Every year, thousands of Canadians make the decision to represent themselves in family court proceedings. Some believe they know their case well enough to argue effectively on their own behalf, some don’t have the financial resources to hire a family lawyer, others believe they will work harder to secure their preferred outcome than a family law expert would. Whatever the reasoning, this trend has been on the increase in every Canadian jurisdiction.
Can You Represent Yourself in a BC Family Court?
In British Columbia, every individual has the right to represent themselves in court. Our legal system is taxpayer funded, and self-representation is seen as the individual asserting their rights to constitutional due process.
That being said, self-representation presents a litany of potential issues and pitfalls. If it were simple, there would be no need for family lawyers to exist. It’s often said in our industry, “a man who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer,” and while this statement is pretty harsh, there are plenty of things to be aware of before making the decision to represent yourself in court.
Let’s start with some basics.
A Warning About Self-Representation
The majority of individuals involved in court cases in British Columbia are represented by lawyers. Judges prefer to have lawyers present as they inherently understand how our legal system works. In fact, judges have been known to get frustrated with self-represented individuals for making basic errors or omissions that delay the day’s proceedings.
An individual who is representing themselves in court must be prepared, must keep their cool, and must have the ability to present their case in a concise and structured manner.
Finally, self-representation may seem like a money saver but this idea is a misconception. If you lose your case, you may be forced to pay the other side’s legal costs. This can stretch into thousands of dollars. Working with a family lawyer is proven to lead to more positive outcomes, ultimately saving you money in the long run.
Tips to Prepare for Self-Representation
If you’ve made the decision to represent yourself in a BC Family Court, preparation will make all the difference to your outcome. Here are some tips and best practices to put you on the best footing ahead of your case:
- Preparation is key – one of the perks of working with a family lawyer is their knowledge of pre-court preparation. There are materials that need to be gathered, documents that must be submitted and so on. Familiarize yourself with what you need for your case and start gathering the documents as soon as possible.
- Always be Truthful – whether its in your documentation or your presentations to court, there is no room for lies or omissions. Lying to the court is a serious violation of the law and it will always have a negative impact upon your case.
- Keep Your Receipts – Ensure you retain all receipts pertaining to your case. This includes court fees, hearing fees, photocopying expenses, postage etc. If your case is successful, you may be able to get the other side to pay for your expenses.
- Keep it Concise and Simple – Don’t waste the court’s time. Keep to your important points, avoid going into unnecessary background information, and practice the ability to summarize your case in a few sentences.
- Be Polite and Patient – legal proceedings can take time. There’s a lot of sitting around, listening to the other side, and hearing things about yourself you may not agree with. Stay calm, don’t allow frustration to creep in, and do not talk over anyone else.
Here to Help
Making the decision to self-represent is a difficult one for many people. If you have any questions about the process, or need advice on upcoming legal proceedings, Contact us and the Vancouver Family Lawyers at Westside Family Law will be happy to assist.