Very often people will come to my office when they are facing a hearing in a family law case. As one would expect, they do not understand the process and do now know what to expect. In my opinion, the wiser clients do not go to these hearings by themselves, but retain counsel to represent them.
The reality, of course, is that most people cannot afford $300 per hour for an attorney. That is why most people are self-represented. If you are self-represented and reading this, here is some legal information you might find helpful when you are set for a hearing in a family law case.
- You are probably going to a “Request for Order” hearing. In California family law cases, when a person needs something, such as child support, custody of a child, or some issue resolved, it only happens if you ask for it. One party files the FL-300 form (and perhaps a number of others depending upon the case) and then “serves” (this is a legal term of art, look it up) that on the other party along with a blank FL320 form, which is the “response”.
- You have sixteen COURT days (not counting weekends and holidays) to serve it, plus five for mailing, before the hearing date. Then the other party must respond NINE court days prior. At the hearing the judge ideally has read the papers and the file (but sometimes does not have time to) and gives you about 20 minutes to present your version of events. After that, the Judge makes a ruling.
- If it is very important and requires testimony, you can ask for that before the hearing begins. Once the hearing begins, you cannot ask for it. If you do set it for a “trial” then you need to know all the laws for the case and be able to argue them and object. You need to know the rules for evidence so you can know what the court will consider and won’t. It’s a tall order for someone who is not an attorney: even as an attorney I would NEVER go to court without a lawyer.
- If you do need to go to court without a lawyer, then educating yourself prior to that is the best thing to do. Go and watch the Judge and watch how the proceedings take place. Get an idea of what it is like.
- My advice, however, is simple: a lawyer now is a LOT cheaper and better than a lawyer later.