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Why You Should Use Caution Before Completing Self-Help Paperwork and Representing Yourself

Why You Should Use Caution Before Completing Self-Help Paperwork and Representing Yourself

representing yourself in family court

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a client come in for a consultation who tells me that they represented themselves in Court by filling out the self-help paperwork available online and now there is a problem. Sometimes the problems are easy to resolve. I can revise their documents and resubmit the paperwork so that the initial error is corrected. However, I have had a number of clients who tried to initially save themselves money by doing the paperwork themselves, and then have had to spend thousands of dollars to remedy the situation – in many cases it would have been cheaper to hire an attorney initially to get the job done correctly.

The following is a list of the common mistakes I see with people representing themselves and preparing their own paperwork:

  1. Child Support. There are many gray areas of the law in family law. However, child support is actually one of the more black and white areas. The child support calculation must be followed and both parents gross monthly incomes must be disclosed to the Court. If the child support payment is not correctly calculated or the parents decide to voluntarily change the support amount, the frequently the Court will reject the paperwork. Child support can only be deviated for specific reasons set forth in a statute.
  2. Failing to file a Request for Submission. Whenever a litigant files a Motion with the Court requesting some sort of relief, the opposing party has 10 days to file an Opposition. After the Opposition is filed the filing party must file a Reply brief (reply to the Opposition) and a Request for Submission. If a Request for Submission is not filed, then the Motion is never sent to the judge to review. It just sits there. I have had clients who think that their Motion was reviewed by the judge and they think that since nothing happened the relief their requested was granted. This is not the case. Nothing about any previously entered orders can be changed without a court order. So if you have filed a Motion and have not received an order after several months, confirm that you filed a Request for Submission.
  3. Not receiving all filed documents. Most attorneys in Reno belong to Eflex, which is an online program through the Court that allows us to file documents electronically. We also receive notice via email every time something is filed in one of our cases. Even in rural counties, without online filing services, an attorney is better equipped to manage the filings and will know if something hasn’t been filed that should have been. At Berkich Family Law, each of our cases has a checklist. On a weekly basis we review our checklist to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks and that all the documents we expect to receive or need to file with the Court are indeed received or filed. If you represent yourself and don’t receive a filing, a default could be entered against you. If an opposing party files a Motion against you that you don’t receive, the Court could issue an order granting the entire Motion without hearing from you. If either of these circumstances occur, it is usually expensive and time consuming to unwind the clock in the Court and have these defaults set aside.
  4. Not understanding the process and decorum. People who represent themselves and are not attorneys frequently just don’t get it. They don’t understand how and what needs to be filed with the Court and they don’t understand the judge’s preferences. This lack of understanding can result missed deadlines and annoying the judge, who is the last person you want to be annoyed with you. Here’s what I think judges find most annoying (*fine print*: I am not a judge, but I clerked for one and, frankly, some of this is just common sense):
    • Don’t file serial motions and other documents.
    • Don’t file a motion with hundreds of pages of text messages as exhibits.
    • Don’t file a motion with lots of little, petty allegations; focus on the big ones.
    • Don’t interrupt the judge when he or she is talking.
    • Don’t lose your temper with the judge.

Before you decide to represent yourself in Court; and before filling out the self-help paperwork available online… Invest a small amount of money and call an attorney for a quick consultation, to make sure that you are following protocol to a T, so judges can proceed with your case and not be interrupted with possible issues that come up due to mistakes in paperwork and due process. By reviewing the common issues that arise when people represent themselves in Court, you can be one step ahead of the rest of those who also want to represent themselves but don’t do nearly enough homework.