Coping with the court process
Representing yourself in a family law case can be stressful and emotional. Beyond knowing the legal rules and procedures, it's important to learn how to make preparing for court easier on yourself. Following the tips in this fact sheet will help you feel better equipped to take on your case.
Take care of yourself
During the stress of preparing for court, it's important to maintain your health and well‐being. This is important for you as a person, and for your case. Taking care of yourself will help you be "on-the-ball" for court and have a more focused mind. Here are some ways to help you cope:
- Get enough rest — Sleep is the fuel to a healthy mind and physical well-being. If you're over-tired, you may get impatient, frustrated, and irrational, which may impact your decisions.
- Eat a healthy diet — Well-nourished bodies are better equipped to deal with stress. For example, eating a healthy breakfast on the morning of your hearing will help keep your energy levels up and keep your mind well-balanced.
- Exercise regularly — Exercise is a good way to release built-up tension and stress. Try to fit in physical activity, even just a good walk.
- Make time for relaxation — In order to maintain a positive attitude, do activities you enjoy. Relaxing your mind and body is a good way to handle stress.
- Make sure you have support
- Leading up to trial — Try to surround yourself with positive people who can support you, comfort you, and help you feel normal in the lead-up to your court date.
- At trial — Consider taking a friend or family member with you for support. You may ask the judge at the start of your proceeding if someone can sit with you up front, sit beside you when you present, or simply be present in the courtroom to support you.
Tip: For further guidance, see David Mossop's Bring a Friend to Court: A Guide.
Connect with others who've represented themselves
You may want to reach out to someone you know who's represented themselves in court in the past. No one really understands what it's like to self-represent as well as someone who has done so, even if their case was quite different from yours. They may be able to offer both practical tips and emotional support.
If you want to be put in touch with someone in your area, contact the National Self-represented Litigants Project. They maintain a large and growing database of self-represented litigants from all over the country and frequently connect people in this way.
Do your research
Doing research will make you more prepared for court. It will also help you feel more confident. Knowing about your issue and what to expect can help you avoid surprises.
You may want to look up past decisions (precedents) that were made in cases similar to yours. This can help you understand what those precedents might mean for your case. It might even provide you with arguments for court. To search case law, visit The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). For help using the CanLII website, see the fact sheet How can I research other family law cases?
Be calm and patient
Although you may feel emotional, it's important to appear calm in the courtroom.
It's also important to be patient with long days at the courthouse. You can't control or always anticipate how long you'll have to be there, and court can drag on at times. Your trial might even be bumped (put off to another date) due to overbooking. Make sure you've cleared your schedule for the day. Bring other reading or work with you.
Expect to see many different judges
Throughout your case, you'll probably see a number of different judges. Just because a particular judge heard your case last time, doesn't mean that the same judge will sit on your next appearance. This can be frustrating because you need to establish your credibility with each new judge. However, you should anticipate this and be ready to present yourself to each new judge.
Get help from duty counsel
Regularly assess the possibility of settlement
In more than 95 percent of family cases, the parties come to an agreement without going to trial. Lawyers refer to this as settling the case. Sometimes this occurs right before trial, when you (and others) have already spent large amounts of time and effort. For more information on agreements, see our fact sheet Making an offer to settle.
Be smart about considering settlement options early in the process. If you settle, you won't get everything you wanted. But, you may get enough to be worth avoiding a long and exhausting process with an uncertain outcome. It's important to continually revisit this question and assess the possibility of the other party accepting a proposal from you to settle.
For help, look for your local mediation program or mediation service providers. For more information, see our fact sheet Making mediation happen in a family law case in Supreme Court.
This material was adapted, with permission, from the National Self-represented Litigant Project's publication, Coping with the courtroom: Essential tips and information for self-represented litigants.
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