October 22, 2021

What does representing myself in family court mean?

The explanation of what representing yourself in divorce court means and what does that look like for you.

What does representing yourself in divorce court mean?

You are separating from your spouse. The two of you have tried to settle things. But that has just not worked. You are still disagreed. What to do?

You have to start a court case as you want to get a Judge to settle an issue that you and your spouse cannot agree on. Such things may be which parent the children live with or how much child support gets paid. If you cannot agree, you often end up in court. It happens to hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario every year.

When you go to court, you can either hire a lawyer to do all the paperwork, forms, financial documents and talking to the Judge for you – or you can represent yourself.

Representing yourself means there is no lawyer doing any “talking” for you. No lawyer in charge of all the forms. You have to figure out what the steps are in a divorce court case. You speak to the Judge yourself at the court hearings. You fill in the paperwork needed, not your lawyer – because you have chosen not to have one. You have to file the right documents and send them to the lawyer for your spouse (if they have a lawyer). All the leg-work is done by you. That is what “acting” for yourself or “representing” yourself means. The court system calls you a self-represented litigant.

For some people this works. Often not very well though. If you do not have a lawyer at all, your chances of success in court drop drastically. That is purely because you do not likely have legal training and are wading into a process that is completely foreign to you. Most of the time you are not sure what questions to ask for the things you need. This can be considerably stressful.

Some of the things you have to do when representing yourself are:

1/ decide on what to ask for in the court forms

2/ fill out all the forms you need and get the information clear so the Judge knows what you need

3/ serve the forms on your spouse or their lawyer

4/ digitally file the documents through the Court portal

5/ read up on the Family Law Rules (very detailed on how to do each part)

6/ speak to the Judge when at a Conference, a motion or at trial

7/ prepare any witnesses you need and

8/ ultimately argue the law for your case

You are now wading into unknown territory. Often you think, “What choice do I have? I either have to pay lots of money to hire a lawyer or I’m on my own!” We want to explain that there is another way. A middle-ground between the two.

That is where un-bundled or limited-scope legal services come in. You are able to hire a lawyer only to do what little piece of the court case you need. We are able to do as much or as little as you need. If you want to know what forms to do and how to fill them in, we can help you do that. If you do not want to talk to the judge on the day you have court, we can do that for you. We can give you the framework to do it yourself. You stay in control of the amount of legal time you buy. This puts you in a better position than most self-represented people. Read our other blog articles on what help you can get – help that leaves you in control.


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