If you are in the midst of a divorce case, a custody battle, or any other family-related lawsuit, you might not know where to turn if you cannot afford a lawyer. The good news is that in most cases, you can actually represent yourself. Don’t think that you can just show up at court on your appointed day and win your case, however; there are some steps you’ll need to take to be sure that you are going about it the right way. Read on for tips on representing yourself in court.
Do Your Homework When Representing Yourself In Court
Just as you wouldn’t show up to a business meeting without any background information on what to expect, you should not neglect to do some research and find out what will happen in court. Knowing what to expect will not only help you get all of the information for your case in order but it will also keep you calm and able to make rational decisions when representing yourself in court.
Find a legal resource center in your area. This is a group of attorneys and other legal professionals who can help you learn about the types of paperwork you need, how to go about representing yourself in court, and what you can expect. You can also go to the court and watch a few cases so you understand how your court case will likely proceed.
Be Sure You Have Your Paperwork in Order
A divorce or custody case requires a lot of paperwork. All of it needs to be complete, in order, and accurate when representing yourself in court or else you might have to go back to court after your hearing date. Find out what types of paperwork you will need depending on the type of case you have. Check with your family law assistance group and also with the clerk of the court. Many times, specific templates are needed, so don’t print something off of the Internet without being sure that it’s the correct form for your state or district.
Dress Appropriately for Court
You only get one chance to make a good first impression with the judge, so it’s important to dress and present yourself appropriately when representing yourself in court. First, choose an outfit that is conservative and appropriate to wear to a business meeting. For women, this might be a skirt (no more than two inches above the knee) or pants and a blouse, sweater, or neat knit top. For men, this will generally be a pair of dress slacks and a button-down shirt with a tie. Pay attention to your shoes; they should be dress shoes that are clean, in good condition, and don’t call attention to themselves.
Consider covering tattoos that might attract undue attention when representing yourself in court. Don’t wear anything that promotes a political party or social organization; if you have a judge who is of the opposite political persuasion, this could cause a bad impression. If you have hair that is an unnatural color, consider dying it a more natural color. Don’t cover it with a hat, though; those are not appropriate for the courtroom unless it is required by your religion.
Show Respect to Everyone in the Courtroom
During your hearing or case, be sure to speak respectfully to everyone in the courtroom. Yes, this includes your ex-spouse or your child’s other parent. Speak loudly enough to be heard but do not shout or become emotional when representing yourself in court. Having some experience having watched other cases will give you a good idea as to how you should conduct yourself. Refer to the judge as “your honor,” do not speak out of turn, and do not gesture, sigh loudly, or otherwise attract attention to yourself when you are not speaking.
Accept the Judgment
Whether or not the case goes the way you would have liked it to, do not react emotionally to the judgment when representing yourself in court. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, you might be able to appeal later, but now is not the time to argue with the judge or to try to present more evidence. Follow the court orders given; if you try to do something other than what you’ve been told to do, you could be held in contempt of court and fined or even sentenced to some time in jail. If you disagree with the verdict, talk to your legal resource group about taking it back to court at a later time.
Learning how to go about representing yourself in court might seem overwhelming, but it’s something that will give you a lot of confidence in the future should you need to go back to court. You’ll learn how to the court system works and how cases like your case get settled or judged. You’ll save money by not hiring a private attorney to represent you. Consider representing yourself and then look for the resources and information you need to make your best case.