Conducting a Trial: Things Self Represented Litigants Should Know

Are you in the process right now of considering whether you want to hire an attorney to represent you in a divorce or child custody case? The issues surrounding hiring an attorney go well beyond the legal matters associated with your case. I don’t think anyone I would argue that your case would benefit from having an attorney representing you regarding the legal parts of your case. A family case, just like any other legal matter, does include questions about the law and its application to your lawsuit. A lawyer understands the Texas Family Code and how it applies to your circumstances. No matter how much you study the law or watch YouTube videos, you will not be as prepared for your case as an experienced attorney would be.

Before we get into the topic of what you as a self-represented person should know heading into a divorce or child custody trial, I also wanted to take this opportunity to share with you some of the advantages of having an attorney on board from the beginning of your case. A great deal of the benefits of having an attorney representing you is not explicitly seen in the courtroom. Many aspects of an issue do not show up in court but matter a great deal, nonetheless.

Getting your case off the ground

I have often encountered people considering getting a divorce but don’t know where to start. Other times I have worked with nervous people about beginning the process because it could mean to their family and future. Suppose that you know that a divorce is the next logical step for you and your family. However, because you have been a stay-at-home parent for many years, you were concerned that you would not afford to pay rent or mortgage your home if you got a divorce. For these financial reasons, you may be considering staying in a marriage that is not healthy for you or your children.

Other times you may be in a position where you have tried to go through counseling with your spouse and have seen some positive results but are still having trouble with one issue or another. In that case, you may be conflicted about determining whether divorce is best or staying in your marriage, and continuing to try to reconcile with your spouse will be the better option. It is normal to feel conflicted when going through something as complex as a potential divorce.

Anyone who has gone through a divorce will sympathize with you in terms of the difficult decisions that you have in front of you. If you and your spouse are not communicating well with one another, now you may not know if your spouse is considering a divorce from you. In that case, you may have to consider your options in terms of continuing to ponder whether divorce is best or just biting the bullet and moving entirely towards a divorce. You may have even brought close friends and family into the equation and asked their opinion on a highly personal subject and not pleasant to discuss.

Ultimately, however, you need to decide what you want to do and how you wish to proceed with a divorce. Whatever decision you make needs to be based on what is in the best interests of your family, your children, and yourself. Many people going through this process will vacillate between getting and not getting a divorce. You can rationalize yourself into and out of a divorce daily if you allow yourself to get to that point. What seems like a good idea today may seem like less of good idea years or weeks down the line. Before you know it, you can be a significant period away from the original period where you decided only to find that you have not come to a resolution one way or another.

The point I’m trying to make to you is that sometimes the most challenging part of divorce cases is simply making up your mind to determine whether you should get a divorce at all. Both options sound good to you for different reasons that are a recipe for disaster in doing what is best. Having an attorney involved in your situation can do several positive things for you and your case. And that doesn’t mean that the attorney will always lead you towards a divorce, either. Many times, an attorney will talk to you about your options, and you will determine that a divorce is not necessary or in your best interests, at least right now.

However, sometimes an attorney will talk to you about your divorce situation, and you will determine that getting a divorce is in your best interest. Even when you come to that conclusion, there is still the issue of getting your case off the ground and filed.

In that circumstance, you need to ask yourself whether you know enough about the divorce process in Texas to the ability to file your case. This is not a theoretical exercise. On the contrary, if you decide to get it divorced but to do so without the assistance of an attorney, you will find yourself in the position where you need to file your case to get the process started. Like anything else, filing a legal issue involves a process where you need to learn the necessary steps.

Additionally, filing a divorce case is not more than one way to do it. Instead, the district or county clerk where you are a resident has a specific process where you must follow the necessary steps to get the intended result. Failure to follow the steps can lead to unnecessary delays and other problems. Delays in this context mean time and money that will essentially have been wasted.

On the other hand, having an experienced family law attorney to help guide you in your case can save you time and money by allowing you to get it right the first time. You can read through different blogs on our website to learn about the process of filing for divorce in Texas. This would include drafting an original petition for divorce, temporary orders, filing your case in the proper court, setting up a potential brief order hearing, and then serving the documents upon your spouse. If you are confident in your ability to perform all of these steps in the correct order and the right place, then you may be in a position to file your divorce.

On the other hand, if yours is a divorce case involving children or a significant amount of property, you should consider the potential impacts of filing a divorce without the assistance of a lawyer. Someone in your position has so much more at stake than a person who does not have children nor a significant amount of property in the marriage. With children, you have the risk of harming your relationship with them both now and in the future. Negotiating with your spouse over issues regarding Custody and possession is very complex and incredibly detailed based on your own set of realities.

