Separation and divorce
Representing yourself in court: What's involved?
More and more people are starting their legal proceedings without being represented by a lawyer, whether by choice or because they lack the financial resources. In cases of divorce or separation, the court can’t force you to hire a lawyer. However, representing yourself in court comes with a few challenges. Here is an overview of what this involves.
Drafting your own legal documents
Without a lawyer, you’ll have to draft the documents needed for your legal proceedings on your own. Therefore, you must have sufficient mastery of French or English and be able to use a computer.
It’s important to note that written applications filed with the court must comply with certain formalities. Unfortunately, guides or free models are not always available to help you draft your documents. Therefore, you may need to do research to complete your file.
Attending court in person
When you’re represented by a lawyer, you can sometimes choose to be absent from the hearing because your lawyer is present to speak on your behalf. Without a lawyer, you have to be available to go to the courthouse whenever your ex or a judge requests your presence.
Appointments at the courthouse can be frequent and are scheduled on weekdays, during the day. They generally last for several hours and take place a few weeks apart.
For example, if you and your ex do not agree on the consequences of your divorce, you’ll have to go to the courthouse at least twice for hearings.
You could also end up going to the courthouse for other reasons, particularly if:
- you have an urgent application to present to a judge
- you have to file documents related to your case
- you want to require a person to hand over a document to you
- you want to examine a witness before a hearing.
Communicating directly with your ex
When you’re represented by a lawyer, you can ask him or her to handle all communications with your ex or to accompany you when you have to be in the presence of your ex in court.
Without a lawyer, you have no other choice but to communicate directly with your ex or his or her lawyer because you’ll need to have discussions to move your application forward in court.
For example, you’ll have to communicate to:
- send documents to each other
- make a list of issues to be decided by the juge
- confirm your mutual availability for the purpose of setting a hearing date.
You may also have to wait in the same room as your ex at the courthouse or cross-examine him or her during a hearing.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’re ready to have this kind of contact with your ex. This issue is particularly relevant for victims of domestic violence or people subject to an order prohibiting them from communicating with their ex.
Dealing with complications in your file
When the unexpected happenses, a lawyer is there to advise and guide you on the next steps to take. This doesn’t prevent you from starting the process on your own and checking to see whether you can manage everything by yourself. When you’re alone, you have to come up with your own solutions and submit the appropriate documents at the right time.
The legal process often becomes complicated when the person receiving the judicial application decides to contest it. That’s when it becomes difficult to predict how your case will evolve or to decide on a strategy.
Conversely, the judicial process is usually easier if you know that the application will not be contested or if you separated by agreement by filing a “joint application”.
Preparing you witnesses and gathering your evidence
If your ex contests your application, you’ll eventually have a hearing to decide your points of disagreement. In anticipation of this hearing, a lawyer can help you prepare to testify before the judge. A lawyer can also help your witnesses and anticipate the type of questions your ex or his or her lawyer may ask.
Without a lawyer, you’ll have to call your witnesses and ensure that they appear in court and are ready to testify on the day of the hearing.
You’ll also have to gather and organize all the evidence that you wish to present to the judge. The procedures for obtaining certain documents can be complex and information on how to obtain them can be difficult to find.
Finally, on the day of the hearing, you’ll have a major role to play because, during your own testimony, you’ll have to raise the necessary objections to the questions the opposing party will ask you, or in other words, you’ll have to object to these questions being allowed.
Representing Yourself in Court in Family Matters (Fondation du Barreau)
Representing yourself in court - French only (Justice Québec)
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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