The reality is that going to Family Court can be very expensive. Unfortunately, many single mothers who don’t qualify for Legal Aid but who don’t have the financial resources to fund a private lawyer, may find themselves in a situation where they need to self-represent.
While self-representing is not ideal. It is also not the end of the world and many self-represented litigants can obtain successful court outcomes.
If you have found yourself self-representing or you are considering self-representing in the family court, this article is for you. We give you our best tips and tricks on how to prepare legally and emotionally for family court.
So, what is self-representing?
Self-representing at court it is when you prepare all the court documents, you draft all the correspondence and you ultimately appear in court yourself instead of having a lawyer or a barrister do these things for you.
1. It’s perfectly normal to feel stressed, anxious about the future
Whether you are applying for sole parental responsibility, trying to get a passport form signed or anything in-between, going to court can be stressful for the most seasoned advocate. Even if you do have a lawyer, feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are all perfectly normal. #Breathe.
So, it’s very important to make sure that you are getting enough self-care. Think about the things that make you feel good and schedule them into your week. I know! I know! As a mum of 3 boys under 7 myself, us mothers we can put ourselves at the very bottom of the laundry and toy piles BUT we really do have to prioritise our self-care. Whether it is exercise, speaking with a trusted friend, a daily mediation or yoga practice, or making an appointment to speak with a counsellor or psychologist. Find the things or things that work for you and make them a priority!
Court is more like a marathon than a sprint. It can sometimes take many years for your matter to finalise, so you need to make sure that you are filling your cup and managing your emotions. which leads us to Tip 2.
Further reading: 107 Self-care ideas that cost you nothing.
2. Keep your children blissfully unaware of family court
Our children are beautifully resilient however the children that experience negative outcomes after their parents’ separation are often, the children who have been placed in the middle of their parents’ conflict.
You are the adult and you owe it to your children to ensure that they are protected from any conflict or details about your separation. More importantly, the Court will look very poorly upon parents who are not child focussed and who place their children in the middle of conflict. Most parents don’t knowingly or willingly do this, but it’s important to always keep this at the forefront of your mind.
If you feel like you are struggling in this area, then reach out to a professional in your area, to help you navigate how to best assist your children through this transition.
Further reading: The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
3. You know your case best
Don’t be put off if your ex-partner or co-parent has a fancy lawyer. The reality is you know your case the best. You know the history of your relationship, your children, and your financial situation best. Use this knowledge to your advantage. The law is the law, so there is no reason why you can’t educate yourself on the law that is relevant to your matter. Which leads up to Tip 4, know the law and know the facts.
4. Focus on the Facts and know the law
It can be extremely difficult but the reality is that the court deals in facts and legal tests.
For example, if you are seeking parenting orders, then you need to be focussed on the legal test ‘the best interests of the child” and how is the legal test determined? Well you look to section 60CC of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) and you address your evidence to that test.
You will be expected to know at the very minimum:
- The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)
- The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Family Law) Rules 2021 (Cth)
You will also be expected to know the family court process and procedure. For example, if you are seeking interim orders, your affidavit will be limited to 10 pages and 5 annexures in accordance with the Rules (something you may not be aware of if you haven’t read the Rules or Legislation). Which leads us to the next Tip
5. Read the Practice Directions
The practice directions are guidelines issued by the family court themselves and provide a wonderful resource for a self-represented litigated. Some of the more common practice directions, which will provide you with a wonderful starting point when self-representing is:
This practice direction applies to all family law court matters. It provides a wonderful overview of the practice and procedures which must be followed as well as the court events that you can expect your matter go through.
Your go to practice direction for all things divorce. The Court also publishes a very helpful DIY divorce kit. Divorce is probably one of the most common matters that people self-represent.
If you have a covid related matter then check out this practice direction
This is the guiding practice direction for all things parenting.
If your property pool is under $500,000 then certain courts are currently running a pilot program which may be relevant to your matter.
If you need to bring a property matter before the court then this is the practice direction you need to be aware of.
Remember: Before you can start a matter in court, you need to comply with the pre-action procedures as found in Schedule 1 of the Family Law Rules 2021 (Cth)
The court also publishes two helpful brochures in respect of the pre-action procedures which you can find below.
You also need to be aware of your disclosure obligations.
Self-representing in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (cont.)
6. Outsource part of your case
You may not be able to afford a private lawyer to represent you for your entire case, but you may be able to engage a lawyer on a task-by-task basis.
For example, many lawyers will assist you to settle your affidavit or response and make sure that you have included all the necessary information. Sometimes this is a good middle ground and can give you some confidence.
Other lawyers offer payment plans or payment at the end of your property settlement. There is also litigation funding available which is suitable for some people.
At Coastal Lawyers, we offer a Strategy Session for a fixed fee price. Many people book in Strategy Sessions to get information before they start down their self-representation path so they feel a bit more confident about the process. And the good news is that we have clients in all different states thanks to the beauty of technology.
7. Google is your best friend
The good thing about family law is that it is Commonwealth law. This means that you can rely on resources from any state to assist you with your case. Many law firms and other organisations write very comprehensive articles on family law. Just be aware that in September 2021, the Family Law Rules were amended when the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court amalgamated so make sure any reference to the Rules are the 2021 rules.
8. Visit the Court
Sometimes one of the biggest sources of anxiety is the unknown. If you have never stepped foot in court before then make some time to take a visit there. Work out where you can park, have a test run of going through security and sit in court and listen to some other cases. Just seeing how the process works can help you feel more confident in your environment.
9. Bring back the palm cards
Do you remember when you had to give a speech at school and you had those little palm cards to remind you of your key points? Well writing down your key points on a piece of paper is a great way to help ground you when you must speak in Court. If you feel that you get nervous when it’s your time to speak, realise that is normal. The court will expect you to be nervous and sometimes a simple wriggle of your toes inside of your shoes will help you feel more relaxed. As the saying goes, ‘speak even though your voice shakes’.
10. Get organised and get a diary
Each time you go to court, you tend to get a shopping list of tasks and dates that must be undertaken before the next court date.
It’s very important that you write these down and stick to them. Set yourself reminders for when things are due, so you remember to follow them up.
You might also find you have thoughts randomly about your matter, if you carry with you a journal or diary of thoughts and events that happen, this will assist you greatly when it comes time to preparing your affidavit.
Further reading: How to write an affidavit for the family court.