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If this is your first time going through a divorce, chances are you have a lot of questions about the process. Here are some answers to some of the more common ones. Any others you might have should be answered in the coming chapters.

Are divorce judges fair and impartial?

As unfair as it may seem, the reality is that both evaluators and judges are certainly influenced by their own personal values and prejudices when they make decisions over custody or various court proceedings. Most judges and court officials try to be fair and balanced in their work, but psychological science also shows that it’s virtually impossible for someone to set aside their personal beliefs or convictions to make a judgment. Therefore everything from a judge’s religious affiliation to their personal history in the relationship category can hold sway over their rulings.

This fact has brought about concerns that current law leaves too much discretion in the hands of individual judges. (American Law Institute, 2002) Looking on the bright side, in most instances, this prejudice tends to work around the margins, and usually doesn’t completely alter the outcome of a case. Parents can limit these concerns by trying to be diplomatic and not too outspoken about their own beliefs. Better yet, work your issues out and settle them out of court, and you won’t have to worry about a judge’s personal beliefs.

Can I represent myself in a divorce case?

Yes. Individuals are allowed to represent themselves pro se (without a lawyer) in divorce cases, and the number of people choosing to do this seems to be on the rise. In some jurisdictions, around three-quarters of divorce filings involve at least one self-representing litigant.

It’s debatable how effective and/or detrimental choosing to represent yourself can be. Divorce lawyers, of course, would tell you that only a fool represents themselves. And indeed, there are many advantages to having a lawyer: it looks better to have a third party arguing your case rather than speaking on these emotional issues yourself; lawyers are familiar with local judges and have experience knowing what flies and what doesn’t in divorce cases; and most importantly, they are familiar with divorce law and can recognize or see things that you might otherwise overlook.

A lot of this may also depend on the issues in contention, and how complicated they are. It’s certainly possible for an individual to do just as good of a job representing themselves, but be prepared to spend a lot of time researching legal issues at the library.

Can I get a court-appointed attorney?

Unlike criminal cases, the courts do not appoint an attorney for you if you can’t afford one, since it is considered a civil case. However, in certain situations where one parent is wealthy and the other has no assets, judges will sometimes allocate that the other party pay for a spouse’s divorce lawyer as part of the division of resources during divorce.

What is a fact witness, and what is an expert witness?

A fact witness is someone who simply states what they know, and is supposed to do so without offering opinions or conclusions. In other words, an everyday person. An expert witness is someone trained in a particular field who gives opinions, conclusions and recommendations to the court.

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