Never Try to Represent Yourself in a Divorce Case.
Some people believe that it is ok to go through a divorce without an attorney. When that happens the court considers that person to be acting as his or her own attorney. The legal term for a person that represents her or himself is in propria persona. In Michigan, the courts are required to hold a person acting in propria persona to the same standards as an attorney or member of the state bar. This means there is no excuse for not knowing the law or the effects of the law when you go into court without an attorney. The court expects the attorneys to know the law, the court rules and the rules of civil procedure; the court will expect that a person representing himself or herself will have learned all of this as it pertains to his or her case, which is really impossible.
To begin with, there are all of the statutes (laws enacted by the legislature) that govern the practice of family law. These statues are developed further by the common law, all of the cases that have interpreted these statutes since they were enacted. Then the person must be familiar with the court rules of civil procedure which govern the timing for filing documents and responding to the court. Finally, if any type of evidence is required to be submitted to the court, the person must know the court rules of evidence that are very formal requirements for the form, content and timing of exhibits and witnesses to be presented in any case.
A good example of a very simple mistake that a person acting in propria persona made which turned out to be devastating, can be found in the recent case of Ahles v Ahles, Michigan Court of Appeals, unpublished case no. 340483, decided March 28, 2019. In that case, the court entered defaults against the husband twice. The first time, he failed to file a required document within the required time and the court entered a default against him. The second time, he failed to appear at the appropriate time in the appropriate court and the court again entered a default against him. The court then proceeded to make its determination on how to divide the property and determine custody of the children without any input from the husband. This would not have occurred if he was represented by a good family law attorney.
The husband appealed but he only appealed one of the two defaults because he was either not aware that the court entered two default orders against him or because he did not realize he had to appeal both, a divorce lawyer would have known this. The court of appeals ruled it could provide no remedy to him regarding the defaults because he only appealed one of the two. The result was that the court refused to set aside the judgement as a whole. However, the court of appeals did reverse some of the trial court's determinations regarding property and parenting time because the trial court did not provide adequate findings on the record to support its determinations. Now on remand the trial court only really has to write a more detailed opinion regarding its decisions and most likely the judgment will end up standing, despite the fact that the husband was allowed virtually no input or testimony at the trial.
This is yet another case that shows why it is essential, even in the most simple cases, to have a good divorce lawyer represent you. If you have any questions regarding divorce or other areas of family law, please contact Cameron C. Goulding to schedule a consultation by calling (248) 608-4123, emailing to [email protected] or through the North Oakland County Michigan Divorce Lawyer website.