An Open Letter to Self-Represented Parties

Open Letter to Self-Represented Parties

Written By Kara-Lynne Chapman

Dear Self-Represented Party,

We understand that there are many reasons why people represent themselves at court. Sometimes your income is at a level where you do not financially qualify for Legal Aid assistance but do not earn enough to be able to afford the expense of a lawyer.  Sometimes you choose to represent yourself as you believe you are best able to express your position.  Open Letter to Self-Represented Parties Other times you simply have not found a lawyer that you feel comfortable with.  Regardless of the reason, you do not have a lawyer and that can present challenges when it comes to navigating the legal aspects of separation and divorce.  This letter is to state how we as lawyers wish to engage with you.

We want to work with you, not against you. While we cannot provide you with advice and while our role is to advocate for our client, our goal is not to create problems or take advantage of you.  We want your input and proposals.  We welcome settlement offers from you.  Communication like this allows us to know what your position is; it is also immensely helpful if you explain to us why you are taking that position.  Knowing why you are proposing something allows us to understand what the underlying concern is which opens up the possibility of creative solutions.

When we request financial disclosure from you, it is because we need it. Most separations involve support and/or property issues that need to be resolved.  We cannot provide advice to our clients without financial disclosure from both of you.  This can seem invasive, however, we are only requesting this information to ensure that we can perform the proper calculations based on the law. Barrie Family Lawyer Failure to provide full disclosure often results in our clients having to commence court proceedings that they would otherwise prefer to avoid simply so that they can obtain the necessary information.

Along the same lines, ignoring us will not make us go away and will lead to a court proceeding being commenced. This also goes back to the first point: we want to work with you.  We want to have an open dialogue with you so that progress can be made towards a resolution.  Part of our role as your ex’s lawyer is to provide him/her with advice; often that advice is in regards to the proposals you are making.  If you make reasonable requests/offers, we will advise our client that what you are suggesting is appropriate.  We will not tell our client to decline simply for the sake of declining.  However, if we never hear from you, we do not know what your position is and no progress can be made.  This does not help anyone.

We are just people doing a job. Some self-represented parties are intentionally hostile towards us.  Perhaps this is because they view a good offense as the best defense, perhaps it is because that is how they expect us to act (thank you, television, for that stereotype), or perhaps acting that way is simply part of their personality.  Regardless, we aim to treat all parties with respect and civility and we request the same from you.  Treating each other with hostility and contempt distracts from the real issues at hand and prolongs the process; neither of these outcomes benefits your children.

Finally, we encourage you to get as much legal advice along the way as you are able to. If the matter is in court, you may qualify for free duty counsel services which will provide you with a lawyer on your court date.  Paying for a one-hour consultation with a lawyer can provide you with enough information to allow you to respond thoroughly to a settlement proposal.  Open Letter to Self-Represented Parties Limited scope retainers in which you retain a lawyer for only very specific functions can be another option that will allow you to limit your legal fees while still allowing you to obtain ongoing advice.  Obtaining some legal advice along the way can boost your own confidence when negotiating an agreement (after all, knowledge is power) and can assure you that what is being proposed to you or requested of you is appropriate.

We look forward to working with you.

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