CALIFORNIA FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY
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CAN YOU REPRESENT YOURSELF?
The Answer is Yes and No.
It is not optimal to represent yourself but may be necessary.
1. Attorneys will say you should not represent yourself
2. But attorneys are expensive and you may have no choice
3. Self Help is available courts
I have uploaded many of the forms and instructions from the courts. Also, a Bay Area attorney has an excellent site with a lot of information about filling out forms: cristinlowelaw.com
Ask attorneys if you can represent yourself and they will generally tell you "NO". I had one attorney call me an idiot for telling someone that I had seen people do well in court without representation.
The key is that there are two questions that someone should ask: Can I do it myself? and Should I do it myself? The answer to the first question is "yes". It is not easy, but in the end most people will do fine without an attorney - and save a lot of money.
The answer to the second question is, in a perfect world, "no". Attorneys know the system, know how to get your case done with a minimum of hassle. But it expensive for these services. Unfortunately, the family law system is not like criminal courts where representation is available to anyone regardless of their income or assets.
The unfortunate reality in California is that most people cannot afford to be represented in a divorce or child custody/visitation matter. The feedback the Judicial Council got from courts in California was that 80% of people filing for divorce in California do so without an attorney.
So when discussing whether you can do it yourself, the first thing to make clear is it will help you to have an attorney if you can afford one. This is particularly true if your spouse has an attorney. Basically, the judge will do what is best for the kids. But you cannot count on a judge to do the right thing every time.
If you cannot afford an attorney, you can do it yourself. Obviously a lot of people are going through this process without attorneys, so there is no reason why you can't. It is easier if there are no children involved. I have seen people do well who have no legal background. There is also help from self help centers at the courts, particularly online.
It helps if you and your spouse are reasonable, but you can do okay if your spouse is not reasonable, as long as you are. You are going to be confused by the process and struggle, but if you keep working, you can probably figure out what needs to be done.
Here is where you can find help in the local courts:
San Bernardino County Court:
Website: sb-court.org (NOT sbcourt.org)
Click on Self Help and then Family Law. You sign up for d.a.s.h.
There is information available online. You can visit in person or contact by phone or email
Los Angeles County Court
Click on Self help and then the category you need - divorce, child support, etc
Information is available online
Orange County Court
Website: occourts.org (not occourt.org)
Click on Self Help and then Family Law
You sign up for My Court Card (There is a goofy video about it available)
You might be able to make an appointment now. There are also services available by phone or email.
There are other options other than hiring an attorney for thousands of dollars. There are attorneys who do piece work. They are called limited scope or unbundled attorneys. They only do part of the work. They will charge the same (or more) but let you do some of the work, saving you money. To me, if you can do part of the work, you can probably do it all.
There are document preparers or paralegals who can fill out the paperwork and file it for you. They are cheaper, but I am not sure what you really get for your money. You give them the information and they input it onto the form. It is easy enough for you to do it. They cannot give you legal advice.
If you are not sure if you can do it yourself, you can always look on YouTube. There is a lot of information about how to fill out the forms and file the paperwork. But don't listen to the woman who says you can get divorced in twenty days. It takes at least six months from the date of filing to get divorced in California.
And don't be afraid to call. I gladly give free advice.