The legal community has the tradition of discouraging people from representing themselves in court. No matter who you talk to and what the issue is, lawyers and judges will undoubtedly talk you into hiring an attorney for your case. And with reason, as the legal process can be quite complex and can have your dire consequences. Lawyers don’t go to law school for three years for the sport of it, they learn some very valuable skills that prepares them for the challenges of working with the law. However, there are instances where hiring a lawyer is not the best route, especially when the individual is capable, the issues are not that complex and the possible outcomes are not that catastrophic.
Beliefs about Hiring a Family Law Attorney:
I worked as a family law attorney for several years and have noticed some common thoughts people have about hiring an attorney to help them with their divorce or custody case. The most prevalent thought is that having an attorney would get them much more than they can get on their own. And although this is certainly the case in some instances, it’s not the case in all situations. Getting what you want or what you demand in your divorce or custody case has more to do with the issues, the laws, your jurisdiction, the judge, etc than just having an attorney by your side. Thus, there are instances where it doesn’t matter whether you are represented or not, these other factors can render much better outcomes than not.
Another popular belief is that attorneys know the judge and that too can get litigants the best results. Tons of people think that no matter the merits of their case, having an attorney whose familiar with the judge is a slam dunk. This is definitely not the case. Let’s think about this, legal communities are provincial, everyone knows everyone within specific specialties and particular jurisdictions. So that means, if both parties have an attorney chances are they both know the judge so who “wins” then? Don’t get me wrong, there are times where a lawyer has to call in a favor with the judge, but they’re not prone to call in that favor unless it’s “big” win for them to begin with.
Truths about Working with a Family Law Attorney:
There are some truths about family law attorneys that go far beyond what most people think. The first one I can think of is, their main concern is not what your concerns are. Your staying in the marital home, your being able to keep your children more than the other parent does, etc. are not their major concern. Not at all, they are probably more caught up with can you pay, how will you pay, and how much it will cost them to represent you. I bet you didn’t have a clue that these were some of their thoughts, right? Well of course they want you to content, notice I didn’t say “happy” because no one is ever happy in family court. Family law attorneys know that custody and divorce issues can run on forever, so there has to something in it for them.
Self-Representation or Pro Se as an Option
Self-representation or pro se can mean a number of things while getting you the same outcome as if you were lawyer represented. There are so many options out there now that suits the litigant who chooses to go it alone in Family Court. Note, I am not referring to the people who don’t have a choice to go to court pro se due to lack of funds. I am talking about the people who are aware of the truths about Family Court and believe they can navigate it on their own. There are options to help the people who fall under this category.
Unbundled Services is an option in this instance. These are one time tasks like document preparation, document editing, court filing, legal research, etc. that you can hire a service to do for you. There is no contractual obligation or huge retainer fees, just pay for the specific service. NOTE: The unauthorized practice of law is something to keep an eye out for as some states are very strict about what people can do with respect to document preparation and editing.
Limited scope is where the pro se litigant hires an attorney to perform specific tasks, as in Unbundled Services, but it can include making a one-time court appearance.
Pro Se coaching is another option where the pro se litigant can have someone advise them on the court process, researching, filings, etc. NOTE: Pro Se coaches are prohibited from giving legal advice.
Whichever option you choose, it is still advisable to get at least two (2) consultations from experienced attorneys in your jurisdiction so that you are at least aware of the possibility outcomes.
What You Can Expect Representing Yourself in Family Court
You will not win any favor with the judge, the opposing party’s lawyer or court staff when you choose to represent yourself in Family Court. In fact, there are some jurists that will deliberately make your life a living hell when you show up pro se. But this is an intimidation tactic used by most of them. The judge will, in some instances, threaten to rule a certain way or similar if you insist on being pro se. This is wrong! Unfortunately, though, a lot of litigants are scared into spending money they don’t have to hire an attorney. Sometimes, too, they will settle on terms that know they don’t agree with just to avoid the judge carrying through on their threat.
The procedural rules is what’s most challenging for pro se litigants in Family Court. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy feat to work your way through court procedure on your own. But it’s not brain surgery either. If you have great research skills, are very organized and are determined, you can handle the procedural rules.
If you are good at problem solving and have superb critical thinking skills, then you have a better chance at working through Family Court’s complex system. It isn’t for the people who give up easily, who need support with the basics or who get caught up in their emotions too much to focus. Not to say that if any of these things apply to you that you are doomed, but I’d certainly thing twice if I were you.
Representing yourself in family court requires careful preparation, knowledge of the legal system, and effective advocacy skills.
While representing yourself can be advantageous in so many respsects, it is essential to recognize when you may need legal guidance. If you encounter complex legal issues, are unsure about court procedures, or feel overwhelmed by the process, consider at least consulting with an attorney to ensure you are adequately prepared and supported. Representing yourself in your divorce or custody case requires a strategic and well-prepared approach. By employing advanced strategies such as thorough legal research, superb critical thinking skills, stellar organization, and addressing potential challenges, you can strengthen your case and increase your chances of achieving a favorable outcome.