By: E.A. Putman
Back in 2006, Beyoncé, the self-proclaimed Queen B, communicated to her significant other that despite his self-sufficiency, she was essential to his life. Upgrade U is the assertive upbeat tune on Queen B’s sophomore album. As she belted out “don’t doubt yourself…trust me you need me,” she unsubtly reminded him that his situation is improved with her assistance.
During the introduction of this song, Beyoncé’s significant other rebuffs the idea of being improved by her by inquiring “How you gon’ upgrade me what’s higher than number one?” Pro se litigants sometimes have this mindset and must be reminded that their situation can be improved with legal assistance. Pro se legal representation is a person who represent themselves before a court or other tribunal, rather than being represented by a lawyer. There are several reasons why people decide to represent themselves in court–finances being one of the top reasons and a mistrust of lawyers another.
Then there are those people who have consulted legal articles on Google, watched a few too many episodes of Judge Joe Brown and who wholeheartedly believe that they can accomplish what trained professionals can accomplish. Sometimes, this is true. But, more often than not, pro se litigants often do not have an understanding of law or procedure and may find themselves frustrated and in a losing position.
I routinely am asked, “Do I really need to hire a lawyer for this _______ (insert family law case)?” I respond to that inquiry with a remark given by one of my law professors, “You can do anything you want by yourself. You can even perform your own open heart surgery.” Much like the chances of survival are slim performing your own surgery, the general sentiment is don’t go it alone in family law. Family lawyers are essential.
Lawyers (Barristers) and Bees (not Queen B) have something in common. They both perform a task that is vital to society. One third of our global food supply is pollinated by bees. Without bees, humans wouldn’t have very much to eat. Without lawyers, litigants would not have a good chance of favorable outcomes in court.
Divorce, custody and child support are three common cases in family law. Depending on the circumstances, do you really need to hire a lawyer for your case?
- No children? No property?
Maybe. But, it would behoove a litigant to, at minimum, consult with an attorney on the necessary paperwork. Every morning in Harris County, there are scores of litigants on the 8am uncontested docket who are turned away because their paperwork is not in order. This may include not having the Final Decree, not having the proof of citation on file for the requisite amount of time or even having a Waiver of Service that was signed prior to the case even being filed!
- Alleging Fault? Property? Children?
Texas has six fault grounds for divorce which are touched on in a prior post. Two of the most common fault grounds alleged are adultery and cruelty. Alleging a fault ground as the break up of the marriage requires more than stating it in the lawsuit. It requires a party to put forth evidence proving the allegations. If a litigant has ever been to the justice of the peace court then they would mistakenly believe that this evidence is satisfied by showing the judge their phone which contains a screenshot of illicit conversation between their spouse and their spouses paramour. Wrong. The Texas Rules of Evidence, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and Texas Family Code will cover the conduct of trials. Those manuals are not light Sunday reading material. If property, especially a spouses 401K or pension, is an item to divide in a divorce, there is no question that a party should not be pro se. The discussion on custody litigation is discussed in further detail below.
Lawyer. It is extremely rare to have an agreement on initial custody or modification of the custody arrangement from the outset of a lawsuit. Custody cases are typically emotional marathons that reflect the epitome of family law cases…”good people at their worst.” A pro se litigant is faced with the difficult task of presenting his case to the court while keeping his emotions in check at the same time. A pro se litigant also has to be prepared for the dual function of co-parenting while investigating and preparing for a custody battle like a lawyer.
If there is such a thing, it still requires the paperwork and procedural process of any family law case and as stated above, consulting a lawyer may be befitting.
My simple rule–if it involves money and you are already in court because there was no agreement at the Attorney General’s conference, hire a lawyer. If you are facing jail time for failure to pay child support, hire a lawyer. If the other parent is requesting maximum arrears and you have been paper trailing informal payments, hire a lawyer. If it is a situation where you put yourself on child support and you and the other parent are in agreement, pro se. As discussed in in the sections regarding uncontested custody and uncontested divorce, consulting a lawyer will help.
While a party may proceed as a pro se litigant, it is understandable that sometimes it is not by choice. Because of this necessity, there are organizations and resources to help those in need of legal services. Houston Volunteer Lawyers, the pro bono arm of the Houston Bar Association, provides legal aid to low income individuals. Texas Law Help provides forms and other resources for “simple civil problems.” Lastly, there are lawyers and other organizations that routinely provide “Know Your Family Law Rights” events in the community which The Putman Firm, PLLC has planned for December 2018. While the case may seem simple and clear cut, don’t do it alone. That simple case can turn complicated rather quickly. Talk to a lawyer. As Queen Bee said, “Trust us, you need us.”
If you need consultation on a family law matter or would like assistance on your case, The Putman Firm, PLLC would like to help you. Our office is located right outside of downtown Houston in the historic Second Ward. Contact us at (281) 501-9033.