Attorney fees can be expensive, so lawyers and judges report seeing a lot more self-represented parties in family court. But a recent Court of Appeals decision is an example of why that might not be the best idea.
If you decide to represent yourself in family court, there is a very high chance you will hear the judge or a referee warn you: “You’re going to be held to the same standard as a lawyer.” But many “In Pro Per” or “Pro Se” litigants – people who represent themselves – have no idea that could mean their case could get thrown out if they make a mistake.
In Tyler v Tyler, decided by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the plaintiff tried to go it alone. He filed his complaint for divorce stating there were no minor children “from this current marriage.” What he forgot to mention was that he and the defendant had been married before, and that they had had children during that first marriage.
The defendant, Mr. Tyler’s soon-to-be two time ex-wife, filed a separate complaint for divorce, also self-represented, where she properly stated that the parties had minor children. What she forgot to do was respond to the first complaint for divorce. The plaintiff filed a request and affidavit of default and apparently assumed the case would be resolved with no mention of the children.
Luckily, the judge in Livingston County Circuit Court caught the errors. Comparing the two complaints, the judge set aside the default in the husband’s matter (without children) and proceeded on the wife’s case (with children).
The plaintiff filed an appeal claiming he was under no obligation to disclose children from the parties’ first marriage. However, a quick read of MCR 3.206(A) shows he was wrong:
In an action for divorce, separate maintenance, annulment of marriage, or affirmation of marriage, regardless of the contentions of the parties with respect to the existence or validity of the marriage, the complaint also must state. . . (b) whether there are minor children of the parties or minor children born during the marriage.
“Or” is disjunctive, meaning if either part is true, the whole rule applies. So even though the children were not born during the marriage, there were minor children “of the parties.”
The court didn’t allow the plaintiff to slide just because he was self-represented. It upheld the court’s dismissal showing once again, that a person who represents himself will be held to the same standard.
With so much riding on a successful divorce, it seems unwise to sale those waters without an experienced attorney at the wheel. Don’t risk your case being thrown out because of a mistake you didn’t know you made. Contact family law attorney Lisa J. Schmidt at Schmidt Law Services, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan today to schedule a free consultation.
Hat Tip to fellow family law attorney and blogger Jeanne Hannah, who brought this case to my attention.