We know it can be tempting to tackle your family law matters, such as divorce, property division, parenting or child support issues alone. Lawyers aren’t cheap and the Judge is bound to listen to your arguments and see your point in any event, right? Well, maybe, but maybe not. The question is whether you have the necessary set of skills to navigate the legal process on your own and ensure the court hears your best legal arguments. The nuances of the court process and the complexities of the numerous forms and paperwork can be frustrating and intimidating to anyone who hasn’t studied the system. Even lawyers find the process complex at times so it’s no wonder it can seem overwhelming and prohibitive to anyone trying to go at it alone.
Marriage is the 7th most stressful thing you’ll do in your life (according to the Holmes and Rahe scale). Divorce and marital separation, regrettably, have the 2nd and 3rd spots locked up (if you’re wondering what’s at number 1, it’s the death of your spouse). That added stress can make representing yourself even harder. At such a critical moment in your life with the parenting of your children and your financial future on the line, it is important to make an informed decision on whether to try to navigate the process alone or hire a lawyer to assist you.
Is it possible to represent yourself? Absolutely. It is not a mandatory step in a divorce or custody dispute to hire a lawyer. The forms you will need to file at the Courthouse can be found on the Alberta Courts website. If you are comfortable identifying and drafting the required forms, you understand the legal system (or have the time to research and become familiar with it), can separate out the legal arguments with the emotional turmoil, are capable of negotiating the terms of a settlement, and are able to speak in court, you may well be able to represent yourself. Some self-represented parties do a very capable job of representing themselves. Others struggle.
Filing the wrong form could result in your case being dismissed. Not understanding the Rules of Court and asking inappropriate questions in cross examination may result in important information not being put before the Judge. Not appreciating the alternatives might result in a case proceeding to a lengthy, stressful and costly trial, when an out-of-court settlement could have been considered and pursued by counsel familiar with the other options. A lack of knowledge surrounding the application of the Federal Child Support Guidelines and the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, as well as the numerous applicable Acts and Regulations, could result in an unfavourable settlement being accepted.
For a long time, and especially in the area of family law, parties have had to make the difficult decision whether to 1) tackle the system alone, potentially extending the time required to settle the dispute; or 2) incur the expense of instructing a lawyer.
There is however an emerging middle ground which can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of justice for those not ready or able to commit to full-time representation. More and more would-be self-represented parties are opting to instruct a lawyer on a limited scope retainer, dealing with the parts of their case that they have the confidence and capacity to deal with themselves, and involving their lawyer for only the parts they need assistance with.
If you would like to have the assistance of a lawyer but cannot commit to the full retainer required to have counsel by your side throughout the process, Mountain Vista Law may still be able to help. Call us today at (403) 981-0700 to discuss the possibility of unbundling services and instructing one of our lawyers on a limited scope retainer.
Article by Paul Manning
Although we are a law firm, this blog post does not constitute legal advice. It is for informational or entertainment purposes only and shouldn’t be seen as financial or legal advice of any kind. You should consult with a lawyer before relying on any of the information contained in this blog post. We can be contacted at (403) 981 0700 to set up a consultation with one of our lawyers who can review the specific circumstances of your matter and provide you with personalised legal advice.