What is Self-Representation ?

In the New Zealand Family Court, parents have the option to represent themselves without legal representation if they choose to do so.

The courts permit self-representation, which is your right, but you must adhere to specific procedures outlined in the Family Court and District Court Rules, the Evidence Act 2006, and other applicable legislation.

Self-Representation in the Family Court

 

If you’re considering to represent yourself in the Family Court, it’s essential to understand that family law matters can be intricate and emotionally challenging. Some of the issues that you need to consider as follows: 

  1. Familiarise yourself with the laws: Take the time to research and understand the relevant family laws in your jurisdiction.
  2. Familiarise yourself with the legal procedures: deadlines, and requirements involved in your case.
  3. Gather relevant information: Compile all the necessary documents and information related to your case, such as financial records, communication logs, and any evidence that supports your position.
  4. Court forms and paperwork: Obtain the required court forms for your specific case, which can typically be found on the website of your local family court or obtained from the court clerk. Fill out the forms accurately and completely, ensuring that you provide all the required information.
  5. Understand court procedures: Learn about the court procedures and rules that apply to your case. This includes knowing how to file documents, serve papers to the other party, and prepare for hearings or mediation sessions.
  6. Prepare your case: Develop a strategy for presenting your case in court. Organize your evidence, create a timeline, and outline the key points you want to address. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your case and anticipate counterarguments.
  7. Consider mediation or alternative dispute resolution: Family courts often encourage parties to engage in mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods before going to trial. These processes can help you reach a mutually agreeable solution without the need for a formal court hearing.
  8. Be respectful and professional: When representing yourself, it’s important to maintain a respectful and professional demeanor throughout the process. Treat the court, opposing party, and their lawyers with courtesy and adhere to the court’s instructions and procedures.
  9. Consult with us if you need assistance, if necessary: If at any point you feel overwhelmed or unsure about your case. 
  10. Remember, family court cases can be emotionally charged, and it’s important to take care of your well-being throughout the process. Self-representation can be challenging, so don’t hesitate to seek professional assistance if needed.

Any person who wishes to become Self-Represented can also be named as “Self-litigant” “Unrepresented party”. If you are currently represented by a lawyer and wish to terminate their representation to do it on your own. You are able to ask your lawyer to send you your case file by courier or email and ask them to file a notice of change of representation or if you haven’t had a lawyer before, you just inform the court that you are self-represented.

Self-representation is not scary or risky as many people see it. Choosing to self-represent in the Family Court can be the best decision that you will ever take, depending on your case, situation and circumstances. Talk to us if you are thinking about it or hesitant to do it. 

The rate of Self-litigants is increasing in New Zealand. Many parents achieve great results representing themselves and save thousands of dollars on legal fees. The most important part that you should have someone experienced to support and guide you through the process and this is what FDSS coaches do. We have helped and supported hundreds of Self-represented litigants in the Family Court and many have achieved great results. Check some of the whānau feedback, who did it on their own. Every Family case is unique and again it depends on the evidence and many other factors. 

We have dealt with many parents over decade who believed that they can do it on their own without help or guidance before approaching us. However, many have made their cases more complex and prolonged the litigation and exacerbated the conflict, rather than achieving the desired positive fair outcomes. Many parents think that they are able to do it on their own, however they find it very daunting and lenghty process and many instead ended up with costs orders against them, lost contact with their children and did not achieve the desired fair outcome. 

Importants issues to consider: 

  1. You MUST be able to keep your emotions under control – It requires a lot of patience and critical thinking skills.
  2. You need to be organised and put the time into it and do your research and preparation.
  3. Get help and support, from both people with experience, emotional support and positive energy.
  4. Choosing the wrong person to assist or advise you, could lead to more problems in your case
  5. You are allowed to have a McKenzie Friend (Lay Assistant) with you inside the court room – check the Ministry Of Justice link 

There are 3 parts to Self-represention and FDSS coaches are to support you through the process:

  1. Initial stages: Completing and filing and responding to applications (as Applicant or respondent)
  2. Mid stages: Litigation strategy / Managing your case / Interlocutory matters. 
  3. Final stages: Preparing and presenting your case at the hearing.

