Do I need an attorney to represent me in Family Court?

On Behalf of | Sep 5, 2020 | Child Custody, Child Visitation |

In Hawaii, you don’t have to hire an attorney to represent you before the Hawaii Family Court in your divorce or family law issue – you are legally entitled to represent yourself and act as your own attorney.  But although you don’t have to hire an attorney to represent you, should you?  The answer is very clearly … maybe.

Today, you can find YouTube, TikTok and other videos and resources that will show you how to do just about anything, from applying a finishing coat of wax to your car, to replacing the electrical wiring in your home.  Similarly, there are plenty of videos giving instructions on how to represent yourself in a divorce litigation.  Thus, the information is available if you choose to be your own attorney in your divorce.  But is that a good idea?

Should you hire an attorney to represent you at Family Court?

In deciding whether or not to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce or family law dispute, answer this question: What is the risk of harm of representing yourself?  Or, put rather less politely: What is the worst that can happen if you represent yourself and screw it up?

If the risk is low, such as messing up while waxing your car, then it may be worth the risk of doing it yourself if you’re looking to save a few dollars.  If the risk is high, however, like you might burn down your home if you improperly replace the electrical wiring, then it’s probably best to call a professional, as the cost of hiring an electrician will be far less than the cost of replacing your home.

So, in deciding whether or not to hire an attorney to represent you in your divorce or family law litigation, consider what you have to lose.  If you have no children, no real assets or debts to speak of, you don’t need your spouse to provide financial support, etc., then there may be no real harm in representing yourself.  That said, it is still advisable to hire an attorney for a one-hour consultation to review the court documents you have prepared before you file them, just to be sure everything is in order, and also as a safeguard against any unfavorable promises or agreements you may be making, or rights you may be waiving, without realizing it.  Once the Family Court Judge approves your divorce, you will not be able to change the terms of your agreement simply by pointing our that you are not an attorney or did not know the Hawaii Family Law.

If, on the other hand, you have a lot to lose – the custody of your children, child and/or spousal support to be paid by your spouse, the division of substantial retirement and other assets, including a family home or business, the division of substantial marital debts, etc. – then you would be well-advised to hire an experienced Honolulu divorce and family law attorney to represent you.

Things to remember if you represent yourself at Family Court:

If you represent yourself at Family Court, keep these two things in mind: (1) the Family Court Judge will expect you to know the Rules of Court and the Rules of Evidence at all hearings and trials.  If you don’t know all of the relevant rules and procedures, your spouse’s attorney will likely be able to prevent you from presenting your evidence and exhibits by objecting to them, and he/she will also likely be able to present evidence favorable to your spouse that would otherwise be inadmissible if you knew the proper objections to make; and (2) once the Judge makes a decision, such as a ruling on custody, family support, etc, that decision will be binding on you, and you will not be able to appeal it on the grounds that you are not an attorney and did not know the law or procedural rules.

In representing yourself, especially where your spouse has retained an attorney, you will be operating at a big disadvantage.  If there is a lot at stake, it is always best to retain, or at the very least consult with, a qualified divorce and family law attorney.