When it comes to getting divorced, some people may consider representing themselves in Family Court instead of hiring a family lawyer to represent them. The main reason is usually to save money on legal fees, but in the long term, this can turn out to be a false economy.
Our family lawyers in Perth answer questions daily on the divorce process, and in this blog we’ll answer the question: “Can you represent yourself in Family Court?”
Can you represent yourself in Family Court?
The quick answer to that would be a straight “yes”.
Most people who choose to represent themselves in Court, do so because they either cannot afford a lawyer or feel that their case is simple enough to handle it themselves.
These days applying for divorce can even be done online and research* shows that 30-40 % of divorces in Australia involve at least one party representing themselves.
Should you represent yourself in Family Court?
This, of course, is the crucial question.
When one considers just how much is at stake here, it may be a good idea to at least obtain sound legal advice as to what your rights actually are, before attempting a DIY divorce.
The Family Court of Australia provides general information and various handbooks for people who choose to represent themselves. Although these DIY kits certainly help one to navigate through the court system, they are no substitute for personalised legal advice from a qualified divorce lawyer.
Unfortunately, the process is often not as simple as it first seems, and when children and the splitting of assets are involved, emotions are bound to creep in and then things can easily go horribly wrong, or drag out for years.
Can I hire a family lawyer after self-representing in Court?
Once again, the answer is “yes”, but bear in mind that if you do not get the outcome you were hoping for, when you were representing yourself in Court, it can be extremely difficult for a lawyer to then step in and successfully appeal the decisions already made by a Judge.
Tips for representing yourself in Family Court
Courts are formal places and everyone is expected to dress and behave accordingly.
Rule No 1 must surely be not to arrive late. Arrive at least 30 minutes early, to give yourself time to find the correct courtroom and to inform the court orderly of your arrival. Dress smartly and conservatively – no hats or sunglasses. We often say that people should dress as if they were going to a job interview – try to create a good impression! Children are not allowed in Courts, so arrange childcare well in advance. Nothing irritates a Judge more than a ringing mobile phone, so switch it off before entering.
Respect the Judge/Magistrate by standing and bowing when they enter or leave the room and always address them as “Your Honour”. Stand up when they are addressing you and listen carefully at what they are saying. Never interrupt them.
Ensure you are well prepared and have all your documents clearly marked. Speak clearly and calmly without raising your voice and avoid making emotional remarks or wild accusations, sticking only to the facts you have before you.
All this may sound easy, but it takes great character and strict discipline to remain calm, and not be intimidated, especially if your ex-partner’s lawyers start questioning you.
So before you decide whether you should represent yourself, ask yourself “are you really able to represent yourself in Family Court?”
If at any time you feel you just may not be up to all this, do not take that chance, but consider hiring a trusted family lawyer to represent you. There is so much at stake if you fail to get a favourable outcome.
Why you should hire a family lawyer instead of representing yourself
No matter how simple your case may seem, most people are not familiar with Family Court procedures and do not fully understand the complexities of the system. Lawyers on the other hand take the stress away from you, helping you to get the best, the quickest and fairest outcome.
They could possibly even avoid getting a costs order against you, for overlooking some seemingly insignificant point.
Fully qualified and experienced family lawyers have a full understanding of the legal system and will follow the correct procedure, filing the relevant documents and arguing the points most pertinent to your case, maximising your chances of obtaining a favourable outcome.
Self-representation in Family Court may save you some money in the short term, but it could also turn out completely disastrous.
Need more information about representing yourself in Family Court?
Information on representing yourself in Court is readily available on a number of websites.
Some useful links include: