Can Grandparents Represent Themselves When Seeking Visitation?

Much Depends Upon Your Disposition and Life Situation

Representing Yourself in Court
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Grandparents who are considering going to court to seek visitation with their grandchildren may wonder if the services of an attorney are necessary. Can grandparents represent themselves when seeking visitation rights?

The old saying goes, "The man who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer." That may not be true in all cases, especially in relatively simple petitions for visitation rights. Serving as one's own attorney is known as pro per or pro se.

The two terms are roughly interchangeable. For the sake of simplicity, this article will use pro per

Pro per representation has been on the increase recently, according to government statistics. The availability of helpful materials online may be largely responsible for the growth. Still, there are significant hurdles to be overcome for grandparents going the pro per route. 

Will It Work?

The complexity of a case will determine whether it is feasible to try it pro per. Here are some questions to ask yourself before making the decision:

  • Does a single state have jurisdiction in the case? Cases of questionable jurisdiction are difficult to handle pro per.
  • Are there forms available specifically for grandparent visitation? If not, existing forms will have to be modified or new ones created, and that may require an attorney.
  • Do you have the information you need, such as addresses and dates, to file the papers? An attorney is better qualified than a layman to deal with any gaps in the information.
  • How vigorous can you expect the opposition to be? The fiercer the resistance, the more you need to be represented by an attorney.

If you decide not to hire an attorney, you may want to get help filling out the papers from a paralegal. A paralegal cannot represent you in court, of course, and there will be some cost involved, but paralegals definitely work more cheaply than lawyers.

What Is Involved?

The first place to look for information is the website of the court that has jurisdiction in your case. Some judicial systems have the necessary papers online. You can get a feel for how much work is involved before deciding whether to proceed. Some courts also have helpful information about representing yourself for pro per litigants. Take a look at this website from Alameda County, California.

You may wish to provide the court with supplemental papers in addition to those that are required. Susan Hoffman, a grandparents' rights activist and author, recommends that grandparents include three optional items: a formal declaration that is a narrative of the grandparent-grandchild relationship; a date log that records significant times spent with grandchildren; and a photo log that depicts you and your grandchild together over time. The help of an attorney may be needed to get these documents accepted for consideration.

A Note About Fees

Even if you do not pay an attorney, the process of petitioning for visitation rights is not cost-free. You will have to pay a filing fee. You will have to pay to have papers served on the parties involved in the suit. You may have to pay other court costs.

Courts are increasingly requiring mediation, and sometimes the court requires that a child's interest be represented by a guardian ad litem. Grandparents often have to pay part or all of the costs of these measures.

Consider Other Costs

Separate from the monetary costs, serving as one's own attorney is a drain on one's time, energy and mental equilibrium. Before deciding to take on this burden, one should truly know oneself. Are you a high-energy person who thrives on learning new things and never turns down a challenge? You may be ideally suited to be a pro per litigant. If, on the other hand, you are an emotional wreck from family conflict, you are unlikely to be able to handle your own litigation. It will be difficult enough to assist an attorney in preparing your case.

Regardless of which path grandparents choose in seeking visitation, it will not be an easy one.

Hoffman advises grandparents to "make sure that the time is right and that you are strong enough in every way to go forward."

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The information on this page is general in nature and should not be regarded as legal advice.