Tag: pro se

People Who Are Getting an Extremely-Contested Divorce W/O Paying for Lawyers, Need Step-By-Step Directions in Their State! If There Were Uncontested Divorces, There Would Be No Divorces at All, Because Both Partners Would Be Getting Along Perfectly?

Sure, they need that. It is a great idea.

Where there is a demand to be filled, markets arise to fill them.

It would be a great benefit to people going through an highly contested divorce to have free step-by-step directions, so that they would not have to pay for a lawyer’s help and representation as they navigate the divorce process, but for such things to exist requires someone to do an incredible amount of work (more than you’d think), and few people can or want to do that much work free of charge. Which is why such a thing does not really exist.

Cheesy/sleazy divorce lawyers will put this quotation attributed to Willie Nelson on their office walls and websites, but that makes it no less true for most people: “You know why divorces are so expensive? They are worth it.”

There are many self-help resources for people who want to go through the divorce process pro se (that means unrepresented by an attorney; also known as pro per), but none of them (at least none that I know of) can produce results of the same accuracy, completeness, and high quality that a good (a good) lawyer can. That is the hard truth.

Frankly, some people can file for and obtain a fair decree of divorce without an attorney’s help, but few have that ability (few have the guts, the time, the smarts, the physical, mental, and emotional stamina, and the patience to represent themselves successfully), and the more complex the case is, the harder it is for one to process such a case to a successful completion.  That is the hard truth too.

It is not that getting a divorce is all that hard procedurally, it is just that to those who do not know what they are doing, it can be intimidating at best and prone to committing ignorant errors that can be irreparable. If one has time on one’s hands and a cooperative spouse, they could pull off a reasonable and fair DIY divorce, but such circumstances in divorce are extraordinarily rare.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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CPS Has Encouraged Parental Alienation Before My Parental Rights Have Been Taken, My Public Defender Has Not Been Representing Me the Way He Was Supposed to Be, but I Didn’t Know Until Now. What Can I Do?

There are plenty of things you can do (plenty of activity in which you can engage), but whether any of it will do any good is the question. The answer is usually: not likely. When child protective services (CPS) is working against you, then usually law enforcement and the courts follow suit, whether you’re “guilty” or not. If you have a public defender, then you’re poor, and while there is no shame simply in being poor, it limits your options in a fight like this.

All that stated, you need to fight with all you have for what’s right, or the regret and wondering “what might have been?” will surely torment you the rest of your life. You already know the outcome if you give up.

Now, pick your battles. Don’t run faster than you have strength, and don’t engage in “ends justify the means” tactics, but fight the good fight, so that if, some day, you confront your child who asks, “Did you try your best for me, Mom/Dad?,” you can answer in the affirmative.

Sometimes doing your best means kicking the bad habits, addictions, and mental health afflictions. The work on ourselves if often the hardest—not impossible (thankfully), but the hardest

I wish I had more for you, but this is the best I can offer.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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My attorney withdrew as my counsel in my divorce case. What do I do now?

I received a notice from opposing counsel that looks (or contains) something like this:

“You are hereby notified of your responsibility to appear personally or appoint counsel.”

What does this mean? What do I do now?

First, let’s explain to you and to other readers what a withdrawal of counsel is.

“Withdrawal of counsel” means that your attorney no longer represents you, that your attorney does not work for you anymore. Your attorney can “quit” in the middle of a case, and there two common scenarios when they do: 1) when the client cannot pay the attorney’s fees and/or 2) when the attorney and client don’t see eye to eye on how to proceed with the case. As long as no motion is pending or a hearing or trial has not been set, an attorney may withdraw by simply giving his/her client, the opposing attorney or party (if the party is not represented by an attorney), and the court a written “Notice of Withdrawal of Counsel” (a copy of which is filed with the court). If a motion is pending or a hearing or trial has been set, an attorney may not withdraw except upon motion and order of the court. See Utah Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 74.

Rule 74 further provides:

(c) Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel. If an attorney withdraws other than under subdivision (b), dies, is suspended from the practice of law, is disbarred, or is removed from the case by the court, the opposing party shall serve a Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel on the unrepresented party, informing the party of the responsibility to appear personally or appoint counsel. A copy of the Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel must be filed with the court. No further proceedings shall be held in the case until 21 days after filing the Notice to Appear or Appoint Counsel unless the unrepresented party waives the time requirement or unless otherwise ordered by the court.

