It’s an option many people wonder about: can I represent myself in court, and be my own lawyer? Couples with uncomplicated divorces may feel that getting lawyers can make things more complex, especially without children or considerable assets, The short answer is yes, but it’s not as easy as you think.
Going to court requires preparation time, including gathering documents, submitting pleadings, and other tasks that a case requires. Most people don’t have the time or the legal background to handle a family law matter on their own. You may save money in the beginning. But if something goes wrong, you will still need to hire a family lawyer to take over your case, costing more eventually. The court offers legal resources to assist people who need help, including help finding a family lawyer.
What Does a Family Lawyer Actually Do?
A family lawyer helps people and their families navigate through an emotional period in their lives. They handle any issue that impacts a family, including:
- Dissolution of non-marital relationships (i.e., de facto relationships)
- Parenting orders (aka child custody)
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Property and asset division
A family lawyer also drafts documents like custody agreements, wills, binding financial agreements (aka “prenuptial agreements” or “prenups”) and other required documentation. They file these documents with the court in a timely fashion, ensure that they are correct, and that all the court fees are submitted (or an application for waiver is submitted if needed.)
Having a family lawyer handle your case means that you’ll also have an advocate who understands Australia’s family law system, and everything needed to get through the process.
Can I Represent Myself In Court?
You can—but we strongly suggest that you don’t. Even though Australian courts will see you as an “unrepresented litigant,” you will still have the same responsibilities as a lawyer in court. To represent yourself, you’ll need to know the local rules and court procedures for not only filing but attending court hearings.
You’ll need to research and prepare your case as an attorney would and submit documents by the prescribed deadlines, along with the appropriate filing fees.
Court personnel can assist with filling out forms, scheduling your hearing, help you with the court portal, and other administrative tasks. But they cannot give you legal advice on the handling of your case or assist with your court appearance. You should still consult with a family lawyer for legal advice and advice on how to proceed.
Self-Representation In Court
You do have the right to self-representation. Before you decide to represent yourself in your family law case, there are some things to consider before you do:
- Because you are emotionally invested in your own case, you may have difficulty not becoming emotional during proceedings. Everything you say and do will be under intense scrutiny by the judge and could negatively impact your case.
- Because the other party will likely have their own counsel—even from Legal Aid—you will be at a distinct disadvantage. They know more than you do about Australian family law, how the court works, and have a rich knowledge of the law to bring forward a strong case against you. This is especially true if there are questions of family abuse, domestic violence, or other alleged criminal activity.
- Your lack of family law knowledge can cost you more money, or even the case.
- A family law attorney knows the rules of the court, whereas you may not. You’re expected to know these rules even when you’re self-representing, and the judge will not help you.
- It’s possible you could say something that you shouldn’t, which could also cost you the case.
- Should you say or do something wrong that damages your case, a lawyer may not be able to help after the damage is done.
If you decide to represent yourself, The Family Court of Western Australia has information available on their website. Before you do, we strongly suggest conferring with a Perth family lawyer when preparing your case and getting ready for court.
You can only represent yourself or be represented by a lawyer.
A non-lawyer is not allowed to represent you in court, or vice versa, with rare exceptions.
Do You Pay For Legal Aid?
For those who are facing a separation or divorce and need the help of a family lawyer, Legal Aid may be able to help. You may qualify for free or reduced-fee advice and assistance from Legal Aid. They can offer legal advice about your case and help you before your court date.
This government-sponsored program is intended to offer legal representation to traditionally under-served individuals who can’t afford to hire their own lawyer. They handle family law cases as well as criminal charges for fees based on your ability to pay. You are required to make some financial contribution.
Legal aid attorneys work on private cases alongside their Legal Aid caseloads. Many of these lawyers offer free or low-cost assistance to low to middle income people. They also offer legal advice by phone, duty lawyer services, and other help to those who need assistance. You may be able to get answers before you begin self-representation.
How much does a family lawyer cost in Australia?
Much will depend on the circumstances of your case and the type of lawyer you select. Many family lawyers work on billable hours, meaning that you are charged for every hour they work on your case. Savannah Legal attorneys also work on billable hours for some clients. This can add up quickly, especially if your case is complex.
We also offer our clients the option of a fixed-fee package for their legal services. You’ll know exactly how much your divorce will cost and can plan accordingly. Every case is different, and there may be additional costs involved. But if you choose our fixed-fee legal packages, you’ll know what our fees are ahead of time. We also have flexible payment to make it easier for our clients.
When Should I Hire a Family Lawyer for My Case?
After reading this blog, you may realise that representing yourself in court as an unrepresented litigant may not be the best way to handle your family law matter. So how do you find the right family lawyer to help you and your family and protect your rights through the entire process?
At Savannah Legal, we offer you a free 30 minutes consultation to discuss your family law matter. Whether it’s a separation or divorce, child custody and support, or other legal issue that impacts your family, we can take care of your legal matter while you take care of your family. Our goal is to offer affordable legal services and advice while taking this burden off your plate.
You can quickly and easily book your free consultation today and learn more about how Savannah Legal’s family lawyers can help you through a challenging time. And with offices in Perth, Adelaide, and Brisbane, we’re available to serve more clients.