Written by the BBA Family Law Section Pro Se Committee.
ARRIVE ON TIME FOR ANY HEARING
If you miss the hearing, the Judge can make orders without your input. If you are late, your case usually takes more time.
DRESS IN A WAY THAT SHOWS RESPECT FOR THE COURT
You do not need to dress like a lawyer or buy new clothes. Do, however, dress in a dignified way. Unless it is an absolute emergency, avoid wearing jeans, T-shirts, shorts, tank-tops, sleeveless athletic shirts, cut off shirts, and undershirts in the courtroom.
FILL IN AND CHECK EVERY LINE OF YOUR FINANCIAL STATEMENT
Your Financial Statement is one of the most important documents in your case. You are required to exchange copies of Financial Statements with the other party at least 2 days before the hearing on temporary orders or "pretrial" conference. Get the form well before the hearing so you have time to obtain all the necessary information. The form must be signed under the penalties of perjury, so be accurate.
SIGN AN AGREEMENT ONLY IF YOU CAN LIVE WITH IT
You should not sign an agreement (also called a stipulation) unless you agree to do what it says. Make sure any written agreement contains your understanding of what was agreed upon and ask for a copy of it. If the Judge finds that the agreement is fair and reasonable, the Judge will usually make the agreement an order of the Court. If you do not reach an agreement, the Judge will decide your case.
THINK ABOUT AND DO WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR CHILDREN
If your case deals with custody or visitation, think about your children's future happiness, safety and well-being. Be able to explain to the Judge why the orders that you want are best for your children.
PREPARE TO GO IN FRONT OF THE JUDGE
Think about what you will say before you go in front of the Judge; bring copies of your court papers and any other important papers. Know the dates of important events that have happened if you want to tell the Judge about those events.
The Judge is called "Your honor." Listen carefully to the Judge's questions. Try to talk to the Judge in a way that gets to the point and is clear. Be sure to tell the Judge what you want ordered and why. The person who filed the motion or started the case usually gets to speak first. The other party is given a chance to reply. Wait until it is your turn and do not interrupt the other party or the Judge. Do not lose your temper or get loud in the courtroom, even if you do not like what someone else is saying.
KNOW THAT YOUR CASE MAY BE TAKEN UNDER ADVISEMENT
The Judge may tell you what is ordered before you leave the courtroom. Sometimes a case is "taken under advisement." This means the Judge wants more time to decide the case and the Court will send you the decision once it is made. Make sure the Court has your correct mailing address.
RESTRAINING ORDERS/ DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
If the other party has a history of domestic violence toward you and if putting your address or phone number on court papers or giving this information to the other party will put you at risk advise front counter staff, the courtroom Assistant Register, the court officer, or any Family Service Officer or Department of Revenue (DOR) staff involved in your case, so that they know about any concerns for your safety. The staff can assist you in arranging to impound your address.
If you are sent to the Family Service Office or to DOR, and you are not comfortable with a face to face meeting with someone who has abused you, advise the Family Service Officer or DOR representative so you may be interviewed separately from the person who abused you.
ARRANGE FOR AN INTERPRETER IF NEEDED
If you or the other party have trouble understanding or speaking English, or are in need of a Sign Language interpreter, arrange for an interpreter for any hearing through the Register's Office of the Court as soon as you know the date of the hearing. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD OPPOSING PARTIES INTERPRET FOR EACH OTHER. If an interpreter is not available on the day of the hearing, the Judge may postpone the hearing to a time when an interpreter is available.
GET ADVICE FROM AN ATTORNEY
Court Orders often have long-lasting effects. There are likely to be rules and laws which you find hard to understand or follow without a lawyer. It is advisable that you get advice and representation from an attorney. Probate and Family Court employees cannot give you legal advice. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for free or reduced fee assistance through legal services programs or bar associations serving your community. See the Legal Assistance section (link provided) in this website.
- These general suggestions were written by the Boston Bar Association Family Law Section Pro Se Task Force to assist "pro se" (pronounced "pro say") parties -- people who represent themselves in court without an attorney. This information relates only to the laws and procedures in effect as of the date of publication and does not constitute legal advice about your particular case. This poster is printed courtesy of "Greater Boston Legal Services. (November, 1997)