(d) Substitution of counsel. An attorney may replace the counsel of record by filing and serving a notice of substitution of counsel signed by former counsel, new counsel and the client. Court approval is not required if new counsel certifies in the notice of substitution that counsel will comply with the existing hearing schedule and deadlines.

If your attorney has withdrawn as your counsel and you either can’t find a new attorney or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner (LPP) to take his/her place, or if you choose to represent yourself (which is known as proceeding pro se) from that point, you are required to provide the opposing attorney or party (if the party is not represented by an attorney), and the court with a written “Notice of Personal Appearance OR Notice of Counsel’s or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner’s Appearance” (a copy of which is filed with the court). A form you can use for this purpose has been prepared by the Utah Courts and is available on their website here: Notice of Personal Appearance OR Notice of Counsel’s or Licensed Paralegal Practitioner’s Appearance (

This page on the Utah Courts website may also be helpful to you if you are proceeding pro se: Going to Court (

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What Does a Legal Assistant Think of Going Pro Se? By Braxton Mounteer

The term for representing yourself in court is “pro se” or “pro per”.

Can you navigate the legal system successfully without a lawyer representing you in your case?

Before I became a legal assistant, I thought the answer to that question was, “Well, it won’t be easy, but how hard could it be, if I tried my best?” You’d be forgiven if you think that way too. Many people do. With the exception of a few who are so rare as to make them statistically insignificant, however, going pro se is a recipe for failure.

To win a case, you need admissible evidence and enough admissible evidence. Do you know (really know) whether you have admissible evidence and enough admissible evidence? If not, proceeding pro se puts you at risk of losing.

To win a case, you first need to know whether the law supports your position. Do you know the law? Can you cite the sections of code and what rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence that apply? Do they support your position? If not, proceeding pro se puts you at risk of losing.

To win a case, you need to present your evidence and your legal argument in compliance with the rules of court and in an engaging and persuasive manner. Do you know how to do that? If not, proceeding pro se puts you at risk of losing.

Even if you went up against a brand new, inexperienced lawyer, who would you bet on? Someone with a college education, plus three years of law school (maybe more), or someone who read some blogs and watched some YouTube videos? Now add 5 to 30 years of experience to the lawyer’s side of the ledger. Do you really think you’re on a level playing field?

Would you go into unfamiliar terrain without a guide? The legal profession, the legal system, and court proceedings are all unfamiliar territory, and you can easily get lost and hurt in unfamiliar territory.

And then there’s the problem that is not so intuitive: you’re not in the club. Most judges and lawyers resent people who believe they can do what legal professionals do. Even pro se litigants who have the evidence, the law, and the arguments down can still lose just because the judge and lawyers don’t want you getting uppity.

Pro se is a path that is not for the faint of heart. It will be an uphill battle at best. If you go the pro se route, you will face people who are more knowledgeable, more experienced, and more skilled than you are or can reasonably ever hope to be.

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Why Your Lawyer Might Drop Your Case By Braxton Mounteer

So, you have gotten news that your attorney has quit. Your attorney wrote you an email informing you that he or she your counsel either will soon withdraw as your counsel or has filed and served a notice of withdrawal of counsel. What does this mean? How does this work?
Did you not pay your lawyer? Were you not cooperating with your lawyer? Were you disregarding your lawyer’s advice? Actively working against your lawyer? Sabotaging your own case?

Was the case just too much for your lawyer? Did your lawyer get sick or did an emergency arise that requires all of his/her attention? Could your lawyer sense that you were disappointed in your lawyer’s performance and didn’t want to stick around?

Regardless of what the reason was, you no longer have or will soon not have legal counsel. You will need to find another lawyer to represent you.

