In my opinion, Family Law represents the best efforts of the legislature and the courts to do the right thing for people who may have temporarily lost their ability to find their way without substantial help. In other words, Family Law is an outline of what needs to be done, and how to do it, for people who may not be thinking clearly in the stress of separation and divorce. Legislatures make the laws, and judges interpret and enforce them.
This does not mean that every piece of Family Law, or every statute, necessarily applies to you or to your family’s situation. It is the job of divorce lawyers Charleston SC to consider your circumstances and recommend the best routes by which you might obtain your goals.
I recently spent several hours in a Family Court clerk’s waiting area, waiting for the filing of a complicated case. During that period of time, 7 different individuals came to the clerk’s window, asking guidance on how to get their divorce or their separation or their child support, etc., without a lawyer. Clerks are not lawyers, and are not permitted to give any advice; however, they do have access to certain printed forms to provide to those who seek to handle their own cases. Almost all of the 7 people who stood beside me in that waiting area described to the clerk various difficult circumstances. In the 4 or 5 minutes during which they had the clerk’s attention, they were anxiously requesting advice, which is something the clerk’s office cannot provide. They all were determined to do whatever needed to be done, without the assistance of a lawyer.
How did we get to this spot, where determining one’s rights as well as presenting one’s own case in court became such a focus of the public? Are good lawyers, reasonable lawyers, fair lawyers, so hard to find? Are TV shows convincing everyone that it is easy to stand in front of “Judge Judy” or one of the other TV judges and say whatever you want to say?
The Family Court is an evolving institution. The laws are changed, re-interpreted, applied differently, etc., all the time. The attitude and atmosphere of the Family Court does not remain the same all the time: different judges bring their different backgrounds to approach each situation. Family Courts in different counties have different local requirements for paperwork, filing, scheduling, etc. If you choose to represent yourself, you are held to the same standard as a lawyer: know the law, know the facts, know how to present your own case in Court. This is a demanding standard.
More confusion regularly arises as laws change. This year, the impact of the Tax Reform Bill will hit Family Law cases in a variety of ways, with the tax deductions for alimony and for dependent children being vastly different than they were even last week.
Try as I may, I find it difficult to assist people in understanding why they should NOT try to represent themselves in Family Court. After all, I am told, it looks so easy on TV. Let me summarize: It is not easy. It is difficult material. The laws and the judges are regularly changing. Standards and language and methods are regularly changing. Further, if you elect to sign a legal document without an attorney, such as a Separation Agreement, you are doing so without understanding whether or not your legal rights have been protected. You will have no idea if a particular statement you may innocently choose to make within a courtroom setting could harm your case.
For 2019 and coming years, please protect yourself, your family, your livelihood and your future by obtaining the assistance of an experienced Family Law attorney in all matters relating to your future as a married or single person. You will always be glad that you did so.