Families Cautioned Against Self-Representation in Child Custody Cases

winter-holiday-1435107-m.jpgThere may be a variety of reasons that a person chooses to represent him or herself in a legal action, rather than hiring an attorney. The most common reason is money and the costs associated with representation. Many people in the legal profession advise against representing oneself. For instance, such “pro se” plaintiffs, as they are known, may not be sufficiently objective or knowledgeable in the law to timely and appropriately handle their own case. According to an article in USA Today, statistics show that two-thirds of parties who file for divorce in California did in fact represent themselves. But when children are involved, it is important to be sure that you are correctly navigating the family court process. The consequences of missing a filing or failing to raise the correct assertion can be devastating and impact your family’s future for years to come. If you are facing a child custody and visitation dispute, it is critical that you contact a local San Diego family law attorney who can help to protect and preserve your family’s rights.

Family court matters are vastly different from those in criminal court. Most jurisdictions offer criminal defendants free legal representation – either through a public defenders office or a legal aid society. But parties involved in divorce or child custody cases are not typically afforded the same benefit. Despite this lack of free legal services, according to the California Courts’ website, if parents are involved in a contested custody or visitation case, and cannot agree to a parenting plan, it is suggested that they talk with a lawyer to understand how the law affects their respective rights. There are many issues to consider and resolve – and most will impact the family’s financial, emotional and logistical state of affairs down the road.

Despite this urging, some parents will still decide not to hire a family law attorney. Fortunately for them, there is an organization that will assist parties in filling out their pleadings at no cost: the San Diego Family Law Facilitator’s Office. While this is helpful assistance, when parties are disputing child custody and visitation matters, it is important to understand one’s rights under California law. Significantly, once a court issues a final order in a child custody case, it will be difficult to set it aside. In fact, state court rulings have held that there are limited instances, known as a “significant change in circumstances,” that must be proven in order to modify a child custody order.

It has been suggested that any time a case involves children, large amounts of money or any disagreements, the parties should be cautioned against representing themselves. There is a big concern that pro se litigants could easily miss court dates or fail to schedule them in the first place. Parents have much to lose by failing to comply with the many procedural steps required by the family court. Serious matters concerning physical and legal custody of the children must be worked out with the best of care. An experienced family law attorney with knowledge of the local laws and court procedures can help to give you the confidence that you will achieve the best possible outcome for your family.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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