The Lay Litigant – Representing yourself

A hearing or trial should be the last option, if possible, for the resolution of a family dispute, especially if the issue relates to parenting. However liberating it may seem to ‘have a day in court,’ court proceedings typically merely add to the tension and conflict.

When appearing before the Judge, there are rules to be followed as regards process, questioning a witness and presenting evidence. These rules will not be disregarded simply because one party is a lay litigant. The Judge hearing a case can only make his/her determinations based on the sworn evidence presented, either orally or by written, filed affidavits, or any exhibits or reports that are submitted as evidence.

If a person representing themselves in court does not do a good job of presenting their case, or does not understand the law or legal procedures, then they run the risk that things may not go well at a hearing or trial. They may not be able to do anything about it afterwards as appeals can only be made under certain situations – there is not a second chance to present your case.

The judge will require the parties and any witnesses they are calling to file and exchange information before the hearing so that what is in dispute can be identified and an appropriate court time set. This may result in more than one court appearance and could involve delays if the parties are not ready.

Self Help Guides available on the Legal Aid Board website gives detailed information about going to the District Court and specifically covers applications relating to Custody/Access, Guardianship and Maintenance. Although it refers to the Dublin District Family Court the information is true for District Courts nationwide. The Step by Step account for how to start proceedings, prepare for the hearing and the hearing process; are very useful information sources for anyone attending court, but especially for any lay litigants.

Useful Resources

The Courts Service website has a very useful family law webpage; which includes a very informative section on court procedure with detail on the laws and procedures for individual applications in the areas of:

The FLAC website offers very informative documents explaining all aspects of Maintenance, including the process surrounding a court application; Domestic Violence, including an explanation of the remedies available and how the process works; and Family law and children; explaining the processes surrounding guardianship, custody and access applications.

The Legal Aid Board has also produced very useful documents explaining all aspects of Maintenance, Domestic Violence, Children and Family law; explaining the processes surrounding guardianship, custody and access applications.


 

Contacts

Legal Aid Board

  • Address: Legal Aid Board, Quay Street, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry.
  • Also 33 full time offices nationwide – other part-time offices
  • Tel: (066) 947 1000 Lo-call No: 1890 615 200  Fax: (066) 947 1035
  • Website: http://www.legalaidboard.ie

Free Legal Advice Centre

  • Address: Free Legal Advice Centre, 13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1, Ireland
  • Legal information lines: Lo-Call: 1890 350 250 / +353 1 874 5690
  • Website: http://www.flac.ie/

 Family Mediation Service

Citizens Information

The Courts Service

  • Address: 15 – 24 Phoenix Street North, Smithfield, Dublin 7
  • Tel: 01 1 888 6000 (main switchboard)
  • Website: courts.ie