Potential Hurdles When Self-Representing in Family Law

Although it may seem like a self-serving position to take, the benefits of self-representing are few and the risks and disadvantages are many.  For those who are contemplating whether or not to take on the advocate’s role in their own Family Law dispute, there are a few things you may want to think about first.

The increase in the number of litigants who appear without a legal representation can pose special challenges growing concern for the justice system – especially for busy trial judges.  It goes without saying that both sides are entitled to a fair trial, and although leeway is allowed for a self-represented party, there is a line to be drawn.

Courts are mindful of the degree of understanding which should be appropriately extended to such parties.  However, courts must also balance the issues of fairness and be mindful of all individuals involved.  A sense of fairness and understanding granted to unrepresented parties shall never be permitted to override the rights of a party represented by a lawyer, or to extend to the degree where courts do not give effect to the existing law.

Since family cases tend to be complex, and their outcomes have a profound effect on not only the parties, but any children involved.  This makes any decision to proceed without competent legal representation in a Family Law matter serious and should only be made after carefully evaluating all of the considerations and possible ramifications.

There is a costly truth about self-representing which is why the first recommendation that a Family Law lawyer will make to anyone who is involved in a Family Law dispute is that they retain a competent and experience Family Law lawyer to represent them.  When couples choose the route of self-representation, both parties often find themselves making mistakes due to a lack of experience with the legal system and process.  This can lead to wasted time and ultimately the expenses of initial hearings, a later motion to vary and then an appeal. All of that to save a buck or two in hiring a lawyer in the first place.

While I never intend to deliberately harp on the perils involved with Family Law litigants who choose to represent themselves in court, there has been a recent outbreak of cases that really illustrate the risks involved – and not all of them come from the Family Law dockets.

As a Family Law lawyer, I am well-aware of the common criticism by those involved in family disputes and litigation – hiring a lawyer is expensive.  The spectrum of self-represented litigants is quite large and can vary greatly in terms of the litigants’ preparedness, familiarity with court processes and individual objectives.  And for the most part, the decision to try to avoid hiring a lawyer is usually cost- driven, rather than ideologically motivated.