You may believe that you could do better than your legal counsel. You wouldn’t be the first to think that way. You are likely frightfully mistaken.  Unless you are a genius who can learn in weeks what it take others years to master, you will not get a good enough handle on the legal system in time. Even if you did master the law, that doesn’t mean you can succeed as well as a lawyer could.
The law on the books is not always the law handed down in court. Insiders have, and will always have, an advantage over those who aren’t legal professionals.
And the legal profession is not kind to those who “did not pay their dues” in law school and by taking the bar exam. Pro se litigants (i.e., people who represent themselves in court cases) who are the equals of lawyers in their writing and oral arguments make most lawyers feel inferior and threatened (and that includes the former lawyers who are now judges). When pro se litigants are so “presumptuous” as to think they will be taken as seriously as the lawyers, the system tends to discriminate against the pro se litigants. So even if your lawyer is nothing more than a useful prop, get one.
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What Are the Benefits of Hiring an Experienced Family Law Attorney for Your Divorce and Custody Matters Instead of Representing Yourself?

I am a divorce lawyer. You may believe, consequently, that my response to your question is going to be self-serving and that I am going to tell you that you should hire an experienced family law attorney. You are wise and prudent to be skeptical.

That stated, you can ask those of your circle of friends and family members whom you trust and who are as wise as or wiser than you whether hiring an experienced family law attorney for your divorce and custody matters instead of representing yourself. They will tell you, unequivocally and without question, that the answer is “yes.”

That stated, the benefits of hiring a divorce attorney are not as great as they were a generation ago. There are still many benefits to hiring a divorce attorney these days, but much of what an attorney—and only an attorney—could do for you in the past (due to the specialized knowledge your attorney, and only your attorney or other attorneys like him/her, is now possible to obtain and enjoy through sources other than an attorney. Almost any family law question can be answered by some diligent Internet research (be warned, however: there’s infinite supplies of misinformation, myths, and mindless drivel on the Internet too, so conduct your research with a careful and discriminating eye).

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you could become a fairly formidable pro se (meaning “self-represented”) family law litigant. Many jurisdictions are also starting to permit people other than lawyers, such as specially certified or licensed paralegals, to practice some limited scope legal services in family law cases. Candidly, when you opt to represent yourself or hire a non-lawyer, it should come as no surprise that you almost always get what you pay for. Otherwise stated, the amount of money you “save” by not hiring a skilled attorney is usually “paid” in the form of excessive amounts of time and effort you have to expend to gain the benefits equivalent to simply hiring a skilled attorney. There’s no free lunch, there are no shortcuts.


Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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What is the best DIY book about divorce in the U.S.?

There isn’t one. There can’t be. I’ll explain why and what you can and should do if you want to go the DIY divorce by the book route. 

The main reason there is no “best DIY divorce book in the U.S.” is because each state has different divorce laws. While all the states’ divorce laws share many, many similarities, it’s impossible for one book (that one could manageably read and understand) to speak authoritatively about specific divorce law for all states. 

Consequently, most DIY divorce books deal in generalizations, so that they can appeal and apply to a national audience (can’t write a bestseller on “DIY Iowa Divorce”). This is not to say that generalized books on the subject of divorce aren’t worth reading, but they Clearly are not the best way too undertake a DIY divorce (not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who would try to do his or her divorce by himself/herself by reading one of these generalized books on divorce would be a fool—there is a much better way to go the DIY route). 

That stated, I know there are people out there who have written DIY guidebooks and forms set on divorce for specific states. It wouldn’t hurt to check your local library and bookstores to see if you’re one of the lucky states where someone bothered to write a do-it-yourself book specifically on the divorce laws and procedures for your particular state. Just make sure that such a book is up-to-date. Divorce laws and rules of procedure change frequently. 

It would also be a good idea and worth the effort to see if local attorneys have written a book on DIY divorce for your particular state. These are often offered through the attorney’s website in various forms: e-books, slideshows, “online seminars”, forms set, a link to purchase a hard copy of a self-published paperback, etc. 

Be warned about local attorney-authored DIY divorce books: many lawyers (most, in my opinion) who write so-called “do-it-yourself divorce” books/guides often do so to overwhelm you, intimidate you, psych you out, and persuade you not to do it yourself and instead hire an attorney (specifically the attorney who wrote the book). Make sure the DIY book you get is a truly completed and effective tool. 

