Whether you are the parent who will be receiving child support or are the one who will likely be on the hook for paying child support, the fact remains that the legal case that establishes child support will be one of great importance. There is something about child support that creates an emotional atmosphere- more than possession, access, or visitation of your children. Whether you are married to your child's other parent, or you are not, there are considerations that you need to make when deciding to forego hiring an attorney in favor of representing yourself in a child support case.
Ultimately the decision that you make is yours and yours alone. On behalf of the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC, I will provide you with some helpful information about why you may not want to do so, however. You can utilize this information and decide your and your child's best interests.
Losing your child support case is the ultimate risk when representing yourself in child support court.
What exactly do I mean when I write about "losing your child support case"? This could mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people, so I probably ought to specify my thoughts on the subject.
To me, losing your child support case means that the outcome of your case is not what you believe. It should be based on the facts, circumstances, and evidence available to you and the opposing party. If you lose a case based on these factors, then there was not much you could have done to change it in all likelihood- short of settling your case before a trial. On the other hand, if your outcome could have been different had you chosen to hire an attorney, that is a decision that could haunt you for a long time.
To be successful in a family law case, you must prove your case to a judge. It's as simple as that. No matter if you are the custodial or non-custodial parent, you have to not only prove elements of your case. Still, you have evidence presented, offered, and entered into the record for the judge to consider. It is not as simple as dumping a stack of pay-stubs on the judge's lap and asking her to make a decision. The technical requirements of a family law case are many, and you are likely not trained in this area unless you are an attorney. Even then, the minutiae of family law cases are like any other area of the law in that they can mean the difference between a positive and negative outcome.
Secondly, once you get past the technical aspects of your case, you will need to file the required documents and proceed as the courts require you to. If you make a mistake in a pleading or leave out some required information, it could be that your opponent has grounds to have your case dismissed, or at the very least, you could lose out on making arguments that could potentially be helpful. These are simple mistakes to make, and without specialized legal knowledge, you could find yourself in a position where your case has been weakened before you even step foot in a courtroom.
To the victor go the spoils.
If you are on the losing end of a child support case, it is not uncommon for a judge to award attorney's fees and court costs to the winning side. This means that you will pay for the costs associated with your case and those of your opposing party. This is adding insult to injury and is something that can be avoided.
Having your court costs paid for by the other side is only possible if you ask for it in your petitioner's Answer. If you do not know to do this, a judge cannot order this sort of relief even if the circumstances of your case warrant it. Imagine winning your case and being in a position where you could have your court costs and filing fees paid for by your opponent. Still, you lose out on that chance due to your not asking for it in your petition. This is a very much avoidable mistake and one that I would recommend you avoid by hiring an experienced family law attorney for your child support case.
Factors to weigh when considering whether to hire an attorney for your child support case
If you still are not convinced that it is in your best interests to hire an attorney for your child support case, consider the following factors. After reviewing each, apply them to your situation to determine if you still think it is wise not to hire a lawyer.
Do you want legal advice? This is a simple question to consider. Do you believe that you need legal advice regarding your case in your heart of hearts? Are you scratching your head when you look through the court's requirements on a pleading? Do you know what a pleading is? Do you have to sneak time at your workstation to draft your documents? If so, you probably know deep down that you need an attorney's guidance.
Listen to your instincts on this one. You may be a knowledgeable and capable person. All things being equal, you could probably go about your case just fine without a lawyer. However, all things are not equal. You are not an attorney; you do not have the time to learn everything you need to know about your case and your court, and lastly, your opponent will likely hire an attorney. These are all circumstances that should lead you to hire a lawyer for your case.
What are the facts and circumstances of your case? How complicated a case do you have? Who will be expected to pay child support if you are the parent? How do you earn your monthly income? Suppose you have sources of income that are complicated (investment income, for instance) and will need to have these complications explained to a judge in an easily digestible format. In that case, you may need to consider hiring a family law attorney. The alternative means that you will need to explain the factors to a judge after having had no experience whatsoever in courtroom advocacy. That is a challenging task that you would have in front of you.
What is your temperament like? This is a question that you can seek the advice of friends and family on. If you are the type of person who gets upset quickly, is thrown off your "game" by others frequently or just doesn't do well communicating with other people in public, then you may want to consider hiring an attorney. You will be communicating with your opponent's attorney before the trial, so if you do not think yourself to be a competent negotiator, you are losing out on an opportunity to save time and money.
Likewise, if you know that you are not a calm and collected person, you can bet that your opponent knows that too. Attorneys are great at picking at the person to see if they will crack. You do not want to expose your lack of poise to a judge. It will hurt your credibility in their eyes and will keep you from presenting the best case for yourself.
Questions about representing yourself in a child support case? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
If you could not tell by the tone of this blog post, I think the times that are appropriate to represent yourself in a family law case of any sort are few and far between. You will be best served by at least speaking to a family law attorney about any questions you may have before deciding for yourself. Many of our clients began their case without an attorney only to find that they needed to double back and hire us. This cost those folks time and money.
To learn more about our office, don't hesitate to contact us today. We offer free of charge consultations and will always have an attorney available to consult with you on any questions you may have.