Representing yourself in a family law case is always an option but is it a good option? There are a few things you need to look at and a few questions you need to ask yourself (and answer honestly) to determine if you should hire a lawyer or represent yourself.
Does the other side have a lawyer?
If they have one then that's the first sign you should hire an attorney yourself. You are operating at an extreme disadvantage and decreasing your chances of a favorable result if you are going to try and match up against an attorney.
Can I devote the time necessary to my case?
While a contested family law case may only take 10-20 hours (or possibly less) for a lawyer to handle from beginning to end, if you are representing yourself that time will be dramatically increased. A reasonable estimate of the time it will take for you to prepare your case up through a final hearing is likely 5 to 10 times more than the lawyer would take. So, on an average, uncontested divorce you can expect to spend thirty or more hours as compared to five for an attorney.
If the case is contested then the hours needed will quickly eclipse that of an uncontested case. A hundred hours or more would not be an unusual amount of time to expect to spend preparing your case, the documents, and having the hearings.
Am I willing to spend a lot of time reading and learning the rules that will apply?
In a family law case the basic rules you need to know are the:
- Rules of Civil Procedure (aka the Rules of Trial in some states),
- the Rules of Evidence, and
- the Family Code
In addition, there may be specific issues on which you need to research and learn the case law. This reading along can take many, many hours but if you aren't willing to learn the rules then there is no need to try and play the game.
Can you keep your emotions in check and look at the case logically?
One big advantage a lawyer has over a person representing themselves is that the attorney is not emotionally involved in the case. This allows them to make choices and take positions which are beneficial to the case but which may not be the most palatable.
They can also look at what the other side does, the way the case plays out, and the rulings of the judge from an objective point of view and not get mad and then say or do things that harm their case or cause repercussions.
Are you capable of drafting the documents if there are no forms available?
One of the most common questions any lawyer hears from someone trying to represent themselves is: "Where can I find the form that (fill in the blank)?"
Simply put, if you can't find a form for yourself, then you don't need to be representing yourself.
Forms are great time savers and the internet has thousands of them available through professional form websites like this one and on forums and other websites. In addition, you can often get forms by looking at other, similar files stored at the clerk of courts office. However, many of them are absolutely incorrect/worthless and can cause you more problems than they solve.
Drafting the documents yourself is a much better idea and the statutes and case law tell you what has to be in the documents.
Are you willing to fit your schedule around the courts?
While lawyers can often get hearings scheduled, or not scheduled, on certain dates pro se litigants don't usually have that ability. That means if you, or the other side, requests a hearing you need to be able to attend on that date. Getting a hearing rescheduled often means having to have another hearing on just that issue.
Can you accept the loss if it happens?
Any time you are involved in a case there is a chance you will lose. However, those chances increase if you represent yourself and many people would have a problem accepting the loss, on an emotional level, if it occurred because they weren't up to the task of handling their own case and didn't realize it. Family Law cases, in particular, have a lot of emotions involved anyway.
Of course, there are a lot of other factors to consider but these are the first ones for you to look at and evaluate honestly in determining whether you should represent yourself (known as pro se or pro per) in a Family Law case.