Pro Se Representation
I often talk to parents about whether to proceed pro se with their child custody matters. In general, I recommend that parents proceed with caution when it comes to filing for child custody or child support pro se. The following questions can help you decide whether filing pro se is right for you:
Will the other parent be represented by counsel?
Although the justice system permits parents to represent themselves, I often advise parents to reconsider self-representation if the other parent will be represented by counsel. Parents represented by counsel could be in a more advantageous position. An attorney who understands family law will have specific knowledge that a lay person may lack.
Can you afford a private attorney?
Each parent is aware of his/her own, unique financial position and resources. Some parents borrow money for an attorney, while others may possess significant savings. Divorced parents are often fortunate enough to have legal expenses covered by a former spouse, written directly into a divorce decree. If parents are of modest means, pro se representation might be a great alternative to private counsel.
Do you have a basic understanding of court procedures?
Court procedure can be quite confusing. Parents, considering pro se representation, will benefit from attending a couple of court hearings to become familiar with court procedures and proper etiquette. Any and all questions about proper court procedures can always be addressed to a friendly court clerk.
Do you have a basic understanding of court documents?
Mounds of documents can be very intimidating to a lot of people, legal officials included. Parents, considering pro se representation, should become familiar with family law documents. Parents may benefit by attending a court hearing and by becoming friendly with the courtroom personnel (i.e. court clerks).
Parents proceeding pro se should:
- Take great notes
- Listen very carefully
- Respond respectfully to the judge and opposing counsel/defendant
- Have basic knowledge of state child custody laws
- Check with an attorney in their state to determine how best to proceed
- Visit a court proceeding in advance to get a feel for court procedures
- Enter into all agreements freely or voluntarily
It is difficult to determine whether or not to represent yourself in custody and support proceedings. Parents should give careful consideration to the factors mentioned above. Additionally, parents should speak to a competent attorney in their state. An attorney will help a parent decide whether or not self-representation is a good decision, based on the parent's individual needs.