February 8, 2019

Representing Yourself – be prepared – 3 Tips

Just because you do not have a lawyer, still means you have to behave as a lawyer while presenting and preparing your case. Be prepared - it will leave you in a better position to negotiate with the other lawyer and present to the Judge in a clear way.

Tip 1: Be Civil – It is easy to be caught up with the stress of court. It is necessary to resist this tendency. By dealing with your case in a polite way, the Judge will be more willing to hear you out. Being in court is emotional. Managing those emotions is not easy, but being polite is critical. Some key points are: get to court at least 15 minutes early; turn off your cellphone – that’s an absolute and when you address the judge say “Your Honour”, not by using the word “you”. Speak to the Judge when you are asked to and remain calm, no matter how you feel inside.

Tip 2: Do your research – Even as a self-represented person, you still have to follow the rules of the Court. They are the Family Law Rules under the Ontario Courts of Justice Act. They are available on the ontario.ca website. Not knowing them can result in your case being delayed or worse – having a judge order that you pay costs (that means money) to the other person because you are unprepared.

You need to know the law in Ontario. Don’t rely on the first link that comes up on Google when you search “child support”. If you find California law, it won’t help you here. If you are searching the web, make sure you type in the word “Ontario” and look only for the law of the province. Even the law in Canada varies, so looking up British Columbia law on how assets are divided is going to point you in the wrong direction if you live in Ontario. Research can be done by reading the Rules and reading the legislation that applies to you. Plus, you can get a lot of information from Ontario family lawyer websites – just make sure the law is correct as it applies to your situation.

Tip 3: Focus on the facts – The judge and the lawyer for the other person need to clearly know what you are asking and why. Set your claims out in detail. Remember, a judge hears many matters per day, and only knows your case based upon the documents you file and what you say in court. This requires you to be very clear to make sure the judge has a good grasp of your file before you even walk in the door. You want to be clear when you write your court documents and state the key facts. What are facts? Facts are the critical pieces in law that the judge is looking for to see what your situation is. Key pieces are the chronology of your relationship. Set out your basic history in order. Focus on the points, not attacking your spouse for things that went wrong. Keep it short, ideally 3 or 4 pages only. If you do this, the judge can focus on the key points.

Being prepared will allow you to feel more calm, present your facts in a logical way and go a long way to making your journey through the court process go just that much smoother.

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