BONUS: Even if you believe you have mastered the art of DIY divorce in preparing your own divorce pleadings and other court documents, please Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish: pay a few hundred dollars to meet and talk with an experienced, skilled divorce attorney to review your documents and to ensure they are complete and compliant before you file them with the court. It is well worth the investment. That doesn’t mean you must hire a lawyer throughout the whole process, just pay a lawyer to review your documents to ensure they are up to snuff before you file them. I daresay it’s a crucial part of the DIY process. It could be the difference between success or failure (and in divorce, most of the time you only get one shot to succeed; failure can often be irremediable and permanent). 

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

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Should I use free family law resources?

Merely use them? I don’t see the harm in being familiar with them. Reading, watching, listening. Learning. That’s a good thing. A very good thing. Being dependent upon only free resources? No. That’s a bad thing. 

Should you use free resources exclusively, without paying an attorney to represent you or at least consult with you (assuming you can afford an attorney’s help)? No. The family law legal system is a mess, and if success is your aim, then trying to navigate it and understand it and work within it on your own would be, with rare exception, foolish. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. 

Ask sane people who thought they could represent themselves successfully in divorce and family law disputes how they fared. Precious few will tell you they have no regrets. Precious few will tell you they wouldn’t get an attorney’s help, if they had to do it all over again. 

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 29: Be Smart

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant 

The lesson I have been learning in my time working as a legal assistant is how important it is to have legal representation. Not just legal representation, good legal representation.  

I have by now witnessed firsthand the many, many flaws and broken parts of the legal system and I am convinced that I would never want to represent myself in a lawsuit if one was ever filed against me.  

Ignorance is most definitely not bliss when it comes to the law, and trying to defend yourself when the cards are stacked against you (and trust me, it hasn’t taken me long to discover the cards are stacked against you) rarely ends well. Happy endings make for good movies, but self-represented people (also known as pro se) don’t see many happy endings.  

I think that one reason why we like those “against all odds” movies is because it helps us believe things that make us feel better about ourselves and our circumstances. At some point or another in our lives, we all find ourselves unable to handle the truth that the system is broken, and that justice is too often hard to come by. So we latch on to the fantasies where things turn out well and they all lived happily ever after.  

I am not trying to be a “Debbie Downer” or prophesy of forthcoming doom in your particular case (if you are unfortunate enough to be proceeding pro se in a lawsuit), but the realities are that 1) the legal system is in major need of reform and 2) your best protection in and against a broken system is an honest, skilled lawyer who knows both the written and the “unwritten” rules that govern it.  

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

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Law from a legal assistant’s point of view, week 21: Never

By Quinton Lister, legal assistant

I am still new at my job. I have only been a legal assistant since Summer of 2021, but I know for myself that I would never go to court representing myself. There is simply too much going on in the legal system to not have expert help.  

Perhaps you think I am biased because my boss is a lawyer, but I have been to enough hearings and a few trials to know that “Pro Se” ain’t the way to go. Pro Se litigants are at a tremendous disadvantage simply because they do not know what they do not know. Many people elect to represent themselves due to financial constraints, while this is completely understandable, I feel for these people. They are at the mercy of a system that kills the weak (for lack of a more flattering term). The legal system seems more often to create victims rather than protect them. True justice is hard work, and if you are not trained, no matter how hard you work the load will likely be too much to bear by yourself. 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277 

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Why does someone need an attorney when they can just defend themselves in court?

Why does someone need an attorney when they can just defend themselves in court (pro se)?

Why does someone need an attorney when they can just defend themselves in court?

It really depends on how you define “need” here.

First, understand that no litigant (except a litigant in certain circumstances who is determined to be mentally incapacitated or disabled, in which case the court may appoint an attorney for such a litigant) is required or can be forced to have be represented by an attorney.

This means you cannot be forced to hire an attorney, you cannot be forced to have an attorney appointed for you in criminal cases, even if you qualify for an attorney to be appointed for you.

So, there is no legal mandate that you be represented by an attorney, no “need” to be represented by an attorney in that sense. You won’t be arrested or fined for not being represented by an attorney.

So, from the foregoing we see that you have the absolute right (with the exception of disability/incapacity) to represent yourself in court (that’s known as proceeding “pro se”, which is Latin for “for oneself”).

