time to plot out every move way before you file your first petition. You should create what I like to call a Gameplan, this helpful tool will increase your chances of getting your desired results. The key to achieving your desired goals in any aspect of your life is to come up with a solid plan. That plan should be well thought out, constantly reviewed and implemented properly. Pro se custody is not exception.
Being pro se in custody is part of your plan, or at least it should be. That means that every fact, every law, every resource, and every possible resolution should be considered every step along the way. Things like choosing when to file your custody petition, gathering and using your evidence, looking for useful resources, etc. should be done in context. Nothing should be done without a clear view of your long-term goals in mind.
When you’re pro se, you won’t have a lawyer or advocate to help you keep an eye out on all of these things, it’s all up to you. But, as I stated above, there are advantages to doing it all on your own.
Whether you choose to be pro se or you have no choice, either way, it is not inevitable doom. You need to start with a winning mindset though and then move on to taking action. It is up to you to prepare, present, and position your custody case for better results.
If you are self represented or pro se and need help with your custody or divorce case, you can join the Pro Se Family Court Membership Program. This program is the only program geared specifically towards pro se Family Court litigants and getting them the practical, legal and emotional support needed to navigate the Family Court. Learn more here.