On top of that, Texas is a community property state. This means that Texas views property differently than most other states. You would need to feel comfortable figuring out how much property you own, what debts need to be divided where, and the value of your property and understand and navigate the complicated waters of Community property. Meanwhile, you will still have your full-time job and any other responsibilities currently on your plate. Juggling all these balls simultaneously is a challenge that you need to be prepared for if you decide to represent yourself in a divorce case.

Ultimately, your decision is to be represented by a lawyer in your divorce case. There is no requirement in Texas law for you to have an attorney representing you in your case. People proceed independently without an attorney every day and get a divorce in Texas. It would help if you were most concerned with whether this is the best decision for you and your family. That requires a certain sense of your case and how you will manage the facts and circumstances of your case while caring for your children and going to work every day. If this sounds like a challenge beyond what you’re capable of controlling, then you would not be alone.

Representing yourself in a divorce trial

If you decide to represent yourself in a divorce or child custody case that precedes a trial, I think some information would be helpful for you to have. To be sure, this information may be more applicable for certain people than others. Beginning with the reality that most divorce and child custody cases do not make it to a trial. For the most part, these family cases tend to settle in mediation or informal settlement negotiations before any courtroom involvement. However, given that your case can be the exception rather than the rule, blog posts like this can be essential to help provide you with basic information about what you may encounter in the courtroom if you decide to proceed without an attorney.

The first thing I would mention to you is that if an attorney does not represent you, it is more likely, in my opinion, that you will find yourself in a courtroom. The reason for this is that attorneys are adept at negotiating with One another; I’ll be half other clients. This is because attorneys have experience finding solutions to complicated issues from having worked on many different divorce and child custody cases. Your experience will necessarily be much less, and as a result, you may be missing opportunities to negotiate successfully with your spouse or Co-parent. These missed opportunities will undoubtedly increase the likelihood of your case in the future to a trial when otherwise you may have been able to avoid that outcome.

The other aspect of this discussion that I think is relevant to consider is that you and your spouse and Co-parent have a history together. This history may lead the two of you to be more emotionally committed to your positions; it may leave you less likely to negotiate successfully with your spells. This is something that I have seen firsthand. You and your spouse have an emotional history together that may make it challenging to find common ground for no other reason than you are caught up in the emotion of the negotiations in your past with this person. Even a simple look from the other person you take is being aggressive or disrespectful is enough to there often were negotiations. Having an attorney means having someone available who can intervene and get in between the two of you.

Then the critical aspect of A trial is being able to have persuasive evidence to present to a court and be able to have that evidence admitted into the record for a judge to consider. The most compelling evidence in the world will not make a difference in your trial Unless it can be accepted into the form for a judge to consider. This means that you need to familiarize yourself with marking exhibits, offering them into the record, responding to objections from your spouse or their attorney, and then proceeding on and building a case based on that evidence.

Next, there is a certain etiquette that you need to be familiar with in terms of conducting yourself in a courtroom appropriately. A courtroom is not the same as your living room or even an attorney’s office. This means that they need to learn how to dress, address the court and act well inside a courtroom. Even if you are a professional person who works in professional environments, You may not be prepared for what it means to enter a courtroom and carry on with the trial. The fact is that your circumstances may not allow you to design as adequately as you would like for conducting yourself appropriately inside of a courtroom. For example, I would recommend taking the time to head to the courtroom to familiarize yourself with the environment and to see how attorneys practice in court. However, you may not be able to do this due to work commitments or other obligations.

Next, you need to learn how to dress inside of a courtroom. For women, wearing the most fashionable outfit that you own to court may not be what is best at all. You should consider dressing in court as you would to a business meeting or church. This means no revealing clothing and dresses or skirts below the knee. Above all else, you do not want to be distracting in your clothes or even in the perfume that you wear. You want the entirety of everyone’s attention to be on the content of your case rather than on any other component of your being in court. For men, wearing a suit in Thai is never a bad option. However, at least putting on a pair of khaki pants and a sports coat would be desirable for appearing before a judge and a trial.

Preparing adequately for a trial is probably the most critical aspect of going to court. Giving yourself one night’s worth of preparation for a problem is not a wise idea when you have a potentially significant about of issues at stake in your trial. Ask an attorney how long they will prepare for a problem, and you may be surprised to learn just how much time and effort goes into the process of preparing a case for this critical step in the process. While you’re at it, you should familiarize yourself with the process of appealing a judge’s decision and drafting court orders based on the judges’ decisions. If all of this sounds overwhelming, it’s because it can be. Consider your options and then speak with an experienced family law attorney before deciding to represent yourself in a divorce or child custody trial.

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