Non-court options are not always a good fit for resolving disputes between two or more people. Non-court options require open communication, negotiation and compromise on both sides. If there is an imbalance of power and control or history of family violence, these options will likely be unsuccessful because both sides are not on an equal playing field. In those situations, it might be necessary to ask a judge to resolve the issue.
There are things to do before going court.
It’s unrealistic to expect to walk into court and demand to speak with a judge immediately and to have the judge make a decision on the spot. Although there are some situations that work like that, it’s reserved for emergency situations like Emergency Protection Orders or urgent situations that are time sensitive and meet the criteria.
Most matters need to follow the normal protocol. To have a matter heard in court, a commencement document and/or court application must be drafted and filed, all parties must be properly served and given an appropriate amount of time to reply. There are specific forms, guidelines and rules that are in place to cover all of the procedural information for going to court.
Going to court can be done as a self-represented person or with the assistance of legal counsel. Both options have the same amount of preparation to do before a judge can be asked to make a decision. Hiring a lawyer or legal professional to help can speed up the process and help avoid common mistakes made by self-represented parties, but there are some things to do that a lawyer just can’t do. It’s entirely up to each party to decide their position and to tell their lawyer what to do and to collect information for a family law matter.
Step 1: Make a Plan.
First and foremost, there must be a plan. There must be a clear goal and steps identified that will lead to that outcome. Next, there must be a written story that clearly explains the reason court intervention is necessary. Any information that the judge would need to know must be included. All of the facts must be able to be supported by evidence if needed. The supporting documents and evidence should be collected as soon as possible to avoid any delay if those facts are questioned.
Not sure what to do? Follow our list:
 Get Legal Advice.
It’s important to know the law and how it applies to your situation. Only a lawyer is qualified to review the facts of a case and give you advice based on those facts. You can get legal advice without committing to hiring the lawyer.
 Set your goals.
What do you want to happen? Are you looking for rules to be created for parenting or are you looking for child or spousal support? Your goals must be very specific. Once you have an idea of what your goals are: create a wish list.
 Explore your options.
If an order was to be granted with everything that you want, what would that look like? For example, if you have plan to ask for spousal support, how much do you need? Is there a minimum amount you’d need to cover expenses? How would your life improve with that money? What else could be done to help improve your situation? Do you need help securing a job, transportation or childcare? How would that help your family?
 Find Solutions.
Can you identify the steps that would need to be taken to lead to your desired outcome? For example, if you want your kids to be cared for by healthy and sober caregivers, do you think that going to a drug treatment program and ongoing testing would help? What resources are in your community? If something goes wrong, who can you trust? How should mistakes be handled?
 Put it in writing.
Court documents will require your information from you in writing. You will need to provide detailed information on the past, present and future. For example, how did you meet the other side? How did your relationship progress? When did things start to fall apart? When and why did the relationship end? What’s happened since then? Where do you want to be? What do you need to get there? How can the court help? Write it out in your own words so you have it for when you need it.
 Prove it.
Put together a comprehensive list of documents that you have or could get to prove you are telling the truth. Start collecting your supporting materials as soon as possible. Be fully prepared to prove each and every thing you said if your honesty is ever questioned by the other side. For example, if the other party states you the living arrangements were limited to roommates, forms filled out applying for family or spouse health coverage might prove the relationship was more serious than that of roommates.
Once you’ve done your homework and any necessary research, the next step is to fill out the paperwork so the documents can be filed. After the documents are filed, a stamped copy needs to be given to the other side before as soon as possible. The court forms and procedures vary depending which courthouse and level of court is used to ask for help. Anyone that is unsure about what to file and where to file it should speak with a qualified professional before winging it.
Need additional support?
If what to do is unclear or overwhelming, working with a legal professional can help. Lawyers are the most qualified option, but the services of a lawyer can be expensive. Legal fees tend to increase when there is more help needed with goal setting, getting the story in writing and supported by evidence. This is where the assistance of a paralegal or legal coach is a great option. Legal coaches and paralegals have special training to help with setting reasonable goals, deciding how to put the full story in writing and collecting evidence. “Non-lawyer” legal professionals are an asset for anyone preparing to go to court with or without a lawyer. It’s an affordable option for having additional support at each step of the process.