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Working with a Pro Se Party in Family Law Cases

Family law clients are often surprised to hear that family law attorneys actually prefer to litigate or negotiate with a represented other party as opposed to a pro se other party (a.k.a. unrepresented party).  This article discusses some of the potential pitfalls of working with unrepresented parties.  Most of the pitfalls contribute to these types of cases taking more client and attorney resources than cases where both parties are represented.

Most of the time, pro se parties do not know all of the rules and procedures for this type of case.  It is difficult to work with someone who does not know the court rules, applicable laws, and strict timelines that are part of our daily work as family law attorneys.  Sometimes, we deal with pro se opposing parties that do not turn things in on time or otherwise confuse court rules and are given a pass by the commissioner or judge because they are pro se.  This is frustrating to clients and attorneys alike.  

Another difficulty of working with a pro se party is that they often have unrealistic expectations of what the court will grant them.  Working with another attorney (usually) means that the other party will already have some awareness of how a court might decide things if the case goes to a hearing or trial.  This can mean less time spent negotiating (as both parties know about where things will end up if they do go to court) and a more efficient use of our client’s resources.  Furthermore, it can mean less time in court arguing about things that an attorney would have already explained to a client are either irrelevant and/or not properly before the court.

When another party is represented it (usually) means that they will have a better understanding of what they are agreeing to or what the judge’s orders say.  This can mean less time spent in post-decree issues helping the other party understand what the orders mean.  While it may seem to be a benefit to our client that we could slip one past the other party because they have no one to explain a proposed settlement, in reality it usually comes back to bite a client with further litigation or continual disputes with the other party.

Yet another benefit of working with a represented opposing party is that (usually) when the two attorney speak to discuss a (cost, resource, emotion, time-saving) settlement, the emotions will not run quite as high as if it is the parties discussing the issues (usually the most contentious) or the attorney talking to a pro se party (also contentious).  When two attorneys talk, they can usually stay on point and know what the courts (or arbitrator, commissioner, or mediator) will find relevant, and use the relevant information to settle some or all of the remaining issues in the most efficient way possible.

As you have probably noticed, we have frequently noted in parentheses that it is “usually” easier to work with represented parties.  It probably goes without saying that there are circumstances where working with an attorney can make a case more difficult and resource consuming.  This includes circumstances where the other attorney does not regularly practice family law and thus does not know the local rules or applicable laws.  Circumstances can also be made more difficult when the other attorney builds unrealistic expectations in their client.  Furthermore, within every profession (and we admit that maybe it is even more likely in the legal profession) there are difficult personalities that seem to want to make things more difficult for any or no reason at all.

At Blair & Kim we have years of experience litigating family law cases against pro se and represented parties.  We are prepared to help our clients navigate either situation.  No matter what the circumstances, we work hard to reach a successful resolution of family law issues for our clients.  If you would like to speak with a Seattle area family law attorney, please contact us today.