It is not necessary that you have to go through the whole 3 stages of the proceedings, negotiations can still happen during the 3 stages of the proceedings (such as the mid stages) – depending on your case circumstances and situation. Thats why it is important to have help and support through the process and understand how the court processes work to establish good strategy and plan. For example the majority of the Relationship property court proceedings seldom to go reach to stage 3 (court hearing). Often issues in dispute are resolved out of the court. The important thing is you understanding the standard process of the court and how interluctory matters are handled by the court. Also, it is very crucial to have someone with experience to support you in your decisions-making process. It’s simply NOT just filling the forms.  

Representing yourself and handling all of the court proceedings paperwork and processing through the courts can be very difficult and frustrating for many if they do it alone without any help or guidance (read the news article) . The courts can provide only the slightest of help and are legally prevented from providing most any type of assistance – as this likely could be deemed “legal advice”. Only licensed lawyers can provide such advice, and legal fees can be very costly for such advice. There is also no guarantee that you will do this cumbersome and time-consuming process correctly – and if it is not done correctly, the courts may dismiss your case completely and in many cases you might be directed by the courts to pay the other party legal fees (costs order), if your application was unsuccessful or if you do not follow the rules and correct procedures or if the Judge believes that you have acted irresponsibly or if you have initiated any proceedings or interlocutory matters contrary to the best interests of the concerned child or the respondent or if you have failed to attempt to resolve minor issues out of the court. 

Any person can fill a form and file it in the court. However, what is important is the contents of the form, your litigation stratey, planning and each steps you are seeking from the court to do. 

  • What’s involved in Self-Representation ?

If you want to represent yourself, you will be required to complete the same steps as lawyers, such as the writing and filing of applications and pleadings that use suitable wording and legal references (jargons and terminlogy). The general steps in the litigation process that you will need to complete (amongst others) are outlined as below:

  • Preparation

• Identifying and understanding the applicable law;
• Accessing legal resources for research purposes (including case law and legislation);
• Identifying and completing the relevant forms to be filed with the court;
• Preparing evidence, including written briefs of evidence or affidavits; and memoranda’s
• Applying the law to the facts in written submissions.

  • The hearing

• Adhering to courtroom etiquette;
• Presenting the facts to the court through oral examination of witnesses, cross-examination and presenting exhibits;
• Making legal submissions to the court, with reference to relevant legal principles, statutes and case law; and
• Complying with court directions and orders.

The failure to properly understand court processes and procedures can lead you to make costly mistakes such as presenting irrelevant and unnecessary material, not being aware of options when making pleas, and making errors when writing and filing documents. It can also lead to unnecessary stress and frustration.

The key factors are Knowledge and understanding how the system works, the applicable laws and rules, emotional regulation and patience skills, negotiations and critical thinking skills, setting up a pragmatic child-focused strategy and plan, be realistic and reasonable, less high expectations, consider the other parties’s perspective, keep trying to resolve disputes out of court, while going through the process and more, this is what we help you with at FDSS. 

If you are thinking to represent yourself in the Family Court, you are able to check the information on the DIY- Family Separation Webpage (OCS – Ongoing Coaching Suport service) and complete the online form. FDSS Coaches are happy to assist you and provide you with 1:1 coaching and support services and guide you through the process of representing yourself in the Family Court. There is a monthly subscription fee. The subscription fee is considered as contribution to FDSS as an organisation and to help us reach out to more whanau who need help. Also we highly recommended you complete the Self-representation extensive workshop 

Check out some parents reviews (link) who have been recieving support from us in representing themselves in the Family court. We can also connect you with many parents who did it on their own without legal representation. They will speak on our behalf !

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