If, however, prevailing in the litigation is your sole or primary objective, and if you are not well-versed/skilled/confident regarding the law and court procedures, you may determine that you cannot win without an attorney. In that respect, you may determine that you “need” an attorney. In this sense, most people need an attorney. You may have heard the old saw, “A man who represents himself, has a fool for a client.” Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have put it this way: “He who serves as his own counsel has a fool for a lawyer and a jackass for a client.” The reason this is true is because the legal system is not as simple, as non-dysfunctional (sorry, I know that’s a clunky term, but I cannot think of a clearer way to make my point, or as fair as you believe or want to believe. A lawyer is not only helpful for his/her knowledge of the law and court procedures, but also for his/her experience and ability to guide you down the dark, twisted, uphill, rocky, often counterintuitive and dangerous path that is the legal system.

If the stakes are such that you don’t mind bearing the consequences of losing the case (in other words, you can afford to pay and don’t mind paying the fine(s) and/or don’t mind doing the time in jail/prison), then it’s likely you don’t “need” an attorney; otherwise, a prudent litigant needs an attorney.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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Why do pro se litigants fail so often?

Why do pro se litigants fail so often? And if you’re wondering what a pro se litigant is, here’s the definition:

someone who argues his/her own case in a lawsuit, rather than having a lawyer represent him/her and do the legal work for him/her. “Pro se” is Latin for “on behalf of oneself”.

So why do pro se litigants fail so often? This is a great question and one that you should ask, if you haven’t already. You may be wondering if you should go the pro se route yourself. It’s a perfectly fair question for your to ask. Many lawyers will “answer” this question with an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of response, i.e., “Oh, come on, are you really thinking representing yourself? That’s crazy. Surely you see that.”

Others are little more sophisticated and give you that “You wouldn’t try to remove your own appendix, would you? No, you’d hire a pro!” But that doesn’t really answer your question either.

Is it too hard to represent yourself in court in a divorce case? Is it more trouble than it’s worth? Is it a question of “yes, I could do it myself, but should I?”

See, with rare exception, virtually every divorce attorney won’t tell you what you really want to know because they are afraid you will determine that once you know you will decide not to hire an attorney. I am not afraid of that. With that stated, here is the truth:

No matter how well prepared you are and how well you know the argument and how good your argument is, there’s a very good chance that your arguments will fall fully or partially on deaf ears. Why?

Because pro se litigants generally do such a terrible job that courts have low and negative expectations of pro se litigants generally. As a result, courts often just put up mental and emotional walls at the very mention of “pro se litigant”. That’s too bad. It’s unfair to the pro se litigants who know what they’re doing and do it well.

But the fact of the matter is that so many crazy and ill-prepared, rambling, incoherent pro se litigants have passed through the courthouses that they’ve spoiled it for everyone else.

If you’re a well prepared well-versed pro se litigant, you’re just not going to be received as well and taken as seriously as someone who shows up in court with a competent lawyer.

Wait, am I saying that sometimes you need a lawyer, if only as a prop? Yes. Exactly. That’s what I’m saying (now don’t get the idea that it’s because law is easy–it’s not; while I concede it is not rocket science it still takes a lot of time, effort, brains, patience, and thick skin to learn, understand, and apply effectively). It might even be better for you simply to prepare a script for your prop lawyer to read if you want to ensure that your argument is heard and understood and taken seriously. It’s a reason for why you need a lawyer (and need to pay that lawyer) that most lawyers and courts don’t want to admit, but it’s no less true.

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

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Do Pro Se Divorce Parties Succeed?

Do Pro Se Divorce Parties Succeed?

Do you know of anyone who decided to represent themselves pro se when the other party had an attorney in a family law case, where the pro se party was the non-custodial parent? What was the outcome?

Let me put it this way (stay with me, this really does make sense):

Most people who eat at McDonald’s or have a cheeseburger delivered to them do so by choice. Otherwise stated, they don’t need to have McDonald’s cook for them, they are motivated by the desire for McDonald’s and/or the convenience of not having to cook a hamburger themselves. They know they could make themselves a hamburger (even a better one than McDonald’s makes, and for less than McDonald’s might charge), but they choose to pay someone else to do the work.

