If you read our
last post and decided that you want to represent yourself in your family law
case, or that you simply cannot afford any attorney to represent you, we have
put together our top 10 tips for representing yourself in family court as
about family court and your family court judge. You need to know that once a judge is assigned to your
case, you will have a very small window of time, under very specific
circumstances to change judges. If you go to court, argue your case and decide
you don’t like your judge, it will already be too late to change the judge.
It is best to learn as much as you can about your judge before you go to Court. Research your judge on the internet. Talk
to attorneys or friends or family that might know your judge and get their
opinions. You can, and probably should, even try to go to court ahead of your
hearing and watch your judge in action.
2. Learn the
laws and rules that apply to your case. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. If you choose to
represent yourself, you are still required to know and follow nearly all of the
same laws and court rules as an attorney. Understanding the law that applies to
your case can help you focus on what it is that you need to prove.
If you are
confused about the law or unsure of which laws apply to your case, you can
research the law on the internet, attend the Ask A Lawyer Program at the Family
Court which is offered through Legal Aid, or even consult an attorney and ask
questions. It is important to know that family court judges will not accept an
answer of “I wasn’t aware of that.” It is your job to learn if you are
3. Do not
give up without understanding the consequences. When representing yourself it is very tempting to simply
give up because you feel overwhelmed or unsure. Just as it is important to
understand the law that applies to your case, it is also important to
understand what could happen if you do nothing. Talking to a lawyer, even for a
consultation, could help avoid disaster if you do nothing.
4. Make sure
all your written submissions are complete, neat, and timely. The Self Help Center at Family Court offer fill in the
blank forms for individuals representing themselves in family court. Whether
you choose to use forms or write documents yourself, make sure your forms are
neatly filled out – judges will skip over sloppy writing or writing that drones
on and on over the same point. You want to make sure your documents are complete
and if you are using Self Help Center forms, make sure you provide all of the
required information in the correct blanks and check all the appropriate boxes.
It is also important to understand deadlines for submitting documents and it is
your responsibility to make sure your documents are timely filed.
5. Do not
bring your children to court. Children are not permitted and court. In fact, most court
rules preclude parents from even discussing their court case with the children.
Find a babysitter or someone else to watch your children for the day of your
court case. If a judge is interested in hearing what your children have to say,
the judge may order that the children speak with a social worker or other court
evaluator but only in very rare circumstances do the judges actually take
testimony or interview children directly.
all hearings and get to the courthouse early. Some people think that attending a hearing in family
court is a recommendation or suggest. Your family law hearing is not an
appointment and the judge will not reschedule your hearing unless there is an
extreme emergency. If you don’t show up to court date, you lose. It is that
your evidence and witnesses if required. It is important to distinguish between a status check,
motion hearing and trial. Usually evidence and witnesses will not be considered
by the judge unless your case is set for trial. If the judge sets your case for
trial or wants to hear from a particular witness or see a particular document,
it is your responsibility to make sure your witnesses and documents make it to
court in a timely, appropriate manner. The judge and the other side have no
obligation to get your witnesses to court or subpoena documents for you – it is
your job, when you represent yourself, to make sure these things are provided
to the court.
for an interpreter. If you do not speak English as a first language, it is
your responsibility to have a Court Certified Interpreter present for your
hearing. Interpreters must be arranged, and paid, in advance of your hearing.
Do not show up and expect the judge or the other side to find an interpreter
for you. It is also notable that family members and friends will not be allowed
to interpret for you.
Yourself Appropriately in the courtroom and dress accordingly. It never fails that folks show up to Court prepared to
argue their case as if it were a reality TV show. This behavior is not
appropriate for court and will not be tolerated by the judge. During your
hearing, it is important to listen to the judge and to the other side. Take
notes and only speak when it is your turn. Interrupting the judge or the other
side is rude and just wont be permitted. Likewise, arguing with the judge or
the other side is also a no-no in court and will not be tolerated.
In addition to your behavior, your dress will also be
taken into account by the judge. There is no dress code for court but you
should dress as if you are going to a job interview. Shorts and flip flops will
not be permitted in the courthouse and you might be precluded from your hearing
if you show up in shorts or flip flops. Also, you must take off your hat and/or
sunglasses before entering the courtroom.
10. Come to
court prepared and if you don’t understand something ask questions. You should be prepared to address the court when you
arrive. You should have notes to present your argument to the judge and you
should have any papers you want to show the judge readily available. Be brief
in your presentation and get to the point.
Sometimes it helps to think of what you want from the
judge (primary custody of children, child support, to stay in your home until
the divorce is final, etc.) and to make a list of those items first. Then
prepare a brief statement as to why you believe you are entitled to each one of
those things. This should form the outline for the argument you present to the
Judges sometimes forget that people representing
themselves don’t understand legal jargon. While it is your job to learn as much
of the terms and law as possible, if a judge uses a term you don’t understand
or says something you are unsure of, ask the judge to clarify it.
Judges usually understand that representing yourself in
court can be intimidating and emotional. If you don’t understand something,
ask. It is your responsibility to make sure that you leave the courtroom
understanding what happened and what, if anything, you need to do next.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with a family law case, call us today at (702) 433-2889 or fill out our online form for more information. We can help.