Self-representation a growing problem in family courts

Despite online resources, self-representation exposes people to severe risks

According to PennLive, an increasing amount of resources will be made available online through the Pennsylvania courts' website to assist self-represented litigants in family law cases, especially concerning divorce and child custody issues. While the move may appear to make it easier for self-represented people to navigate the family legal system, the Pennsylvania courts themselves are warning that the extra resources are only a response to the uneasy reality of the increasing number of self-represented people tying up the court system. Indeed, self-representation, by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts' own admission, often brings serious risks for people who choose to forgo the services of an attorney.

Reality today

Self-representation has become much more of a reality in recent years, especially in family courts. Because self-representation involves individuals who are largely unfamiliar with how the legal system works, family courts are now experiencing a backlog because self-represented cases typically take a longer time to make their way through the justice system.

The introduction of online standardized forms and legal resources to assist self-represented litigants is designed to help improve efficiency in the courts. However, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, which is spearheading the increased availability of resources, nonetheless warns that self-represented people often risk losing their rights by forgoing professional legal advice.

Risks of self-representation

In fact, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently reported that a staggering majority of family court magistrates (97 percent) believed that self-representation was a hindrance to the court's work. Many magistrates also noted the possibility that self-represented people were being denied justice through their unfamiliarity with legal concepts.

Many people choose to represent themselves in family court for a variety of reasons. In many cases, parents may by overly confident in how well they can handle the family legal system. In the majority of cases, however, self-represented litigants end up regretting their decision to handle their legal cases alone. Indeed, for many important matters, such as child custody, parents could be compromising their rights and may find themselves with a custody agreement that is highly unsatisfactory.

Choosing legal representation

Although self-representation can sound tempting, most people quickly find out that dealing with the court system is a lot more difficult than they first thought it would be. Self-representation, however, is not just an often bad decision, in many cases it is a dangerous one as well. People could end up compromising themselves on important issues, such as child custody and spousal support. Additionally, in the divorce and property area, self-represented parties often lose their rights to alimony or to valuable marital assets such as retirement accounts of the other spouse, or they fail to include provisions allowing for the proper transfer of these assets. Once the divorce decree is issued, it is too late to go back and undo the damage that has been done, even through the best efforts of any attorney who has been engaged too late.

Anybody who has a family law issue should not hesitate in contacting a family law attorney today. An experienced attorney can help a client navigate the complicated waters of family law so that informed decisions can be made that are in the best interests of his or her family's future.