Pro Se Litigation – Leveling the Playing Field

Whether you are pro se or are able to hire a lawyer, the degree to which you are able to achieve success in your divorce case depends entirely on your plan. Decide early on what issues are important to you, and figure out what you need to give up or show in order to have those issues decided in your favor. Be realistic in setting your expectations, but also be clear and concise about what you want. Lawyers often gain a reputation of being able to “game the system” because they know various tricks that non-lawyers don’t know, but often it comes down to having a clearer picture of what is important to his/her client and being able to effectively argue for those things. If you take the time to plan as thoroughly as you can, and you conduct yourself in a calm and respectful manner and keep a positive attitude, you will probably surprise yourself at how effective you really can be.

Pro Se Litigation – Coaching from Lawyers

If you don’t feel like you can afford a lawyer, you’re almost certainly not alone. But you should consider setting some money aside to get some coaching from a lawyer. An initial consultation can be very worthwhile, just to help you start planning your divorce. You should also consider buying an hour-long “coaching session” before you go to court for a hearing, so s/he can walk you through how to present your position most effectively to the judge who will be presiding over the hearing. And if your case does have to go to trial, lawyers can be good at teaching basic trial skills so you won’t be caught completely flat-footed in the courtroom.

Note there are often resources like these available at low or no cost. Law libraries often have “self help” centers that are staffed by lawyers. Local bar associations also sometimes have legal clinics “staffed” by volunteer lawyers. And there are legal aid options available in some cases, especially in major urban environments.

Pro Se Litigation – Using the Internet

This week we’re talking about resources available to you if you have to represent yourself in your divorce case. You’d be amazed what you can learn from doing internet searches. Google whatever question you might have about how to handle some aspect of your case, and you’ll probably be pointed in the right direction. The internet is also very useful in finding sample forms and letters for you to use for particular purposes, from pleadings and motions, to discovery requests, and even settlement demands.

One word of caution when relying on the internet for forms and such is to make sure whatever you’re doing is appropriate in your particular jurisdiction. I would recommend you start with some sort of primer or other overview of the law applicable in your specific state. Nolo.com and Findlaw.com are good examples of resources for this kind of general information.

Pro Se Litigation – Libraries

This week we’re talking about pro se litigation – i.e., representing yourself. Yesterday I suggested you can minimize disadvantages you may have by not having a lawyer if you believe in yourself. Today we’re going to talk a little more about what resources you do have.

Probably the first thing you should do is learn your way around the law library in your county or district. It is usually located at the courthouse. If you happen to live near a law school, the school will often have its own law library, though the courthouse library will generally have information more specific to your jurisdiction. Don’t underestimate your regular public library, either. And of course, no matter which kind of library you use, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the librarian to find what you need – that’s what s/he is there for.

Pro Se Litigation – Attitude is Important

What if you can’t afford an attorney and have to represent yourself (“pro se”)? Are you completely out of luck?

Odds are, you’re not alone. A quick Google search for “statistics pro se divorces” shows staggering rates of pro se representation in divorce and other family law cases, often more than 50% in many jurisdictions. The good news is, given the age we live in, there are many more resources available to pro se litigants than there used to be.

Cliched though it may sound, the one indispensable thing you have to have is a positive attitude. If you believe you can effectively present your case, you can learn to do so. Keep in mind, in all likelihood your case will end in a settlement, either at the mediation table or otherwise – not at trial. If your spouse has a lawyer and you do not, in the courtroom you are at a disadvantage, but outside the courtroom you are on more level footing with your spouse than you think.