In some instances, whether by need or through a desire to do it, parents represent themselves in Court. The first thing to know is that you are supposed to be held to the same standard as an attorney. You are probably asking yourself - what does that mean? The answer very simplistically is that you are required to meet the same deadlines as attorneys, be prepared to present your case to the Judge, be on time for Court, dress appropriate, know applicable state and local court rules and statutes, etc. It probably sounds easier than it can be.
If you are going down this path, here are some tools and suggestions that may help you present the best case possible to the Court.
- Know how to access the Court’s website and check your case on-line periodically. This can be done by searching “Clark County Court Case Search.” Using this search in almost any search engine will result in a link that allows you to review your case by name or case number. I think looking by case number is quicker and easier!
- Be organized. A spiral notebook and a package of pens costs less than $5.00. Start with purchasing these items and using them! Bring paper and pens to Court so you can take notes. You may need more than one spiral notebook because keeping a journal can be helpful. You don’t want to mix the uses of the notebooks.
- Keep all Court paperwork in chronological order from newest to oldest. If possible, consider using a hole punch and tabs with an index to easily be able to access documents.
- In Family Court, almost everything is recorded. You can purchase the recording through Transcript Video Services. The video provides the best format for obtaining the Court’s Order.
- Only use a yellow highlighter! If you highlight in a color other than yellow, the color will turn dark when copied and in some instances not be legible.
- Courtrooms are open to the public, except in limited circumstances. Prior to your court date and definitely before a Trial or Evidentiary Hearing, make it a priority to go to the courthouse and sit through a few hearings to understand the process. Doing this will provide you a lot of benefits. You will know how to get to the courthouse, you will know where to sit when you present your case to the court, you will be less stressed about the process because you have seen arguments and rulings before you show up for your case.
- Prior to a hearing, make sure that you use your spiral notebook to jot down notes, comments, issues to be addressed, etc. The Judges do not want you to read a pre-planned statement, but a bullet point of notes will help to keep you on track if you stumble or forget something important.
- Make sure you file and serve things timely!
- Dress appropriately. This is an official proceeding so you should wear “business casual” clothes (i.e. no jean, shorts, flip flops, t-shirts etc.). You are going to Court and not going to the beach.
Try to avoid bringing children to the courthouse when you have to drop something off or filing something, and do not bring the child to the courthouse for a hearing unless you have been specifically instructed by the Court to bring the child. It makes many Judges angry when parents bring their children to the courthouse for hearings because it makes the children feel like they are in the middle of parental disputes. Even if the child asks to come to Court, avoid this pitfall.
If retaining an attorney is an issue of money, you may consider looking for unbundled representation or using a paralegal service to assist you with the case. The idea is putting your best foot forward and to be able to assist the Court with the facts of the case, the law that applies to the case, and how the facts support your position. Be clear with the request for relief. You want to make sure you ask clearly what you want the Judge to do at the end of your presentation.