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Should You Represent Yourself in Family Court?

Statistics from Justice Canada show that the number of people who represent themselves in court for family law cases has increased dramatically, particularly in the last 5 years. It is estimated that 50 – 80% of people do not have legal representation, which is concerning for many in the legal community especially in cases involving child custody, access and child support. Cases involving at least one self-representing individual tend to take longer to resolve, contributing to the growing backlog in the family court system.

Self-representing people don’t always choose to do so but may feel they have no other options because they do not have access to legal aid or the financial resources to hire a lawyer. Others believe that self-representing in a divorce case will save money. However, there are plenty of reasons why representing yourself is a risky choice. 

Risk of Saying or Doing the Wrong Thing

Preparing for a court case requires extensive preparation and understanding of the system. Even if you are well prepared and have a logical argument planned, it is easy to become emotional. You may end up resorting to a defensive argument rather than sticking to rational and objective facts. Without any experience in such situations, many self-representing people end up saying things that are either incriminating or easily used against them by the other side. 

Knowing the Rules and the Process

Before deciding to represent yourself in a divorce case, you need to know all of the steps involved and be aware of any deadlines or mandatory filings required by the court. If you miss a deadline or overlook a step, it could mean delays or even cost you the opportunity to reach the settlement you want. It can be very challenging for a person without legal knowledge and experience in the process to ensure that they are well prepared before going to court.  

No One is Going to Go Easy

Unfortunately, you can’t expect any special treatment in the courtroom when you decide to represent yourself. The court staff and the judge will try as much as they can to assist you but,  it is their job to remain impartial and consider the arguments as made by both sides regardless of who presents them. Preventing bias from seeping into your argument, and overcoming the perception of bias can be a significant challenge for self-representing people arguing a divorce case. 

What are your expectations?

Before you head to the courtroom, think about your expectations for the outcome of the case. Are they realistic? Judges base their decisions on the law and the facts that are presented to them during the course of the hearing. So, getting what you believe is a fair settlement may be more difficult than you think, especially if your expectations are unrealistic.  

Think About Alternatives

Preparing for and arguing a divorce case in court requires extensive legal knowledge and skills. If you are considering representing yourself, find out more about the options available to you for divorce mediation or family mediation first. Mediation is a guided process that is generally faster and more affordable than cases argued in court. 

Typically, mediation results in a more satisfactory settlement for both sides and agreements that are more likely to be adhered to over time. With mediation, you’ll be able to settle your separation or divorce long before the first available court date in the backlogged family court system. 

You’ll save yourself the time and energy it takes to learn the ins and outs of the court process and won’t risk making any costly mistakes or omissions.  

Kelly D. Jordan is a family divorce lawyer and mediator in Toronto and is an advocate for family law mediation as an alternative to arguing family law matters in court. Call or request a consultation online to get started and find out the many benefits of family mediation and divorce mediation.