You want to start a Family Law case or one has been
started that you now have to respond to. What are you going to do, and
where are you going to turn for help?
You have several alternatives available to you to assist
you in handling your case:
You can contact an attorney for legal advice or to represent
you by seeking referrals from friends or relatives, looking in the telephone
book, or calling a Lawyer Referral
If you are the parent seeking the payment of child support
you may ask the District Attorney to bring an action or file enforcement
or modification proceedings in an existing case. The District Attorney
can help you with child support only and not with any other family issues
such as custody, property, or a divorce. If you want custody or visitation
orders in addition to child support, you must file your own divorce or
paternity case. Contact
the District Attorney Family Support Division.
You can contact a paralegal to prepare documents, but remember
that a paralegal is not licensed to practice law and cannot give you any
legal advice, especially about important rights you might have.
The court recognizes that for many people hiring an attorney
is not an option, whether for economic reasons or for personal reasons.
Nevertheless, the position of all of the Family Law webpages is:
You can represent yourself (otherwise known as being "in
There is an old saying that has passed into folk wisdom that
the person who represents himself or herself "has an ass for a lawyer and
a fool for a client." This is neither unkind nor harsh. It is a shorthand
and memorable saying that contains the following ideas:
Lawyers spend three years in law school and much effort studying
to pass the bar exam to reach a point where the state will allow them to
practice law. At that point they are still not effectively equipped to
represent others, but must acquire practical knowledge of the law and the
courts through years of practice to become good at what they do.
Family Law is a complex enough area of the law that the State
Bar has authorized it to be one of the Certified Specialties. A difficult
examination is given that requires a significant amount of Family Law experience
and knowledge to be able to pass. There are plenty of lawyers who practice
Family Law effectively without having sought to become Certified Family
Law Specialists, but to do well in Family Law it has to occupy a significant
portion of their practice. California Family Law changes so rapidly and
often that a lawyer who only handles a few Family Law cases a year will
not have the knowledge that a lawyer who handles it on a daily basis does.
A Pro Per certainly cannot be expected to have the knowledge
of even the nonspecialist lawyer, but if you represent yourself the court
must treat you as if you do have that knowledge. "Ignorance of the law"
-- and of court procedures -- is not an excuse for not handling your own
case in the way that the law and court rules require it to be done.
Assuming you can acquire enough knowledge about the law governing
your situation and about the court procedures to enable you to process
your case through the system, you still face the main reason a Pro Per
has "a fool for a client." The most difficult handicap for a Pro Per to
overcome is that you lack the perspective to
be objective about your own case.
Marital dissolution proceedings, child custody issues, questions
of monetary support, and even the division of property raise emotions in
the people whose lives will be affected by the outcome that make it difficult
for them to be objective even when they have an attorney to advise them
and conduct the case.
Will you know when you are better off settling or compromising
an issue or the whole case than you would be if you reject a settlement
and put your fate in the hands of the stranger wearing the black robe?
If you reject a settlement and try all or part of the case,
will you know what to say -- and more importantly, what not
to say -- in presenting your case? Will you know what evidence you need
in order to prove your case and how to obtain that evidence? Will you know
which issues and evidence are important and which are not? Will you know
what evidence is admissible (allowed to be presented in court under the
Evidence Code) and, if it is not, how to make it admissible? This list
of questions could go on and on.
at risk when you represent yourself in a court of law. If you cannot afford
to obtain counsel to represent you, at least seek some form of legal advice
before you set forth on your own.
Despite all the warnings, you have made the decision to
represent yourself. Is there anywhere to find out some the things you need
to know in handling your own case?
You can purchase self-help resources at various booksellers
and borrow them at public libraries. The Los
Angeles County Law Library is located at 301 W 1st St. between
Broadway and Hill in downtown Los Angeles across the street from the Central
Civil Courthouse, and there are branch
law libraries in some of the District Courthouses. There are also
libraries located in various law schools in the area. Some general
public libraries that do not specialize in law books may have legal self-help
You may look
up online various provisions of the Family Code and other California Codes
that may pertain to your case at the website maintained by the California
Legislature. In representing yourself you should
be aware that merely knowing the language of a code section may be insufficient
knowledge since the court is also directed by published cases
decided by California appellate courts that guide in interpreting those
Here are links to two of the most frequently used codes in
a Family Law court:
In representing yourself you will also be responsible for
knowing the California
Rules of Court and the Los
Angeles County Court rules that apply to the conduct and processing
of Family Law cases. (Other rules of court than those specifically geared
toward Family Law cases may also apply, so you may have to familiarize
yourself with more court rules than the ones directly linked above.)
If you decide to represent yourself you will be expected
to prepare and present your case like a lawyer and you will not be given
special consideration even if you are opposed by a trained Family Law attorney
representing the other party. Once more, it is a good idea to seek and
obtain competent legal advice and representation if you can afford to do
You can obtain legal forms in the Clerk's Office at each
County Courthouse. You can also download
current forms from the Judicial Council's website. Many of the
forms that are commonly used are directly linked on other pages of this
If you are not represented by counsel and your case involves
issues of child support or spousal support, you are encouraged to seek
the assistance of the Family Law Facilitator
The Office of the Family Law Facilitator was created in 1998-99
for just those purposes, and there is a representative in each Los Angeles
County courthouse in which Family Law cases are heard. Click the link above
for locations, telephone numbers and hours.
help in selecting the correct forms to use
making sure your papers have been filled out correctly and
calculating child support
assistance in arriving at an agreement with the other parent
on issues of support, and general assistance with information needed in
obtaining or defending against a child or spousal support order