Self Represented Litigants – General Tip Sheet
Often in family law matters there will be one party who is not represented by counsel. There are a number of reasons why this may be the case, but generally they fall into two categories, involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary self represented litigants often have no choice in their not having counsel or are unable to afford a lawyer. They may have even started with a lawyer but were unable to continue. Voluntary self represented litigants have made the choice not to have counsel, can afford same, but choose not to for a number of reasons.
When you are a self represented litigant and there is counsel on the other side, there are a few helpful things to remember:
Counsel cannot be counsel for both sides, and this can sometimes get tricky. As the court process can be confusing, self represented litigants will often look to that counsel on the other side for guidance. It may even be a self represented litigant’s first interaction with the justice system and counsel for the other side may be seen as the only resource.
It is understandable that counsel’s knowledge and experience may lead a self represented litigant to ask questions and seek guidance. But that guidance cannot cross from legal information to legal advice. While they can provide information and explanation regarding their client’s position, or explain the process and some relevant case law regarding the issues, counsel has ethical obligations to their client that must come first.
While above may be seen as unhelpful to a self represented litigant, they should feel comfortable reminding counsel that they may not be as capable of navigating the court system in the same way that counsel can.