If you are going through a divorce or child custody case, you might be dismayed at the large cost involved with hiring an attorney. Your case could easily cost you many thousands of dollars, and many people going through a life-changing event such as a divorce cannot afford that type of expense. The good news is that it is possible to successfully represent yourself. At National Family Solutions, we strive to empower families to represent themselves so they can get the best possible outcomes for themselves and their children while saving money on legal fees. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind if you want to represent yourself during your divorce or child custody case.
Find Out Whether It Is a Good Idea
In most situations, it is possible to represent yourself well. In others, however, it will be beneficial to have a law expert on your side. For example, if you have been accused of child abuse or there is some other circumstance that is making your case particularly complicated, you might want to consult with an attorney. Also, if you have trouble meeting deadlines or you have nearly no spare time to devote to learning about your case, it is unlikely that you will be able to meet all of the obligations required when representing yourself.
In these types of cases, you could hire a private attorney or you could talk to someone at a legal resource group to see if they can help you. A group like National Family Solutions, for example, will be able to help you meet deadlines if that is your main issue. In other cases, they might refer you to a legal expert or some other type of professional to handle one or more facets of your case.
In general, if your divorce or child custody is uncomplicated, you would likely be fine representing yourself and your children, if applicable.
Learn Proper Courtroom Decorum
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and like it or not, the judge assigned to your case is going to have an impression of you as soon as the two of you meet. It is very important that you know how to conduct yourself properly in court.
First, always be on time. Plan to be 15 to 30 minutes early, in fact. This will help if you end up sitting in traffic, if you have to walk a distance from the parking garage, or if there is a long security line at the courtroom. If you have not been to the courtroom before, plan on allocating more time just in case you have a hard time finding it, you don’t know where to park, or other unanticipated issues come up.
Second, dress appropriately. You should wear professional, conservative clothing. Make sure your hair is neat and clean and out of your face. Women should be mindful of their necklines and hems to be sure they are conservative and modest. Men should take care that their facial hair, if any, is neatly trimmed. Men with long hair should tie it back. Anyone with unnatural hair colors might consider dyeing it a more natural color. Also, any tattoos should be covered. If you have tattoos on your face or neck, consider covering them with makeup. Wear appropriate shoes (no flip-flops, sneakers, or other unprofessional-looking footwear).
Always be respectful to everyone, including your ex. From the time you park your car until the time you get back into your car at the end of the day, be polite to everybody you encounter. You just might run into the judge while in the security line or in the restroom, and you don’t want to leave a bad impression. Address the judge as “Your Honor,” answer all questions he or she asks you, and never interrupt. Do not talk to the judge about the case outside of the courtroom if you do see him or her in the parking garage or elsewhere.
Prepare Yourself Properly
You are going to need to be organized in order to represent yourself well in court. Have your documents in order, fastened, and filed neatly in a folder or a box. Submit everything on time. If you are going to refer to events, be sure you have them documented neatly, with dates and times, where applicable. Be sure that your financial paperwork is in order before going to court. You will likely need to compile information about your bank accounts, debts, real estate owned, and other financial information, so have it ready to go.
Work With Your Ex When Feasible
Nobody wants to go to court to solve trivial matters that could just as easily been solved by the people involved on their own. It is normal to have some issues in the case that you cannot solve with your spouse, but it is counterproductive to fight over every item you’ve ever owned together. Begin by discussing how you will divide up shared possessions that neither of you feels strongly about or that only one of you feels strongly about. For example, if your grandparents handed down your silverware to you as a couple, it would be natural that you are more invested in the set than your ex is. At the same time, he or she might have something given to you as a couple from one of their family members that they want to keep.
As you get closer to discussing shared purchases that you both want, compromise is going to be the name of the game. You might want to call in a mediator or another neutral third party to work with you to keep negotiations fair and moving along. You can always table a discussion and move on to something else if emotions are getting too high. But remember that the more the two of you can decide on your own, the less you will need to argue about in court, should it come down to that.
Contact National Family Solutions today to find out if we can help you represent yourself in court for your divorce or child custody case.