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Courtroom Conduct: Things Self Represented Litigants Should Know

If you plan on representing yourself in a Texas family law case, you need to be aware of the consequences of your decision. Like anything else in life, deciding to move forward in a family law case without an attorney requires you to understand what is at stake in the case, what benefits can be derived from having an attorney, what benefits, if any, can be derived from not having an attorney and overall whether or not this is something that you should consider doing. Only then can you truly be in a position where you can make a well-informed decision about whether or not to seek an attorney for your case?

Additionally, if you decide to represent yourself in a divorce or child custody case, you may also find yourself in a courtroom before your case is all said and done. With that being said, you may need to learn how to conduct yourself in a courtroom. Just as you would not behave the same way in your own house as you would in a house owned by another person, you would not act the same way in a courtroom as you would anywhere else. The treble comes in when you do not know how to act in certain situations when you find yourself in court. Today's blog post will seek to ensure you know how to act both outside the courtroom and within the courtroom.

The decision to represent yourself in a family law case

If you decide not to have an attorney for your family law case, then you need to have done your due diligence and learn as much as you can about the process add to learning about what sort of benefits can be gained by having a lawyer. Family law cases are such fact in circumstance-dependent that there are no two cases that are exactly alike. With that being said, you cannot expect to decide whether or not you need an attorney based on the experiences of a friend, comma family member, or co-worker. It would be best if you decided whether or not an attorney is necessary for proper representation for yourself and your family.

In a divorce or child custody case, you need to be certain that you will not need an attorney before beginning your case. The tough part about this type of decision is that you can never be 100% certain about anything in a family law case. What may appear to be a relatively straightforward divorce case may end up being anything but due to changing circumstances. By that point, you may have already made a mistake, wasted time in the case where you otherwise harmed yourself procedurally in a way that even hiring an attorney cannot repair.

I have a general rule of thumb that I apply to family law cases when it comes to having an attorney by your side. I will tell people that if you have a divorce case without children or a great deal of property, you may be able to get away with not having an attorney representing you. Any divorced case that features a significant amount of property would require, in my opinion, for you to at least consider the use of an attorney. You do not want to put yourself in a position where hard work saving, earning, and investing yielded nothing for you due to a failed divorced case.

By the same token, any divorce with children or any child custody case at all would merit the consideration of you hiring an attorney. It is always a shock to parents to find that the result of a family law case in child custody can hinge on a few factors here or there or even in decisions made when it comes to a discovery response or even when it comes to working with people through negotiation. As a result, I would recommend any person with children to consider having an attorney before engaging in a contested family law case.

Of course, my recommendation that you hire an attorney in these circumstances does not guarantee you a particular level of success. By all means, even cases where attorneys represent clients can go sideways and find that goals are not met in Basel, bad results do occur. An attorney in and of themselves does not guarantee a particular result in a case. However, an attorney is oftentimes the great equalizer in a difficult family law case.

What to expect when you are representing yourself in a Texas family law case

The first thing that I would tell any person who is planning to represent themselves in a family law case would be to expect a great deal that you do not know and will have never had an opportunity to learn. That's just the reality of being thrown feet first into a complex scenario involving the law and subject matter that you have otherwise never been exposed to. Family law may not be the most complex of legal areas. However, it is still complex from managing your expectations, the need to follow a legal process while understanding that you must be negotiating and maintaining your family life throughout the entire case.

Do not expect to hit the ground running if you are representing yourself. I would expect you to hit some road bumps along the way that can otherwise provide you with problems that may require you to go back and correct mistakes and spend a little bit of time learning more about the process of filing documents and meeting deadlines. If nothing else, having an experienced family law attorney by your side would help you from the standpoint of learning more about your case and meeting all of the important deadlines that a family law case brings. Otherwise, you are responsible for meeting these deadlines.

For instance, suppose that you were served with the divorce petition from your spouse. Would you know that there is a deadline by which you would need to file an answer to that divorce petition? Would you know the format of the document that would need to be filed? Where would you even file the document? Do you need to go somewhere in person, or could you do it over the computer? These are the sort of simple questions that an attorney would answer and take care of for you readily. I just posed four or five very relevant questions that you need to answer in a relatively quick fashion at the very beginning of the case.

The instinct in a family law case would be to complete the case as quickly as possible and do so with as little effort as possible. The problem with a family law case is that many of the problems involved cannot be solved instantaneously and rather take some time to see what is best for your family. For instance, after a temporary order hearing, you may want to quickly move to final orders mediation, given the time commitments and costs of a divorce. However, you may need to allow your family to adjust to a temporary child custody schedule in that it can take time. You won't be able to move into the final orders phase of your divorce quickly.

