Practicing family law is always a fun balancing act, but adding it becomes even more challenging when the opposing party is not represented by an attorney. For starters, it puts the attorney representing the other party in the precarious position of having to explain the law to someone without offering any legal advice. If I refuse to explain how the system works or what the law is to the other party, the process becomes even slower than usual because we have to wait for that person to either figure it out without help or for the family court facilitator, magistrate, or judge to explain things. This is not ideal. On the other hand, anytime I find myself explaining the process, I am faced with inevitable questions about what the other party “should” do, which I obviously cannot answer.
Then, inevitably there is some sort of disagreement between the parties that would normally result in me sending a firm letter to opposing counsel explaining my client’s position and demanding some sort of assurances or actions by the other side. I am always cautious about drafting those letters anyway, since I prefer not to practice like an aggressive bulldog (no disrespect meant for those loveable canines), and I find myself even more cautious when the opposing party is not represented by an attorney. Of course, as attorneys, we always worry about being grieved, but my primary concern about the correspondence I send pro se parties has more to do with wanting people to come away with as favorable impression of the legal system as possible.
I know that few people walk away from a family law case feeling truly happy about the process, but it is always my hope that at least they leave feeling as though they had their day in court and that the process was fundamentally fair. The last thing I want is for some unrepresented party to think I am being a bully or that the system is stacked in favor of the party with an attorney. This is especially true in the family law arena, where I have generally found the system to be very respectful of pro se parties. Colorado has an extensive set of family law forms for pro se parties to utilize, and the family court facilitators, magistrates, and judges seem very focused on helping pro se parties through the system.
Despite all this, I still often find myself very frustrated when the other party in a family law case is pro se. As much as other family law practitioners can occasionally be difficult, I would still rather have opposing counsel than an unrepresented opposing party.