Despite what you may have heard, it is possible to represent yourself in Family Court, provided you are well-equipped to do so. This means being organized, doing your research, and being armed with all the information you can get your hands on before going to court. Here are some helpful tips for self-represented litigants in the Family Law Courts:
- Your spouse’s lawyer cannot give you legal advice. In some cases, your spouse’s lawyer may advise you about procedural steps to be taken, but be wary of any advice you receive directly or indirectly relating to the substantive issues of your case. Remember that your spouse’s lawyer is acting in your spouse’s best interest, and not yours.
- Communicate with your spouse’s lawyer in writing. You may wish to send a letter to your spouse’s lawyer stating that you will only communicate via written letter or email. This is the best way to avoid the miscommunications that can occur with verbal negotiations. Be sure to keep copies of all communications for your files.
- Be professional and respectful. Maintaining a civil relationship with your spouse’s lawyer will help the process move more smoothly and quickly. Furthermore, your spouse’s lawyer is required by the Law Society’s Professional Rules of Conduct to treat you with respect. If you feel you are being treated unfairly or taken advantage of by your spouse’s lawyer, you may wish to consider contacting the Law Society to seek further guidance or file a complaint.
- Be organized. Find out how and when your documents must be filed. Confirm any tips you receive from your spouse’s lawyer about filing deadlines.
- Be aware of cost implications. If your spouse is successful in court, you may be ordered to pay a portion of your spouse’s legal costs. This can be quite significant depending on the complexity of your case. In some cases, self-represented litigants have been ordered to pay costs to represented litigants where his/her conduct has caused unnecessary delays, regardless of success.
Robert Berman B.C.L, LL.B
Founder & Family Lawyer