Virtually everyone has a doctor perform a tonsillectomy, instead of performing the procedure on themselves (and yes, it is possible for you to remove your own tonsils, a woman was featured on a TV show back in the 90’s who did it with Novocain, alcohol swabs, and an X-Acto knife). They pay the doctor to do the work out of concern for ensuring their lives and health are not endangered by doing it themselves. They clearly hire the doctor to do the work not as a matter of convenience or personal taste.

Few, if any, people want to go to divorce court without a lawyer’s help. If a good attorney were provided free of charge, hardly anyone would refuse such a thing. Why? Because if pro se litigants succeeded in divorce court about as often as do people who hire lawyers do, we’d see a lot more pro se litigants in divorce court. Indeed, the pro se litigants we see in divorce court are almost all pro se not by choice, but because they can’t afford to hire an attorney.

Going through a divorce without an attorney’s help is difficult, if not impossible, to pull off successfully, and for several reasons, which I detail here:

Eric Johnson’s answer to Have any tips for representing yourself in family court? Do you have a success story as a pro se litigant?

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

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Have any tips for representing yourself in family court?

Have any tips for representing yourself in family court? Do you have a success story as a pro se litigant?

First, my answer comes from the perspective of a divorce lawyer. Consider the source as you read my answer, sure, but don’t discount my answer because I am a divorce lawyer (I can teach you a few things that will benefit you).

Second, you need to know that there are plenty of people out there who are not lawyers but who can learn and understand how to represent themselves (that’s what pro se means—representing oneself in court instead of with a lawyer’s help and representation). You do not have to be a lawyer to learn the ropes. It’s hard to learn the ropes, but it can be done.

Third, even though people can learn and understand how to represent themselves in court without a lawyer, this does not necessarily mean that you can successfully proceed pro se. Indeed, few pro se parties take the time, have the smarts and the charm, and make the effort to succeed pro se. Are there some successful pro se parties? Yes. Are they rare and exceptional? Absolutely.

Fourth, even if you do all (or most of) the work, gather up all the evidence, and make all the arguments, you may want to hire an attorney “just for looks” in court, just to be taken seriously in court because your judge may be one who does not take a pro se party as seriously as a represented party. So as long as your attorney is good enough to stay out of your way and not do your case harm, the appearance of being represented by your attorney (even though you’re both the brain and the brawn behind your case) if often one of the best investments you can make in your case’s success.

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

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Do I have a chance in divorce court without a lawyer? Do I really need one?

A chance? Sure. You have a chance. And you have a chance of winning the lottery, just not a very good chance of it.

You may not want to read the rest of my answer because I am a lawyer, so you can’t be faulted if you were to believe that my answer derives from self-interest. For what my assurances are worth, however, I assure you it does not. I am not only a lawyer but I have been a client of a lawyer as well. So here it is, it’s all you need to know, and you can confirm it’s true without having to take it on faith:

  • If people could regularly succeed in child custody battles in court without the assistance of an attorney, then people would not utilize the services of attorneys.

Otherwise stated: people do not regularly succeed in child custody battles in court without the assistance of an attorney. Frankly, even with the assistance of attorney people can often fail, but they usually fail far more often and more spectacularly.

I know that no one ever wants to hire an attorney. Very few people hire attorneys because they want one. The overwhelming majority of people who hire attorneys do so because they need one[1].

Here are some other facts that you may find helpful:

  • the legal system is a mess
  • if you are to have any real hope of succeeding with in this mess of a system, you need the guidance of someone with intimate knowledge of how the sausage is made;
  • it is not enough to know the rules, the law, and the lingo of the legal system; even if you were to read all the laws and all the rules that govern the legal system (and you can’t do that without quitting your job and spending all your weekends on the project), you would not understand them;
    • even if you did remember and understand all the laws and rules this would not help you function well within the legal system because:
      • the legal system does not follow its own rules fully and consistently;
      • the legal system is not wholly welcoming to or tolerant of those who are not lawyers

Attorneys may thus be necessary for many, many wrong reasons, but necessary nonetheless.

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


[1] and when you need one, please get a good one. The first and very best thing you can do is get a good attorney. ‘Sounds too simple, I know, but it’s the truth and simply the best advice there is. What is a “good attorney”?: one who is honorable, honest, reasonable, skilled, nobody’s fool, industrious, provides value for the money, and courageous. Not all divorce lawyers are these things, but a some who embody all of these traits do exist. Find one of them. It won’t be easy or quick (or cheap), but it’s worth the time, the effort, and yes, the money too.

