Yes, you are allowed to represent yourself in Court, although almost no one would recommend this unless there were no other options available to you. A common question that many judges ask prior to a trial where one party wishes to represent him or herself is: “Would you do your own dental work? If not, then you may not want to try to represent yourself.”
Despite the fact that you may not be licensed to practice law, if you decide to represent yourself in court, the Court will hold you to the same standards as if you were an attorney. Therefore, if you do not follow the proper state statute or local rule the Court may treat you in the same manner as if an attorney had not followed the statutes or rules. In addition to the voluminous state statutes and case-law, Mecklenburg County (as well as many other counties in North Carolina) has extensive local family law rules. Family law is a very specialized area of law, and you should find an attorney who practices primarily in this field, or who is a Family Law Specialist.
In addition to the difficulties faced with knowing the extensive family law rules (both state and local) and case-law, pro se (self represented) litigants often face difficulties presenting their evidence. Important information to a case may never come before the court because a self represented spouse does not know the Rules of Evidence. Often times a self represented spouse will simply give up and stop presenting evidence because after every word they utter, the opposing attorney yells “OBJECTION.” Without evidence to support your position, the Court will often rule in your spouse’s favor.
Unfortunately, hiring an attorney can often be expensive on the front end. If you are unable to retain an attorney to represent you in court, you could hire an attorney to help you behind the scenes to draft documents and to help you properly “serve” the other party. If you are unable to hire an attorney to do that, then at a minimum you should have a consultation with an attorney to understand your basic rights and to help develop a strategy to protect these rights. If you are unable to afford even that then you should take time to educate yourself as best as you can. You can read blogs like this, do your own research and try to witness a few trials that are similar to yours. Please make sure to look up the local rules for your jurisdiction to avoid a ruling in your spouse’s favor due to a technicality.
Eric C. Trosch
Board Certified Specialist in Family Law