UPDATED: MAY 22, 2019
Article by Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
Many people in New Jersey file applications in Family Court for child support, custody, visitation, emancipation, etc. without even considering hiring an attorney. Most assume that they do not need an attorney unless things start going wrong, and they assume that they can always hire an attorney later on if they think they will need one. It is true that there are some very routine applications that people can easily file without an attorney, but litigants in New Jersey should understand that in Family Court an attorney can usually help a client avoid many costly and time-consuming problems, which I discuss below.Related: Family Law, How to save lots of money on a divorce case.
Family Court Cases Should Be Taken Seriously
Many people who meet with me about a case for visitation or child support issues originally tried to appear in court on their own. They ended up getting themselves into trouble because they did not fully appreciate the seriousness of Family Court cases. Yes, many people do file applications on their own, without a lawyer. But these cases are very serious, and could have very serious consequences. Clients must understand this. Orders that are entered in Family Court will dictate how often a parent sees their child, how much is paid/received on a weekly basis, where a child lives and goes to school, etc. – all for many years into the future. There are many complicated laws involved with custody, visitation, child support, etc., which most people will not understand on their own. Also, it is important to understand that most judges will not appreciate it if you file an application in Family Court, get confused on the court date, and ask for an adjournment so that you can hire a lawyer. They do not have to grant your request, and often they will not grant it on the court date. Moreover, if things do not go your way and you hire a lawyer later, it will be much more difficult for the lawyer to change the judge’s mind. A lawyer is much more effective if hired from the beginning.
When Should You Hire a Lawyer for Family Court?
Ideally, you would want to hire a lawyer any time you are served with a Motion or Complaint in Family Court, or whenever you want to make an application of your own. However, if money is an issue (the most common reason why people decline to retain an attorney) then it is important to understand the most critical times to hire an attorney.
The absolute most critical occasions when you will need an attorney are those occasions when the outcome will permanently change a significant aspect of custody/visitation/status. These include applications to establish/terminate paternity, to move a child out of state, to emancipate a child, to change physical custody, and similar applications. Many of these types of applications get filed when the child is young, and once the judge makes a decision it is usually final until the child is at least 18. The outcome of these cases will have a tremendous impact on the parents for years into the future, so the parents are strongly advised to hire an attorney. One of the parents will lose, and it will be very difficult for them to hire a lawyer later to reverse the judge’s decision. Also, the general rule in New Jersey is that judges will not reverse these major decisions, because they want to maintain stability for the child. So, for example, if a judge allows a mother to move from New Jersey to California with the child, the father cannot expect to hire a lawyer and get the judge to change the order 3 years later. The lawyer will need to protect the client from day one.
Many other types of cases in Family Court are also deserving of a lawyer. These include significant changes to the visitation arrangements and child support. Any time there is an out-of-the-ordinary request concerning the living arrangements and child support, you will want a lawyer to assist you in making the proper arguments with the court. Without a lawyer, you risk the judge pressuring you to keep things as-is or just denying your motion because you haven’t satisfied the legal requirements.
Finally, if the other person is ignoring court orders, and you want the judge to enforce the prior orders, you will usually want an attorney. In my experience, many times when a person seeks to enforce a prior order, without a lawyer, the judge just gives them another order compelling the other person to comply. With an attorney, you have a better chance of getting real enforcement of the prior order.
Appearing Without a Lawyer in Family Court
There are a couple of things that a litigant can competently file on their own, without an attorney. These include very simple issues of child support payment adjustments and visitation. If, for example, one of the parents is making more or less money due to a job change, then a person can make an application to adjust the child support and a lawyer is probably not required. Also, if a parent has a request for small changes in the visitation schedule, and the other parent is not agreeing to them, then the parent can make a request for a change in parenting time. The case will then be sent to mediation to help the parents resolve the issue on their own. Both of these requests can be made using the forms provided at the courthouse. But again, if the process if not going completely smoothly, the you should seriously consider hiring a lawyer as soon as you are able.
New Jersey Family Court Lawyer – Free Consultation
If you are involved in any kind of matrimonial, custody, or support dispute, please call us right away for a 100% free consultation, on the phone or in our office. We will review all court documents with you and advise you on what we can do to help you. Remember, anyone who files a Complaint or a Motion in Family Court is looking for the best possible result from their point of view. Do not expect to appear in court on your own, explain your side of the story, and have the judge agree with everything you say. This is very rare. It is important to be represented by a skilled attorney.
Raff & Raff, LLP
Attorneys at Law
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Paterson, NJ 07505
Tel: (973) 742-1917
Fax: (973) 742-2454