Home > Avvo, divorce, law, Uncategorized > Pro Se Roulette

Pro Se Roulette

July 2008

It’s in the news—people are in ever larger numbers attempting to navigate the turbulent waters of the divorce system with NO attorneys. The court system is the worst possible solution for any family, but to a family with an emotionally laden situation and no clue how the game is played – it is a disaster, albeit a silent one.

And no one seems to be telling them how the game is played.

I took on a case, recently, to try to help a Mom who had muddled along without an attorney, seemingly successfully—except for one detail. She could not get the final judgment papers past the clerks. Now, the clerks nave a lot of power in this system, and I am sure you can imagine the results. Frankly, they can (and do) bar the door whenever they can. Even in my mediated, completely uncontested cases, they often make the process of getting the judgment entered very difficult, although in the less populous areas I have found them to be helpful indeed. Of course, this has gotten much worse, now, in 2016, with less funding and— Avvo. Good old Avv0–the web site that leads many to think “I don’t need to stinkin’ attorney.”  (Usually, they do–they just don’t need $5,000 worth of one.) (Self promotion–see www.nobigretainers.com

In the case that inspired this rant, the Mom had no idea what to do, and when I called the clerks, they told me the “by the numbers” method—which required 2 cooperative and costly attorneys. (See below.) Big help. So, as reluctant as I was to enter those waters, I appeared at a hearing set by Dad, after the trial. (Yes, Virginia they can keep filing those infinitely!)

It didn’t take long to find out the problem—I went to court (where I sat for hours waiting to be heard… while the clock was ticking on a young mother, had to borrow the funds for me to even be there) and watched the judge ramble, change her mind, and then eventually made some order… but even I do not know what I was. Neither of the two “pro se” (unrepresented) parties )as I say and watched) had taken any notes.

What was the order? Only the court reporter has it all down—and the cost of a transcript is prohibitive. (In some courts in California, you have t pay for your own court reporter. Budget cuts, you know.) The clerks just take minimal notes, called minute orders.–and they had made errors in my gal’s case. (Errors like how many children there were.) Now I could see why she cod not he get her “Findings and Order After Hearing| signed off on.

Here’s how the game is played in the “attorney world.”

The attorneys know the law and the judge (and the rules) and each argues the position their client wants. More support, less support, more visitation, less visitation … custody… there’s always something to fight about. And of course, always one side loses and one side “wins.” (Except the kids… who always lose.)

When the judge rules, s/he orders the “winning” side to “give notice.” The Notice is written up and sent to the losing side for “approval as to form and content.” When that pleading is filed with the court—THAT is the official Order and the record. That is what counts, forever afterwards.

Now, not only did the couple I watched in court that day not know any of this, they would probably not have been able to do it if they did know. They were squabbling—and they took no notes. Each side would say—or think— the judge said something more beneficial to them. It’s human nature, when under stress and pressure. And this judge rambled and said a number of different things, in a stream of consciousness sort of way. I wasn’t sure what the order was!

There is a memorandum of sorts prepared by harried clerks for each matter: it’s called a “Minute Order” — they are short, lacking detail and often flat out wrong. They were never meant to be the entire record of the proceedings. As far as I could tell, no one had explained any of that to these unrepresented people. In the end, of there are a lot of hearings and a lot of fighting the situation becomes, I suspect, unfixable. The game is rigged.

I have always wanted to find a simple, affordable, way for people to ask me how to deal with these things. This is because the minute fees start accruing in a case where the threat “see you in court” hangs over people’s head the bell can not be “unrung.” BOTH sides will end up feeling raped, screwed, cheated… And broke. It may still be better than being bankrupted by legal fees (and yes, this happens) or in debt—but no matter what. it’s not smart to be uninformed.

I’m sure it appears to the clueless public that it is better to avoid lawyers, and wing it—but at least get some guidance. The hidden costs can be worse than they sound. And they usually are.

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Categories: Avvo, divorce, law, Uncategorized
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