Perhaps you are an adept writer, perhaps you’re not. Either way, chances are high that the topics about which you communicate very successfully and persuasively on a daily basis are things related to your profession. You probably don’t know all of the rules and requirements, or the “tricks of the trade,” that come with engaging in effective trial practice or appellate practice, nor should you be expected to. What you should do, if you find yourself involved in litigation, is make sure that your case doesn’t get defeated by all-too-avoidable procedural problems. Instead, be sure to retain the services of a skilled Maryland divorce attorney to handle your representation.
A recent case from Prince George’s County served as an example of how representing oneself can go very wrong. The case was one regarding child support and custody. At the end of the hearing, the trial judge awarded sole legal and physical custody to the father, J.H. The mother, S.S., was ordered to pay child support and received no visitation.
This, obviously, was a very severe and profoundly unsuccessful outcome for the mother. Her plan for going forward was to file a motion asking the court to rescind the order. She did so without the aid of an attorney. The trial judge upheld the order, concluding that, because there was no fraud, mistake or irregularity, there was no basis for rescinding the order.
The mother took her case to the Court of Special Appeals. Again, she acted as her own attorney. Again, her case ended unsuccessfully. Judges, especially those on appeals and high court benches, generally compose their written opinions with a high degree of decorum and will often stick to the legal issues at stake but, if you read between the lines, sometimes they will provide the reader with some “real world” hints. In S.S.’s case, the appeals court pointed out that the mother’s appeal filing was poorly written, not only from a legal perspective, but also from an ordinary writing perspective. The court’s opinion mentioned twice just how difficult it was to understand what the mother was trying to communicate. Often, the harder a court has to work just to deduce what the basic point of your filing is, the easier it may be for that court to rule against you.
Even if the mother’s appeal had been a well-written piece of prose (which it wasn’t), it suffered from other shortcomings that can ensnare the unaware self-represented litigant. The mother made many allegations of fact in her appeal, but she never included any correct references to the trial court hearing transcript. If you are going to tell an appeals court that something is an established fact, then you have to tell the court the exact place where the lower court made that finding of fact.
Additionally, the mother’s appeal document suffered from other procedural flaws. The basis of her appeal was that the trial court didn’t have jurisdiction to make a ruling on child custody and child support in her case. In order to win an appeal based upon an argument like this, you have to give the appeals court established case law that backs up your argument. In other words, you have to give the court a previous case where the issues were similar to yours and where the Court of Special Appeals or Court of Appeals made a ruling akin to how you want them to rule in your case. S.S.’s appeal brief had no case law at all. As a technical matter, that alone could have resulted in the appeals court denying her appeal.
This wife’s ill-fated efforts to handle her own legal matters serve to highlight how easily a case where you act as your own lawyer can go wrong. With so much at stake, why not give yourself every reasonable chance for success? Knowledgeable Maryland family law attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been helping clients to work toward beneficial outcomes in their divorce, child custody and visitation cases for many years. To find out how we can help you, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.
More blog posts:
Seeking — Or Opposing — A Long-Distance Relocation of Your Children to or from Maryland, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 29, 2018
Resolving Your Maryland Child Custody Dispute Through a Mutual Agreement, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 17, 2018