Why self-representation is a challenge for courts and divorcees

This article looks at why self-representation is costly both to the litigants themselves and the court system.

In recent years the self-representation in family courts has skyrocketed. As the Ottawa Citizen points out, in Ontario the number of self-represented litigants usually exceeds 50 percent in most areas of the province and in some localities it can actually be as high as 80 percent. Many people choose to represent themselves during their own divorce for a number of reasons, including concerns about costs, a lack of appreciation for the complexity of the legal system, and a belief that they are best equipped to argue for their family's best interests. While many of these reasons are understandable, they quickly collapse under closer scrutiny. Below is a look at why self-representation in divorce is a problem, both for courts and for the people representing themselves.

Clogged court system

The court system has, in recent years, become clogged with cases that have dragged out much longer than they should, all because they have involved self-represented litigants who are unfamiliar with court procedures. A case that involves a self-represented litigant often takes much longer to work its way through the court system than one where both parties have legal representation. A lawyer will have the experience and education necessary to quickly get through routine court procedures, but in the hands of a self-represented litigant, these routine procedures often end up turning into delays.

As the Ottawa Citizen points, this often leads to a great deal of frustration, with judges often finding themselves dealing with at least one party in a divorce that is not sure of what he or she is doing. Furthermore, because a judge must remain neutral, that judge is severely restricted in helping a self-represented litigant through easily avoidable problems, leading to further frustration for all those involved.

Cost to litigants

Self-representation doesn't just take a toll on judges and the court system; it is also a heavy burden on the self-represented litigants themselves. As CBC News points out, although many self-represented litigants initially choose to go it alone over concerns with legal costs, they soon find out that the delays and their lack of experience with the court system end up costing them much more than what a qualified lawyer would have cost.

Additionally, representing oneself in court takes an emotional toll that is hard to quantify but which has lasting effects. Many self-represented litigants describe the experience of being one's own lawyer as stressful and even traumatic.

Family law advice

An experienced lawyer can help anybody who is going through a divorce avoid the pitfalls that self-represented litigants often encounter. Those in the midst of a divorce should reach out to a lawyer for help with their family law needs, including with such issues as spousal support, child custody, property division, and child support.