Do you like to gamble? Have you ever lost badly? Can you imagine how badly you could lose if you don't know the rules of the game?
That's what I thought of the other day, as I watched a Family Law hearing.
I was in the courthouse giving one of our new employees a tour. While we were there, we decided to sit in on some "prove-up" hearings that were happening. These hearings were the type in which the attorney presenting the evidence is an Assistant Attorney General.
The mom was there, but the father did not show up. And according to the mom's testimony, dad had not provided any support prenatal or otherwise.
This is what's called a taking a Default. You "win" because the other side didn't show up. Within reason and the bounds of the law, you can typically get whatever you want at a default hearing. You should get the ultimate "good deal" at a default.
Only this time, the mother did not.
Because she was unrepresented. She was Pro Se. The Attorney General did not represent her – technically, he represented the "interest of the state in the child."
So what happened? The mom got a much worse deal than she would have gotten had she had any competent representation at all, in my opinion.
The mom was led to agree to a low number for child support and no reimbursement for prenatal or medical expenses. Worse yet, she agreed to name the father as a Joint Managing Conservator, even though he apparently is not a part of the child's life.
She agreed to give the father a much better possession schedule than he will probably ever exercise. The order now places burdens on her to wait for dad to decide things that he may never decide and work around "his schedule" even though he may never exercise it.
Worse yet, she agreed to have herself "Ordered" – under penalty of contempt – to provide health insurance for the child. And she agreed to limit her residence to a very small geographic area – a residency restriction or domicile restriction it is called. That means that she has guaranteed that she will need to have further action by the court if she ever wants to "legally" move with her child beyond the designated area.
She pretty much guaranteed herself additional cost in the future. If she ever wants to move, unless she is willing to be in violation of a court order – she will need a new court order. All because she did not get even a little bit of advice on the "front end" of this matter.
She gambled that everything would be okay without representation and she lost.
Gambling may not be the smartest thing to do anytime. Gambling when you don't know the rules is borderline crazy.