Family Court Litigants Cite Finances, Perceptions for Self-Representation

by Ali Manor

IAALS reports offer recommendations for access and improvements

By Tony Flesor


For many self-represented litigants in family courts around the country, they feel they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Many individuals cited in a study conducted by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System say the expense of a lawyer was the primary factor for litigants representing themselves in the process. Those who didn’t have representation said they felt disadvantaged in the system, and those who were partially represented said they often didn’t see the value of using an attorney in the family court process.

IAALS published two reports on its “Cases Without Counsel” series earlier this month — one focused on experiences of self-represented litigants and one offering recommendations on how to improve the process. A third report, published Tuesday, describes how family attorneys specifically can make positive changes in the system.

Its research report took a qualitative empirical look at the experiences of 128 individuals who were self-represented for all or part of the family court process in Multnomah County, Oregon; Larimer County, Colorado; Davidson County, Tennessee; Franklin County, Massachusetts. According to the report, 80 to 90 percent of family cases in some jurisdictions have at least one party that is unrepresented. The jurisdictions included in the study were chosen for their diversity in geography, demographics, court resources and the manner of handling family court cases.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the June 27, 2016 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.