Like anything else, a family law case is an as much art as it is science. Learning how to manage your expectations and the case process itself is difficult even for an attorney. For someone who works in another area and does not have much formal knowledge of family law, this can be extremely difficult before you enter into a family law case without an attorney; you need to consider whether or not it is possible for you to maintain a family law case while managing the other areas of your life, as well.

Life does not come to a stop just because you have a family law case going on.

The reality of your family law case is that while it may feel like the rest of your life ceases to exist, the reality is it will keep pressing on despite the challenges and obligations of your case. Your work responsibilities, home life responsibilities, and other challenges that we encounter daily will not stop merely because a family law case has been filed. Most importantly, your obligation to your family and your children does not stop merely because you have chosen to represent yourself in a family law case.

Meeting deadlines at work does not become easier just because you have filed a family law case. It would be nice for your boss to take it easy on you and push back some deadlines that were otherwise creeping up because they knew you were had filed a case. However, I can tell you from experience that does not happen in the real world. You will need to be able to balance your life with managing a family law case. Not every person is well suited to do this. Ask any practicing family law attorney, and they will tell you how difficult it can be to work through cases on behalf of clients while managing a personal life of their own.

I am trying to say that if you do not excel at balancing work and life activities, then hiring a family law attorney for your case may be in your best interests. If you do not have an excessive amount of free time on your hands to be able to devote to your case and do not work well within deadlines and fairly complicated materials, then you may want to shy away from representing yourself in a complex family law case. It is no hit to your pride for you to admit that this is not a strong suit of yours in that you need help in this regard. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, and choosing to have an attorney with you in representation may make the most sense for you and your family.

How to prepare to conduct yourself in court

If you have never been to court before then, I can tell you it is an experience. However, like anything else you experienced for the first time in life, there are ground rules and expectations for your dress and behavior. This makes preparing for your first visit to the courthouse a little bit more straightforward. I can point you towards some dress do's and don'ts in some behavior do's and don'ts that will hopefully serve you well in your first trip down to the courthouse any family law case.

Dressing for court does not have to be fancy, and it does not have to be difficult. However, it should not be casual. I recommend that men wear dress slacks or dress pants if at all possible. If you plan on wearing jeans,s then you should certainly not wear any old, tattered, ripped, or overly stylish jeans. A conventional pair of blue jeans of normal width and length can be worn to court without much of an issue. However, it would help if you plan on tucking your shirt in and wearing a belt. Dress shoes are favored over tennis shoes. Of course, no one would fault you for wearing a suit to court, as this is what the attorneys will be wearing.

If you are a woman attending your first court appearance, then the differences in the dress can be stark comparing men to women. Women should wear a conservative dress that does not expose too much of the armor shoulders and isn't that too short asked to go far above the knee. Wearing high-heeled shoes is fine but bear in mind that the shoes should not be so high that they make walking difficult for you or serve as a distraction inside the courthouse. If you plan to wear a sleeveless shirt or dress, you should have a jacket ready to cover your shoulders. You want to avoid anything that can distract a judge from listening to evidence and making the best decision possible for you and your family. This includes obnoxious jewelry, perfume or Cologne, and things of that nature.

As with anywhere else in the 21st-century, cell phones are a part of the dress code in court; you should avoid having your phone go off in the courtroom. Every judge has a policy on how to manage cell phone use in court. The vast majority of courts do not allow non-attorneys to utilized their phone in court. If a courtroom personnel member, such as a bailiff,f sees you using your cell phone in court,t it will usually be taken away and kept with the judge until the end of the day. This is not convenient for you as it is likely that your hearing will cause you to be done with the courthouse by 10:00 a.m. Unless you plan to be without your phone for the day, you should either put it on silent or leave it in your car.

When it comes to courtroom behavior, you should think about yourself as a guest in someone else's house. You would never put your feet on the table or on any other furniture that you see. You should sit up straight and be alert as the judge will be calling your case,e and you want to make sure that they know that you are present and accounted for. Additionally, it would help if you sat up straight in your seat; employee attention to when the judge enters the room period customarily, all persons in the courtroom will stand when the judge enters.

Next, a courtroom can be full, depending on the date and time. This means that you need to arrive early enough to have a seat so that you hear when your case is called. Depending on where you live in the area, leaving very early to arrive at the courthouse before space is taken in the building would be a wise decision. You should plan the route at least one night previously,y and you may even consider trying a dry run to determine how long it will take to get from your home to the courthouse.

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week by video, phone, and in person. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.

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