I represent myself in family court: why does the judge ignore my evidence?

If I go into a custody hearing representing myself, how come the judge will not look at any of my evidence or even give me the chance to talk?

It’s due to at least one of the two following things:

Number 1 (and most likely): the “evidence” that you believe is important or that the court needs to see is either not admissible (because you filed it incorrectly or filed it late) or it is not relevant. Relevance is defined as follows:

Utah Rules of Evidence, Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence. Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

When the judge rejects irrelevant stories and irrelevant documents and photographs, pro se litigants (“pro se” and “pro per” are terms for people who represent themselves without an attorney in legal proceedings) they think the court is “not listening to” or “not looking at” evidence when in fact the court is listening and considering the evidence but then rejecting it—and properly rejecting it—as irrelevant.

Additionally, the rules that govern the practice of law can be quite technical. And frankly, what many people believe to be relevant evidence is anything but. People who are not lawyers who go to court to argue their own cases usually end up wanting the court to hear and review stuff that isn’t very helpful to the court in its efforts to learn the facts and decide which party should win or lose.

Another problem with pro se litigants is their ignorance of laws and legal procedures. They don’t understand the procedures for making oral arguments in court, they don’t know how to make proper objections, they often end up filing the wrong documents, forget to file necessary documents, miss deadlines, etc. So if you’re going to try to represent yourself in court, make sure you have at least a solid rudimentary understanding of court rules and the rules of evidence. If you don’t get such a basic understanding under your belt before you go to court, you’d likely be much much better off hiring an attorney to assist and represent you.

Number 2 (and this shouldn’t happen, but it does happen far more often than you’d think): the court simply doesn’t like you, doesn’t take you seriously, has it in for you because you are a pro se litigant. Why?

(Now the next few words of mine that you’re about to read are not meant to offend you, they are simply meant to share with you some hard and unfortunate truths.)

First, the majority of pro se litigants are usually among the least intelligent of litigants. Pro se litigants are often poor and are often poor because they are not very intelligent and/or in many cases mentally ill. In fairness to our judges, it doesn’t take long for them to learn this for themselves. And thus, after many years on the bench, when they pick up a case file that involves at least one pro se litigant, most of these poor judges groan inwardly, and with good reason. Odds are that this is going to be a tough case because these pro se litigants don’t know the rules and don’t know the law which inevitably leads to procedural chaos, silly and long-winded arguments, and a lot of wasted time and wasted judicial resources. Dealing with these kinds of pro se litigants makes the job of being a judge miserable.

Second, there are many judges who take offense at the fact that someone would dare try to represent himself or herself without a lawyer. “It’s as though these pro se litigants think that they are just as good as those of us who went to college and law school without having to make the sacrifices those of us in the legal profession made.” It’s this way in a lot of other jobs and professions. Someone who can pick up the guitar and play like a master naturally is often envied and resented by those who have worked so hard to reach the same level. That’s not fair, but it is human nature, and there are a lot of judges who let this weakness cloud their impartiality and their judgment.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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