If you have to attend family court in the near future, you might be wondering – can I represent myself? The short answer to the question is yes.
Family court allows self-represented litigants. However, in the vast majority of cases, representing yourself is not advisable. There is usually a lot at stake in family court cases, be it a divorce settlement, child custody or a financial settlement.
By representing yourself, you risk not giving yourself the best possible chance to achieve the outcome that you want.
Why people represent themselves in Family Court
The vast majority of self represented litigants choose to forego hiring a lawyer for three reasons:
- They cannot afford a lawyer.
- They can afford a lawyer but believe the fees are too high.
- They believe that they can represent themselves competently and do not need a lawyer.
Reasons two and three are understandable. Nobody wants to spend money they don’t need to – especially if they think they can do a job themselves. However, because of the risks of representing oneself in family court, any short term savings are often outweighed by long-term consequences.
The risk of representing yourself in family court
The law is complex and so are the rules and conventions governing conduct in court. Without a detailed working knowledge of both, it’s very difficult to successfully present the facts of your case in the correct way.
You may also not know how to conduct yourself in court or be aware of which law or rule applies in your specific situation.
Unfortunately, as a result of this, self represented litigants are often disappointed when they do not achieve a desirable result.
Does representing yourself in family court save you money?
While self representation can save you money in the short term, it can cost you more in other ways.
While each party is usually required to bear their own costs, the court may make an order for costs against one party in certain circumstances. This may occur if, for example, one party to the proceedings conducted themselves poorly.
The rules of the court and legislation that governs the conduct of parties can be complex and confusing to anyone who’s not experienced. Even the most competent self-represented litigant may find themselves making mistakes that could compromise their case, waste the court’s time and ultimately cost them more money than hiring a lawyer might have.
How to prepare for family court in Australia
If you are going to represent yourself, the Family Court recommends the following:
- Make sure you’re fully prepared to present your case. Do as much research as possible and have all your documents clearly organised beforehand. File all necessary documents with the court on time.
- Wear formal clothing.
- Arrive at least 30 minutes early to give yourself plenty of time.
- Turn off electronic equipment & remove hats and sunglasses before entering.
- Check the Family Court website to make sure you know what to do when your case is called, when orders are and that you know how to speak to the judicial officer.
Hiring a family lawyer
While it’s possible to represent yourself, the Family Court recommends seeking legal advice.
A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and explain how the law applies to your circumstances. A good family lawyer can also ensure that you don’t need to spend unnecessary time or expense with the court process, and appear on your behalf at interim hearings, conciliation conferences, final hearings and appeals.
Get in touch with Testart Family Lawyers Melbourne to talk about how we can help you.