For those seeking an affordable divorce option, self-representation is an available alternative in California courts.
This can be intimidating, but California is one of the most “pro per” friendly states in that the courts take public access to justice seriously, offering an online self-help center, and even providing court-based help. If you do plan to go it alone, there are a few tips that you should remember to help you achieve the best possible result from the court.
Before stepping foot in a courtroom, do your research. Review the California statutes and laws associated with your case and visit your county court system’s website for necessary forms and manuals. The more informed you are, the more prepared you will be to argue your case, and this preparation will be evident to the judge.
If you are overwhelmed about where to begin, it might be worth it to speak to a lawyer and get a consultation about your case. Sometimes lawyers offer free consultations, or you can pay a few hundred dollars and get some good advice. Even if you do not plan on having someone else represent you in court, there are attorneys who allow clients to pay for specific legal services or advice in a limited scope without being hired for full legal representation. This allows you to have important files reviewed and prepared by a legal professional and receive guidance while still representing yourself in court.
Flat-fee attorneys are also a good option for someone who wants the security of an attorney’s expertise without going bankrupt to get it. These attorneys offer limited representation, such as appearing for you only in some hearings, or simply coaching you in advance. This can be particularly useful if you know you are going into a contested hearing where evidence and testimony will be given. The rules of evidence can be quite complex, so having an attorney guide you through this process can give you a lot more confidence than you might have if you decide to proceed alone.
Researching your case and being aware of court procedures are the first steps in preparing for your day in court. But preparation doesn’t end there. Stay organized and have anything you could possibly need to prove your case available for court. Make sure you have copies of:
Everything you filed with the court;
Everything the other side served you with; and
Everything you have not served, but want to use in court. This includes anything that can be used as evidence to argue your case, such as pictures or documents which should be properly labeled.
You should always have a fresh copy for yourself, opposing counsel, the judge, and if you will call any witnesses that will be relying on any documents, make copies of these as well. Getting documents into evidence is one of the trickiest parts of pro per representation. Looking up ‘California Objection Cheat Sheets’ online can give you a quick and dirty run down of some basic objections, as well as pointers on how to properly authenticate a document and get it into evidence.
It is also helpful to visit the court house before your hearing so you can get an idea of what to expect. Drive to the courthouse at the time the hearing would be to see how bad traffic is so you can time it properly. Parking can be difficult, particularly in large, metropolitan areas. Use this day to find out if you need cash to park, where exactly the garage is, and if the lots get full quickly. Preparing for this beforehand can make your day in court go much more smoothly and avoid a lot of unnecessary stress.
Judges are ‘judging’ you from the moment they take the bench. If your cell phone rings, you are loud or inappropriate, or chewing gum, the judge will take note. Above all else, you must behave with the decorum that a courtroom demands. Family law cases are inherently emotional – they deal with the two most important things to people: their children and their money. It can be easy to get swept up in the emotion, and start arguing with opposing counsel, the judge, even the bailiff. It goes without saying how detrimental this can be to your case. Stick only to what is relevant and factual. A court hearing is not the chance for an ‘airing of the grievances.’
Never argue with the judge or interrupt. Always use “Ma’am,” “Sir,” or “Your Honor.” Be assertive in wanting to be heard during the case but never rude – a safe phrase to use is always, “Your Honor, may I please respond?” If you are polite, respectful and present your case in an efficient way that does not waste the court’s time, this can go a long way in leaving the court with a good impression.
Shoreline Legal Group Serving Long Beach, Ca
At Shoreline Legal Group we are a modern law firm offering practical, affordable solutions for your particular needs. Our firm is founded on the principle that all people deserve access to justice. We make attorney services affordable by “unbundling” our legal services into manageable steps priced at a fixed fee. Serving Long Beach, Cerritos, Santa Ana, and Orange, CA as well as surrounding areas.