Can family law cases really be a DIY project?

Recently, a judge in Bristol has allegedly been giving masterclasses on representing yourself in court following a legal aid cut that has left many fending for themselves.

The classes are said to cover what is worth knowing prior to turning up at court to DIY for a personal family case.

There haven’t been any comments on the law from any judges, or how the swingeing cuts have seen nearly all legal aid vanish for private family matters. These can range from post-divorce financial settlements, to the custody of children following parents’ splitting, also protective orders including non-molestation orders.

The judge who had been hosting the masterclasses began by laying out facts. Rising numbers of people are arriving at court absent of a lawyer, he said. In a three-month period in 2014, 80% of private family law cases saw at least one party attempting to fight a case without legal representation.

As the numbers of private family matters that are taken to court without the correct legal help rise, the presentation that was held regarding optioning a DIY approach received a hoard of questions once it had ceased.

Questions that had been asked included such: ‘What is the lawful basis for one parent to prevent a child from contact, without an order?’ and ‘If assessments presented to the court contain misrepresentation, what recourse does the injured party have?’.

What are your thoughts on the DIY approach to family law?

What is litigation and how is it used in court?

What exactly does litigation mean?

Litigation, in its simplest form, is the process of bringing in a court to enforce a particular right. It’s the act of bringing in a lawsuit to resolve any disputes that may arrive before a court.

When a member of the public begins a civil lawsuit, this person is entered into the process called litigation. Due to the rules of Civil Procedure, something which governs actions that are used in State and Federal courts, litigation is a process of steps (this can lead to a court trial and eventually a resolution of the matter at hand).

Before reaching a point of a lawsuit, the plaintiff (which is the person who starts the lawsuit) will demand a set of actions from the person they believe to have caused alleged injury or damage (the defendant). Given the demand is refused or ignored by the defendant; the plaintiff can proceed with the lawsuit by delivering a summons and complaint on the defendant, whilst filing this complaint with a civil trial court. The body of the complaint must summaries the state of the alleged injuries, linking them to the defendant, whilst ultimately requesting relief through money or other services.

Litigation will affect us all at some point
Litigation will affect us all at some point

Given that the complaint does not resolve any of the issues raised in the settlement, the plaintiff will then begin a process called discovery. This is where the plaintiff will send interrogatories (written questions) to the defendant that seeks information regarding the dispute. The plaintiff has the right to request a copy of the completed documents for later review. Once litigation begins, the defendant is also given the right to learn more regarding the plaintiff’s case. They are permitted to begin a discovery process of their own and this is something that may be conducted in a matter of weeks, sometimes years, depending on how complex the case is and what level of cooperation exists between the parties involved.

After the discovery process is completed by the parties, most courts will require both the plaintiff and the defendant to attend a conference in which they hope to reach a settlement before pushing the case onto a trial. Depending on the outcome, an agreement will be reached or given that the parties can’t reach a settlement, the litigation will then continue onto a trial. Close to the day of the trial, any side of the involved parties may often make a settlement offer in order to avoid court proceedings, something which can be costly, dragging out the process for a number of months. Given a settlement is reached, litigation is ended.

Given that the parties are still unable to settle their differences, a trial will be held. At the resulting trial both sides are given permission to bring forward evidence that they feel relevant, allowing them to try and prove to the courtroom/jury the truth behind any complaints made. If the plaintiff brings forward a convincing case, the defendant can look to end the case immediately. Alternatively, if the case of the plaintiff is weak, the defendant may ask the courtroom to dismiss the specific case. Given neither is put forward, the trial will proceed to a conclusion and either the judge or the jury will must decide which party prevails over the other.

Given that the defendant loses the lawsuit, the party can now ask the courtroom to throw out the verdict if they feel that the evidence did not warrant the decision, or the defendant can alternatively ask that any damages awarded to the plaintiff be lowered. The court has the right to grant or refuse these kinds of requests made by the defendant.

Once a final decision is made, litigation will end. The winning party is given the right to collect any outstanding damages from the losing party. After the losing party gives the agreed relief, the party is then entitled to receive a satisfaction of judgement from the prevailing party. This is filed with the trial court and attest to the happiness of the winning party, signifying the end of the case.

For more information and advice about civil litigation Northampton, please visit our website.