Can you start a proceeding in Family Court on your own, without an attorney? Yes. But is it a good idea? Absolutely not!You might have been told by a friend—or even a lawyer—that you don’t need an attorney to start a proceeding or file a petition in Family Court. While this is true, it may not necessarily be the most advantageous decision.
According to Joel M. Sunshine of the family law firm Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, filing a petition on your own is not just a bad idea—it’s a terrible one, one that you will regret in almost every instance.
“For years," explains Sunshine, "all I heard were lawyers telling their clients, ‘Go to Family Court and file a petition, and if you don’t want a lawyer you don’t have to have one.’ Well, that’s technically true. But, I have seen this blow up in that person’s face time and time again.”
If you go to Family Court without a lawyer, the clerk will give you the paperwork to fill out, and might even appear to “assist” you in this process. However, the clerks will not explain the pitfalls of how you fill out the petition.
“You need to speak to an attorney who actually tries these cases,” says Sunshine. “Ask the attorney you are interviewing how many family court trials they have actually conducted. Those who try cases involving petitions that were filled out by someone other than that party’s attorneys know what it’s like. You are stuck with the ‘four corners’ of your petition, and cannot bring up any other incident at the trial.”
The clerk might also request you describe the incident that prompted you to come to Family Court that day. Maybe you will be able to properly recite those details in a petition. At best, the clerk may follow up and ask you if there were “one or two other” incidents between you in the past. But should you recite those incidents, or not? Or should you be reciting not just “one or two” other incidents, but 10 others?!
You need an experienced family law attorney then and there to fill out the petition. You cannot wait until after you have already filed the petition, because it may already be too late.
“Our job is to tell the Court about the incidents that are significant, and not distract the court with incidents that are insignificant,” explains Sunshine. “However, all too often, our clients have gone to court without us, and neglected to include critical facts, facts that you cannot bring up later without facing tremendous scrutiny on cross-examination.”
At Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, the attorneys draft the petitions, not a clerk employed at the courthouse. You will meet with an experienced attorney and you will explain all the incidents that happened between you and your spouse, not just the recent one that brought you to them. The attorneys will then draft your petition in the manner that lets the judges understand your case better, and why you so desperately need the relief you are seeking.
"Your petition should be one that your trial lawyer recommends, not the clerk at the courthouse," says Sunshine.
Were you planning on going to Family Court without a lawyer, but are now second-guessing your decision? Whether your reason has to do with child custody, child support, or spousal maintenance, the family lawyers at Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP can help. Contact Us today to learn more.
Sunshine & Feinstein, LLP, 666 Old Country Road, Suite 605, Garden City, NY 11530. (516) 742-6444. This is Attorney Advertising.