By Camille Boyer, Legal Coach
In Family Court cases, you are not required to hire a lawyer. In some circumstances, family law litigants may not be able to afford a lawyer, or may prefer to present their case themselves. In the latter case of representing yourself, it is important to be prepared for your Court appearance to ensure the best possible chances of success.
Here are some tips on self-representation in Alberta Family Court:
- Preparation is key. Before you even step foot into the Courtroom, you will want to make sure you have reviewed all your Court documents and know what it is you are asking for, the reasons why, and answers to any other questions that the Judge may ask about your case.
- Preparation is KEY. Yes, it’s repeated because it’s that important! Even if you are not planning to retain a lawyer, consider having a consultation with a lawyer to get advice on your family law case before you go to Court. You could also consider hiring a Legal Coach who can give you ongoing advice and assistance, including help drafting Court documents, summary advice, and preparation for Court. Another option would be to attend a Family Law seminar or the Law Library to do some of your own research. Coach My Case has a large selection of family law blogs which can also be an excellent resource for research.
- Be organized. Store all your important Court documents in a portable briefcase or other easily-accessible manner. Make sure you can quickly retrieve and reference your documents. Make sure to bring them with you to Court.
- Learn about Court etiquette. For example, a Provincial Court Judge is referred to as “Your Honour”, whereas a Court of Queen’s Bench Justice is referred to as “my Lord/my Lady”. If in doubt, “sir” or “ma’am” will suffice. It is a show of respect to bow to the Judge or Justice when entering or leaving the Courtroom, and both before and after approaching to speak on your matter. Whenever a Judge enters or exits the Courtroom, stand up. So, too, when speaking to the Judge. Sitting in on a Court session in advance to observe lawyers and parties can be very helpful to learn and observe Courtroom etiquette.
- Try to resolve any issues that can be settled before Court. Even if you are only able to reach a partial agreement, this can simplify and streamline your Court appearance. Further, the Judge will likely appreciate you and the other party’s attempts to settle the matter and willingness to be reasonable and efficient with the Court’s time.
- Dress appropriately. A suit or other professional attire is best. Avoid revealing outfits, casual wear, or anything that may be deemed offensive. Remove hats and sunglasses before entering the Courtroom, and do not bring in any food, gum, or drinks.
- Manage your stress. Court can be overwhelming, even when dealing with benign or minor issues. Get a good night’s sleep beforehand, and make sure you have eaten and are well-hydrated. If you’re feeling anxious, take deep calming breaths or try a grounding exercise to reduce stress in the moment. A good example is to name (in your head, of course) 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch/feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Speak clearly and calmly to the Judge. Do not argue with the other party or direct any comments to them. You will want to ensure your voice is loud and clear enough that the Judge can understand and follow your arguments. Never interrupt, talk back, or be otherwise rude or impolite to a Judge. And absolutely do not roll your eyes, make faces, or scoff at the other party.
- Focus on what is relevant and important. For example, if you are trying to get child support in place, do not go off on a tangent about the parenting schedule. Avoid mudslinging or trash-talking the other side. You will want to be as brief and to the point as possible, while ensuring you cover everything the Judge needs to make a decision. It can be helpful to write out a summary or outline to refer to when you are in Court, in case you lose your train of thought. A good, simple outline could look something like this:
• What I am looking for: ______
• Facts the Judge needs to know: _____
• Case law or legislation to reference: ______
- Take notes. Make sure to bring a notepad and pen, as you will need to record important information, dates, or other terms the Judge directs. In Court, things often move very quickly, and you could miss an important piece of information. If you missed something or didn’t understand, you can ask the Judge to repeat what was said. Writing things down can also be calming and reduce the temptation to react negatively to the other party.
Self-representing in Court can be intimidating, and is often a stressful and emotional experience. Hopefully, the above tips will help you better prepare for the experience and focus on getting the best possible outcome. For further insider advice on self-representation, call Coach My Case today for a free consult.