People representing themselves in family law cases, beware: The forms and templates available online that purport to guide a person through a child custody dispute or divorce do not provide enough information to prevent costly litigation in the future.

People attempt to represent themselves in family law cases in order to avoid the costs of an attorney. Unfortunately, many of these pro se cases result in future litigation, which means the parties end up paying more in the long run. Why is this?

First, each and every case will have unique facts that require detailed provisions in a final order. Whether you are setting out possession and access, awarding child support, or dividing property, the “final decree forms” online cannot possibly provide the correct language for every single viewer’s individual needs. This means that people will either (1) leave out information that can only be ordered by the court, or (2) add information that does not serve the purpose the drafter believes. In either instance, the parties will have to return to court to attempt to resolve the problem.

For example, most people do not understand the differences in rights between sole managing conservator and joint managing conservator. Moreover, they do not understand that there are specific grounds required for the Court to grant one over the other. Should these designations be improperly used in the final order, a parent could be divested of his or her rights with regard to the children without even knowing it.

Second, there are very specific rules regarding service of the lawsuit as well as all pleadings and hearings that follow. Failure to properly serve a party can be fatal to a suit, especially the final order. If the final order is obtained without first providing the opposing party notice, then there are ways for the uniformed party to systematically “undo” the order and restart the entire process. That being said, if someone does not respond-aka, file an Answer-within the allotted time following service of the initial petition, then they are putting themselves at risk of other issues.

If you are considering a family law case or are currently involved in one, please feel free to contact the Yale Law Group at (940) 891-4800.