September 22, 2014
Being Your Own Lawyer

"In Pro Per" means that you are acting as your own attorney. You are not required to hire an attorney but before taking any legal action it is highly advisable to consult with a lawyer who can inform you about important legal rights.

An experienced attorney may be able to quickly assess your situation and highlight the best course of action to assert or protect your interests. Failure to consult with an attorney may result in unnecessary delays or costly measures in the future to remedy errors.

Typical family law matters may include child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, use of the residence, payment of debts, division of assets and debts, tax consequences, division of pension and retirement benefits, attorney's fees, and other issues.

Attorneys are listed in the telephone book. For a small fee, you can schedule a short consultation with a private attorney by calling the Lawyer Referral Service at (650) 369-4149.

Parties who prefer to mediate their disputes can contact the Family Law Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Program for an initial 90-minute mediation session for $50.00 per party.

If you cannot afford an attorney, or choose to represent yourself, you should know that in San Mateo County:

  • you are responsible for completing all necessary forms, filing the forms with the court and presenting your case before the Judge
  • local rules permit legal forms to be neatly handwritten in blue or black ink
  • all persons in pro per must have his or her papers reviewed by the Family Law Facilitator before filing or presenting papers to the Judge
  • in presenting your case you are expected to comply with the same legal procedures, evidence rules, and standards of practice as attorneys

All documents submitted to the court clerk for filing must also be provided to the other party; this is called "service of process". You are responsible for having someone over the age of 18 and not a party to the case, serve a copy of all documents on the other party.

Self-help books are available at your local library, law library, or book store. You may also obtain further information on completing your paperwork, service and filing through the Family Law Facilitator's office. Since it is difficult to answer questions about legal forms over the telephone, in most cases it is necessary for you to present all of your paperwork to the Family Law Facilitator in person . Always bring with you copies of your prior court orders and related documentation to support your case.

© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County