TIme and again I am confronted with the client that wants to know why her divorce agreement or Judgment of Divorce is meaningless, or at least seemingly meaningless. She does not understand why, after having fought the fight, spent thousands of dollars and signed an agreement or gotten a court order, her husband can simply ignore his obligations. “How can he get away with that?” she asks. Unless and until you take enforcement action, that is exactly what he will continue to do. This seems utterly unfair, and yes, it is.
Taking your ex to court after the divorce can be an even more daunting process than getting the divorce in the first place. With resources depleted and little energy to spare, the last thing a client wants to do is come into my office, pay another retainer and start the process again. Believe me, I understand. Going to court alone however can be just as overwhelming and distressing. Often times it really is unnecessary to have an attorney in post-judgment proceedings. Most post-judgment work relates to someone not doing what they were supposed to be doing, i.e. paying for certain items (the usual culprit is unreimbursed medical expenses, extracurricular activities and child care). In these types of cases the most important thing is to have proof of the items you paid and are due and owing by your ex. Other cases can be more complicated, like your ex trying to get a decrease in child support.
An alternative to hiring an attorney from the beginning and paying a large retainer is to consult an attorney and pay him or her only for the time to help you fill out your petition, review what you have prepared alone, and/or assist you in preparing a one page “memo” of points for your to know and raise in court. I have done this for clients in the past successfully and it has saved them thousands of dollars. Going to Family Court and representing yourself, a/k/a pro-se” can have serious pitfalls, and if you don’t know the basics, the Judge can dismiss your petition before you are even heard. Likewise, if your ex has filed a petition, you should definitely get at least a general understanding of what he is required to show, or how you can defeat his request.
You should know that most judges and lawyers do not like dealing with pro-se litigants. The reason for this is that most pro-se litigants do not know the law (they are not lawyers of course so how could they?) but when they are in court, a judge will hold them to the standard of a lawyer – in essence saying (without actually saying it) “if you come in here to be your own lawyer then you better know what you’re doing.” It is a “swim at your own risk” kind of thing. I have seen litigants ask questions of judges that are not appropriate and judges responding harshly while the ex sits there gloating. It’s not pretty. The judge is not there to help you. The judge has a very limited role and that is to hear the evidence and make a decision based on evidence. I can tell you that many, many lawyers are terrible at using evidence properly in court, so chances are that if your represent yourself, you can expect to have a lot of hurdles. This all being said, you can still represent yourself if you must, but paying a consultation fee of one or two hours is a small price to pay in order to be properly prepared and armed when going into the battle alone.
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