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What are some reasons for offering pro bono legal services?

While I provide some pro bono assistance (but not exclusively), I don’t like providing most kinds of pro bono legal services. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. Candidly, most pro bono clients in my experience ranked among the worst clients: least courteous and gracious, least cooperative and patient, least realistic, most entitled, and most demanding.

Now of course not all pro bono clients are hard to work with, but I’ve had consistently negative experience with pro bono clients. I like to provide pro bono assistance in the form of helping people find answers to questions and resources for helping themselves. Providing legal services is hard enough when I am paid to do it. I find that free legal representation is often taken for granted, which makes providing it all the more difficult and miserable.

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

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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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‘Have any tips for representing yourself in family court? Have any success stories of pro se litigants?

If you don’t know what questions the judge must answer (and also the questions that the judge may want answered) to reach a ruling on your case, you are not prepared to testify.

If you don’t know what the winning answers to the questions are, you are not prepared to testify. No, I don’t mean that you need to fabricate “the right” answers, I’m saying you need to know how to honestly answer questions most effectively.

To know what the winning answers to the questions are, you will have to do your homework. You will have to learn and understand at least the basics of how the law(s) and rules that apply/applies to your case function, what factors need to be met to prevail.

If your truthful answers to the questions are not at least mostly genuine winning answers, you have a weak case. Period. There’s no way around it, unless you want to try to lie, deceive, and cheat your way to a win, which is not only illegal and morally wrong, but a risky proposition.

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

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Am I disadvantaged in a child support case, if the other parent has a lawyer and I don’t?

What happens in child support cases when the custodial parent has an attorney but the non-custodial parent doesn’t? Does that mean they usually pay more because there isn’t another attorney to negotiate with?

Yes, that is usually what happens, and for the very reasons you suspect.

And I’m a lawyer, so I know.

There are other reasons that working without a lawyer can cause you unnecessary detriment (and they aren’t pretty); many judges and court officers (many, though not all) treat people who represent themselves in court with disdain merely because these self-represented people don’t have a lawyer, regardless of how well the self-represented people prepare and argue their case. Most lawyers and judges (not all, but most) look down their noses at self-represented parties (and even then many of them keep their contempt for self-represented parties below the surface and in plausible deniability form). What this means is that a self-represented party could go in to court and make the same argument a lawyer would make, but the self-represented party loses and the lawyer wins. It’s wrong, but it’s reality.

Try this, if you feel you cannot afford an attorney or if you do not want to hire an attorney on a full-time basis: while negotiating child support notify you ex that you will not sign any settlement agreement on the subject without first reviewing the proposed agreement with an attorney to ensure that you are not agreeing to something illegal or clearly unreasonable and unfair.

By the way: you should hire a good lawyer (a good lawyer, not just any lawyer, but a fair-minded, intelligent, experienced, creative, industrious one) to represent you, even if you think you don’t need one or don’t want one. You do need a lawyer in contested child support cases. When you find the right lawyer, he/she more than justifies his/her fees.

And not every lawyer charges a retainer and bills by the hour. You can, if you are willing to make the sacrifices, find a lawyer you can afford and who provides you with real value. Don’t shop price. Shop value.

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

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Can I represent myself in a child custody dispute and win?

Can I represent myself in child custody matters of my own children and win?

What you really mean is, “Can I represent myself in child custody matters of my own children and win and save money over hiring an attorney to represent me?” Yes, you can.* Do the odds favor the self-represented party? No.

*There is no law that requires you to hire a lawyer in a divorce action, no law that prevents you from representing yourself in a divorce action, but that doesn’t mean that self-represented parties (also referred to as “pro se” or “pro per” parties) are on an equal footing in court with parties who are represented by lawyers. The question is not whether to hire an attorney, it’s whether you think you can and should prevail without an attorney. I’ll be the first to concede that sometimes the only difference between an argument being a winning argument is not the merits of the argument itself, but whether an attorney made it. That’s not right, but that’s reality in our legal system today.

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

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