If you are going through a divorce, custody case, conservatorship case, or some other type of family law situation, you might be concerned and worried about your representation. Did you know that in most of these cases, you can support yourself? In fact, many times, it’s highly beneficial to do so. Read on to learn more about why you might consider representing yourself, tips on doing so successfully, and some reasons that representing yourself might not be best in your particular case.
Why Represent Yourself?
In most uncomplicated issues and in some complicated issues, you can probably represent yourself well in court. This is particularly true if you are able to take time off of work during the day to go to court, if you express yourself well in writing and orally, if you are comfortable doing some research, and if you are confident in your ability to stay calm under pressure.
There are several advantages to deciding to represent yourself in your family law case. Here are some of them:
- Cost. If your budget is an issue, representing yourself is going to be your most economical solution. Hiring a legal resource group to help you represent yourself will cost a fraction of an attorney’s fees. Remember that hiring an attorney generally means that you will pay by the hour, and hourly fees can be well into the triple digits.
- Less adversarial. Family court cases are generally taken up against people that you know well. If a situation gets to the point where court is involved, agreeing to represent yourselves is a less aggressive option than having each side hire their own attorney. Remember that you might be sharing holiday meals with these people in the future. Any way that you can diffuse the situation and work amongst yourselves within the court system can pay off in relational dividends later.
- Satisfaction. Representing yourself allows you to become intimately involved with the courtroom processes. You will understand what goes on behind the scenes during a family law case. You also will be able to make your own decisions without an attorney trying to talk you into agreeing to something that you aren’t sure is right for you. You will own the process of your case, so to speak. This means, of course, that you will also own the outcome of your case, which could be positive or negative, depending on how it turns out.
Tips on Representing Yourself Well
A legal resource group like National Family Solutions will be able to give you lots of tips on how to represent yourself well in family court. Here are some to keep in mind:
- Educate yourself. Know how to find good sources for your questions and research the laws pertaining to your case well. Know that the law is different in each state and that it can also differ by city in some circumstances, so be sure to base your knowledge on what is legal in your own local area, not in a generic area of the country.
- Meet all of your deadlines with accurate information. There will be deadlines on various documents that you will receive. You might need to submit financial information or other types of information. Do not skip out on accuracy or timeliness! If you hire an attorney, they will make sure that these deadlines are met; if you are representing yourself, you will need to do that yourself. Missing a deadline could mean that the case will be settled not in your favor.
- Show up early for your hearings. If you are scheduled to go to a hearing, make sure you are early. Remember that you will need to park your car and you might need to walk a few blocks from the parking lot. You will also likely need to go through security and at certain times of the day, the security line might be long. You can call ahead to find out how long security should take, but always allow for extra time. This will also keep you calmer, as you won’t be running in with only seconds to spare.
- Use proper courtroom decorum. Dress neatly and appropriately for court. Address the judge as “Your Honor” and never interrupt or speak out of turn. Don’t chew gum or use your cellphone. In addition, you should have any evidence or documentation neatly stored and accessible in case you need to present it.
When Shouldn’t You Represent Yourself?
While self-representation is often the most economical and empowering option, there are some cases that might be better represented by an attorney. If you are in a case where the opposing party has hired an aggressive attorney and you know that the other person will not be willing to compromise at all, self-representation might be ill-advised.
If you have a strong temper or you are not able to manage your strong emotions, an attorney might be better at conveying your case. Keep in mind that there is a certain decorum that is expected in the courtroom and that you could not only damage your case with poor behavior but also end up being held for contempt of court in some instances. Be sure that you are emotionally able to handle staying calm at your hearings and in the courtroom.
Finally, if your case is particularly complicated, you might benefit from private counsel. Remember that you can get advice from an attorney and then still go on to represent yourself once your questions are answered. If you do that, you will only need to pay for the time that you hired the attorney for. Make sure you understand all fees in advance.
National Family Solutions can work with you to determine if you are a good candidate to represent yourself. Contact us to learn more about what types of cases we can help with as well as whether your case is something that you could realistically manage on your own. We help with all different types of family law cases and we would be happy to see if we can help you represent yourself, saving you money, time, and energy.