Affordable Divorce and Family Law Options For Self Represented Individuals

Many potential clients come into my office in a great panic due to an upcoming court case. The bottom line is they are in a pressing legal need, but they have no money to afford a lawyer. The wife or husband has hired a lawyer and decided to take them to court over some family law issue. Whether the wife now wants full custody of the children or the husband wants to modify spousal support or child support that he is presently paying. These scenarios put many people rightly so in a panicked state because they now are left with the pressing issue of whether to secure legal representation or attempt a go at it alone.
As many self represented individuals are acutely aware, the legal system especially in Santa Clara County is not a friendly place for self represented individuals. There are many technical challenges from filing paperwork properly to navigating correct civil procedure. If there are even the tiniest of mistakes a court paper may be rejected or a worse yet a case may be rejected entirely due to what are seemingly small errors.
The first place, I tell clients to go is their local book store or library. There is a brand of books from Nolo press which can provide excellent information to lay people on how to conduct their own divorce. It is a good launching pad for starting your own divorce. The next step is to go to the local law library, such as the Santa Clara County law library and start delving into the actual legal books. Since a self represented individual is acting as their own lawyer they are held to those exacting standards. The problem with books from the Nolo press are that they are not specific to counties. They are made only state specific. Individual counties have different local rules which must be adhered to.
Many potential clients inform me that they have attempted self representation and it is just too time consuming and difficult to do. When that situation occurs, I always tell potential clients that there are other options available to them. In the California Family Courts we have the option of limited scope family law service or what is also called unbundled services. What this means is that a lawyer can agree to represent a client for a limited portion of their case. Whether that portion be filing a motion, drafting a declaration, explaining court procedure, reviewing their case and giving legal strategy and advice. A limited scope attorney may even appear in court for a client. This flexibility provides the client with avoiding having to pay a full retainer which is can be typically $2,000 – $5,000 for full attorney representation. The client can essentially pay as you go and get representation when they can afford it. The downside with this arrangement is that the lawyer can only represent them for the agreed upon amount of work. Once the work is complete the client is again self represented and is ultimately still responsible for their own case. This process works for those with a good grasp on their case, or those who can not afford a full attorney retainer.
There are other free and modest means options for those seeking low cost San Jose and Santa Clara County Family Law advice. I recommend that clients with no money speak with the Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley, they do on occasion represent clients for free. Mostly the representation is related to domestic violence, but they do take certain family law cases. They also have a huge demand and unfortunately that allows them to be very selective in the cases they will take.
The other option is the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County who does take family law cases for free. They will take family law cases similar to the selection criteria of the Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley. Domestic violence cases receive the most representation. There is the Family Law Facilitator’s office in the Santa Clara County court system. They have well regarded attorneys there who can assist those who can not afford any representation at all. They however can not represent you in court and they do not represent any party since their services are available to both parties and it would be a conflict of interest to represent both parties zealously.
Lastly, there is the Modest Means Panel with the Santa Clara County Bar Association. They offer low cost and sliding scale attorney’s for family law matters.