When you hear about high-profile child custody cases, what you usually hear are quotes from the lawyers involved on either side. And when you see child custody cases represented on television or in movies, the lawyers are usually featured prominently. This can all give you the impression that child custody cases are always handled by lawyers. But the reality is that many people represent themselves in family court, including in cases involving child custody and visitation. The cases that make the news or are represented in popular media are often very complex and contentious cases, and in those cases, it does make sense for the parents to hire attorneys to represent their interests. But the typical child custody case is not necessarily that complex or that contentious, and representing yourself may be the smart choice. Take a look at some of the reasons why you might want to represent yourself in a child custody case.
You and Your Child’s Other Parent Mostly Agree
Often, parents who are deciding custody have a pretty good idea of who their children are going to live with and what kind of visitation with the other parent would be reasonable. If this sounds like the kind of scenario that you’re in, you may not need an attorney to represent you as you sort out custody.
Generally speaking, if you and your child’s other parent agree on a living situation and visitation schedule, the two of you can simply submit your parenting plan to the court and the judge will approve it. If your relationship is fairly civil, you may be able to sit down together and write out a parenting plan that works for both of you without any help from third parties. Many divorcing parents are able to handle custody planning in this way.
Even if you don’t agree on everything, or if there is some tension between you, you may be able to work it out without hiring attorneys. One way to do that is with mediation, which is when you and your child’s other parent sit down with an impartial third party whose job is to help you work out your areas of disagreement in a neutral space.
If you still have small areas of disagreement, you can submit a parenting plan to the court with the areas that you agree upon spelled out, along with your arguments for the points that you disagree on, and simply let the judge make the decision that they believe is in the best interests of the child.
You’re Comfortable Handling Legal Documents and Speaking in Court
Representing yourself in family court means that you’ll need to be able to identify the documents that you need, know how to fill them out and when they’re due, and understand how to submit them to the court. It also means that you’ll need to be able to speak for yourself when you go to court since you won’t have an attorney to speak for you.
This can definitely be an intimidating prospect, but the truth is that many people really are capable of doing these things for themselves. Some parents really do face serious hurdles – learning disabilities and language barriers, for example, might make the prospect of representing oneself in family court seem even more impossible, and some parents really might need a legal advocate to do these things if the parents can’t handle them on their own.
However, there are resources that parents can use to help them more effectively represent themselves, and sometimes these resources are a better and more affordable option than hiring an attorney. For example, the court clerk can be a helpful resource when it comes to helping you figure out which forms you need and how to submit them. Much of the information you need might be on the court clerk’s website.
There are also legal resource groups that provide services that can help parents who can’t or don’t want to hire an attorney. These groups help parents find the documents they need, do legal research pertaining to their cases, prepare, organize, and store documents, and even prepare testimony for court. This can be a cost-effective and efficient way to get the legal information you need in order to represent yourself in family court.
You Can’t Afford An Attorney
Like it or not, the decision about whether or not to hire an attorney to represent you in a child custody case often boils down to whether or not you can afford an attorney. Many parents simply can’t. A divorce or separation already means maintaining and paying for one household instead of two, which can be expensive, and there are other costs that increase during this time in your life as well.
However, if neither parent can afford an attorney, then both of you have an incentive to work together as much as possible to come up with a reasonable custody arrangement and parenting plan. Keep in mind that for custody cases in family court, the guiding principle is the best interests of the child, and in most situations, experts believe that the best interests of the child involve both parents having roughly equal time with the child and input on parenting decisions. Even a very expensive, highly respected lawyer probably won’t be able to convince the court to give one parent sole custody and cut the other parent off if both parents are fit and can provide a safe environment for the child, for example.
This means that not being able to afford an attorney isn’t necessarily the detriment to your case that it would be in a different type of legal matter. If you can’t afford an attorney – or even if you just have other priorities for your money – you can work out a fair custody agreement without one if you have the right preparation and resources.
National Family Solutions is a legal resource group that can help you prepare to represent yourself in a child custody case. This can give you a convenient and affordable way to get a fair child custody arrangement that’s in the best interests of your child without needing to hire a lawyer.