On Wednesday, I wrote about our divorce seminar for Virginia women. Today, I wanted to tell you a little bit more about our custody seminar.
Our custody seminar in particular is really intense. It’s an intense, all day seminar, designed to teach Virginia moms what they need to know to represent themselves at the juvenile court level in a custody, visitation, and/or child support case. As someone who attended law school, I can tell you that nothing this easily comprehensible or specifically targeted was EVER taught there!
That’s not to say, of course, that it’s easy. Probably you already know (or at least assume) that representing yourself in any type of litigated court case at any level is not easy. Though I’ve never done it myself, it’s probably even more difficult when the children in question are your own.
On top of knowing all the court rules, when to sit and stand, how to make opening arguments, filing documents appropriately, questioning and cross examining witnesses (including being questioned and cross examined yourself) – you’ll also have to remain at least somewhat objective, mild mannered (there’s definitely no crying in courtrooms, if at all avoidable, unless and until a verdict is reached!), and reasonable. Especially if there’s another attorney on the other side, you’re going to want to be as calm and poised and rational as you can possibly manage.
While that may not be a stretch in your every day life, behaving like nothing is amiss is seriously super challenging in a custody case that involves your very own flesh and blood. A good bit of that – finding that composure – comes from knowing what to expect and feeling prepared for it.
After all, you don’t have to be a genius to be an attorney. Most of us would probably say that we aren’t! You do, however, have to know the law, and understand how it applies in any given case. You have to understand court procedure, including when to do things like make a motion to dismiss or when to object to evidence being introduced. It’s fairly formulaic, but it’s also extremely comprehensive, dense, constantly changing stuff. It may not be brain surgery (what do I know? I’ve never performed brain surgery, and, incidentally, I would also surmise that it’s probably not something you can DIY), but it is complex. And the more you know, the better.
Can I really represent myself in my own custody case?
I think that’s really a two part question. It’s not just “CAN” I represent myself… It’s also, probably, a little bit (or a lot)… “SHOULD” I represent myself?
So, I’ll answer both of those.
Can you? Yes. The law is clear. You are allowed – as in, it is legally permissible – to represent yourself in your own divorce or custody case at the juvenile or circuit court level.
Should I really represent myself in my own custody case?
Should you? Now, that’s a much harder question. It’s also a personal question.
Do I really think you can know ALL the ins and outs of custody law after one seminar and preparing for only one case? No. It’s complicated. And, honestly, after who-knows-how-many custody cases, I’m still learning. Nearly every single case presents some nuance or wrinkle that I haven’t seen before, and I think most every attorney would probably say that. What we do isn’t brain surgery, but it’s also not easy – especially when you know that people’s children are at stake. It’s stressful, even for us. It’s probably doubly or triply stressful when it’s your own children.
A few things you should know, though…
If you’re at the juvenile court level, nothing is actually final. You can appeal the judge’s ruling to the circuit court, and hire counsel for that appearance, if you get a result in juvenile court that you don’t like. (You just have to note your appeal within 10 days of the date that the final order was entered.)
In fact, if you plan to appeal, I suggest that you go to the clerk’s office and note your appeal before you leave the courthouse on the day of your trial. You can decide whether or not to pursue your appeal later, but then you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve met or missed any deadlines.
Juvenile court is probably the most user friendly of all the courts. That doesn’t mean it’s super user friendly, it’s just MORE user friendly than other courts. I wouldn’t recommend that you represent yourself at circuit court – after all, there’s more at stake there, since verdicts are NOT easily and automatically appealable just because you don’t like the judge’s decision – but it’s definitely more possible in the juvenile court.
Should you, though? Well, I don’t know. That’s up to you. It’s risky. Everything is always risky, and doubly so when your own children are involved. I won’t tell you one way or the other what I think, except to caution you that you should do absolutely everything you can to prepare before you attempt to handle your own case.
Incidentally, many attorneys practice for years as new associates before they handle their own custody trials. Though each firm trains new attorneys differently (and I certainly can’t speak for all), it’s often common for a new attorney in private practice to be “second chair” on a case, or even just to attend small motions hearings at first, before handling their own contested trial. That’s not to discourage you, because women do it all the time, whether because they want to or because they have to. You’ll have to make your own decision, but I do think you need to have all the information in order to really be able to do that.
Will Custody Bootcamp for Moms help me prepare? (Or even make the decision whether I’m comfortable representing myself?)
Yes. Custody Bootcamp for Moms is the only seminar of its kind in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It’s comprehensive, specific, and full of tons of information you’ll need to know if you plan to represent yourself (or if you’re just trying to make the decision whether to represent yourself). It’s also super helpful if you just want to check up on the decisions your attorney is making; after all, it can be kind of uncomfortable to just sit around and wonder whether you can trust your attorney’s judgment. It’s your kids! It’s scary!
There’s more information on our website about what to expect from the seminar, including information on registration, and a free report, “Can I REALLY Represent Myself in My Custody Case?” that you can request. I definitely suggest you take a look!
How much does Custody Bootcamp for Moms cost?
The cost to attend Custody Bootcamp for Moms is $197. You can register on our website by clicking this link.
Can’t afford $197? We give one scholarship per seminar, and you can apply at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just send your name and contact information, as well as some of the details of your case and why you NEED to attend the seminar. We’re not looking for the saddest story out there; we’re looking for the woman who would benefit the most from attending.
For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to register to attend, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.