Self-Representation in Court

Q: Do I really need an attorney when I go to divorce court?

A: Self-representation in court does happen, and an attorney is not required when going to court just as a compass is not required when hiking in the woods. However, when you are in unfamiliar forests and you get lost, that compass can mean the difference between life and death.  

Most of us are familiar with the old saying, “He who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” In a unanimous decision the U.S. Supreme Court stated that even an attorney, whose profession is representing clients in court, should not represent himself or herself.*

And yet the trend toward self-representation has grown significantly in recent years. The ramifications of this trend, however, have not yet been fully recognized.

According to Minnesota law you do have the right to represent yourself in District Court without a lawyer. Here are four reasons you may wish to think twice before attempting to take on this challenge.

1. Court procedures are complicated.

2. Some judges and courtroom personnel are biased against self-representation.

3. It is exceedingly difficult to be objective.

4. It may be difficult to keep your emotions removed from the case.

According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, divorce is the second most stressful life event. That stress can limit your ability to know how to present your case to a judge or know the next steps on how to proceed with your case.

Mistakes in court have significant long-term consequences.  When something important is at stake seeking guidance from an attorney can save years of expenses and headaches in the long run.

*Supreme Court ruling.

Jessica Sterle