Self-help law center

Representing yourself in court

Your responsibilities

The decision to represent yourself in court is an important one. When making this decision you must be aware of the responsibilities you are undertaking. The following are the basic responsibilities of a self-represented litigant.

You must follow the same standards of a lawyer.
You should follow all the rules that apply to lawyers. If you fail to follow the rules, you may be subject to the same penalties as if a lawyer represented you.

For example, if you fail to file required paperwork with the court your case might be postponed to another date or dismissed entirely. You also could have an unfavorable ruling made against you that could affect issues such as visitation or the distribution of assets.

You should understand the legal process.
The legal process is a complex and sometimes difficult to understand. Decisions you make during the process could adversely affect the outcome of your case. If an attorney represents the other party in the case you will be at a disadvantage.

You will have to do your homework.
Representing yourself in a case may require a substantial amount of your time outside the courtroom. This includes gathering evidence in the proper form, completing forms that include instructions similar to tax forms, and completing research of statutes, rules of procedure and case law that apply to your case. Be aware that while court personnel are available to answer procedural questions concerning your case, they are prohibited from giving legal advice.

You need to remain objective.
You have a personal interest in the outcome of the case that may deprive you of objectivity that you will require to present your case effectively.

You must maintain the integrity of the legal system.
Communication between the parties and judge is restricted. Judges must be fair and impartial. For that reason, they are not allowed to discuss the case with only one of the parties. If information needs to be presented to the judge concerning the case both parties must be present.

You will be required to be on time.
The court has a very busy schedule and only a limited amount of time to hear cases. It is also not a good idea to keep the judge who is going to decide your case waiting.

You should keep a file.
A copy of each document or piece of information that is filed or that is delivered to the court should be kept in your file.

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