What You Need To Know About Representing Yourself

Your have a right to represent yourself ( appear “pro se”) in any kind of legal case.  You will be expected to know and follow the rules just as lawyers are expected to follow the rules.  If you do not follow the rules that apply in your case, the court may not be allowed to give you what you want, even if it makes sense. 

Before you decide to represent yourself, ask yourself whether it wouldn’t be better use of your time and money to consult with or hire an attorney who knows the law and can give you advice about what to do, how to do it, and what your chances are of getting what you want.

What you have seen on TV and in the movies is not real. Even if it is called "real TV."  You must dress and behave appropriately. 

Coming to court and asking a judge or magistrate to make decisions about your life is one way to resolve disputes; this is called litigation.  However, this is not the only way to resolve disputes.  ADR is often less expensive and less time-consuming, and it gives you more control over your life.  Sometimes the court will order you to try ADR (mediation and arbitration are just two types) before you can litigate your case.

You and the other party know your lives/children/the facts of your case better than anyone else.  You can be creative and flexible in making your own agreements; the court can only do what the law allows.  You and the other party will be happier with agreements you make yourself, and therefore more likely to comply with them than with decisions made for you by the court.

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If you do decide to go to court, filing your motion or petition is just the first step.  In order to get what you want from the court, you may need to schedule a hearing or conference, make efforts to resolve the problem without the court, and file additional documents.

You will need to fill out paper work.  You can get forms from the court (usually for a small fee) or the Judicial Branch website ( www.courts.state.co.us ).  Read all the court papers and instructions.  There may be a fee to file a motion or a petition. 

WHEN YOU VISIT THE CLERK’S OFFICE TO FILE YOUR PAPERWORK, REMEMBER:

  • It is up to you to know what you want.
  • You can handwrite or type your information, but your documents must be complete and legible.  When completing a multi-part form press firmly
  • By law, the court staff cannot fill out forms for you
  • Some courts may have additional filing requirements that may mean another trip to the courthouse
  • Keep your composure; the court staff is there to help you as much as they are allowed.
  • The paperwork you file is your only means of communicating with the court and the judge or magistrate.  Direct contact with the judge or magistrate is not allowed.

You will have to share.  You must give everyone in the case copies of everything you file with the court. You must also submit a written form to the court identifying when and how you did so.  This is called a Certificate of Mailing.  You should keep a copy of everything you file with the court.  You will need to work with the other person, any attorneys, and the court to schedule hearings and conferences, and give written notice, so all can be present.

Being organized will help.  What do you want?  Why should you get what you want?  The court has limited time to hear any case and must adhere to a strict schedule.  If you do not make your points in the allotted time, you will not get another chance.

Be prepared.  Visit the Justice Center ahead of time, if possible, so you are comfortable with the location and setup.  Get your documents and evidence prepared and copied – one copy for yourself, one for the court, and one for the opposing party.  Subpoena your witnesses, if necessary, and arrange for them to be at the right place at the right time.  Make notes of the questions you will want to ask the witnesses.

Arrive early, with everything you need.  Give yourself enough time for traffic and unexpected events.  If you are not there on time, your case may be dismissed, you might lose, or it may be months before you have another chance to tell the court what you want.  Keep your paperwork in order and have your copies with you when you come to court - they will not do you any good in the car or on the kitchen counter.

Know your case number.  Be sure to have your case number available always; you will be asked for it every time you contact the court.  Court staff will not be able to give you the help you need if you do not have your case number.

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HELP YOURSELF

No one in the Justice Center is allowed to give you legal advice, although court staff may be able to answer questions about forms and rules. .

The Colorado Revised Statutes (the laws) and court rules are available in print in the reference section of any public library.  The Judicial Branch website also has a link to the online statutes and rules; (www.courts.state.co.us )

Certain behaviors are required while you are in court.  This behavior is either necessary to manage cases or is considered respectful of the court.

    If you have a cell phone, turn it off before entering the courtroom, and before you begin a status conference of any kind.

    Enter and leave the courtroom quietly, so you do not disturb others.

    Stand when the judge or magistrate enters the courtroom, and when you speak to the judge or magistrate.

    Address the judge or magistrate as “Your Honor”

    You will be expected to treat others in the court respectfully.  It is respectful to address others as “Mr.” or “Ms.” Or ma’am or sir.  It is not respectful to yell, curse, or cut someone off when they are speaking.

    Speak clearly and slowly.  Your words are being recorded, either by a machine or a person.  If you mumble, speak too quickly, too softly, or answer by shaking or nodding your head, the record will not be accurate.

    Please ask questions if you do not understand something or are confused about what you are required to do.

CHILDREN IN THE COURTROOM

Please do not bring your children to the Justice Center unless the court has ordered them to be present.     

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A WORD ABOUT DRESS

Appropriate dress is required in the courtroom.  You do not need to “dress up,” but it is important to dress nicely and with respect for the court.
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