Before deciding to represent yourself, you should seek legal advice. A lawyer understands how the legal system works. They can help you understand your legal rights and responsibilities and can explain how the law applies to your case. A lawyer also knows the timeframes for submitting court documents and whether you need to pay court fees, and a lawyer can explain any court outcomes and decisions. If you cannot afford legal advice, there are free or low cost organisations that may be able to help you.
When deciding whether to represent yourself, you should also think about whether you:
- have the time and resources to prepare for your matter
- have the necessary legal skills, and
- can speak confidently to the judge or registrar who will be hearing your case.
Court staff can help you with questions about court forms and the Court process; they cannot give you legal advice.
Even if you do not engage a lawyer to represent you in court, you should seek legal advice about your case. You may be able to access free, or low-cost, legal assistance. See Court support and Find a lawyer.
If you decide to represent yourself in court, you will typically be referred to as an ‘unrepresented litigant’. As an unrepresented litigant, you have the same obligations and responsibilities in court as a lawyer. Therefore it will be your responsibility to research your matter, find the resources to do that and attend to everything to do with your case. This includes:
- preparing, filing, serving court documents and understanding court fees
- gathering evidence to support your case
- finding appropriate expert witnesses for your case
- presenting evidence in court
- examining (questioning) witnesses in court
- presenting your case to a judge or other decision-maker, such as a judicial registrar
- following the rules of the Court, and
- following orders of the Court.
In addition, you may also need to decide whether to call any witnesses. If you are calling a witness who needs an interpreter, you will need to organise this before the Court hearing.
You will need to be organised for the hearing. For example, if you refer to a document during your hearing, the judge will expect you to know the name of the document and be able to tell them the page and paragraph number you are referring to.
Like a lawyer, you must be honest and polite in all your dealings with the other party, their lawyer (if they have one) and with the Court.
The Court is a formal place and you should follow the etiquette and tips about how to behave, both in the Court building and in the courtroom.
Generally, court hearings are open to the public. In some circumstances, the Court might order a closed hearing.
If your case involves a protection visa decision, the Court is not allowed to publish your identity.
How your family law case will be managed in the Court (pdf)
This flowchart explains key events in a family law case. It also lists documents you may need to file before certain Court events, and provides information about the types of people you will interact with, such as Judges, Senior Judicial Registrars, Judicial Registrars and Family Consultants.
Pre-Action Procedures: What to do before you file your family law application
Are you thinking about filing a family law application in the Court? This checklist brochure takes you through the steps or ‘pre-action procedures’ you need to complete before you do so. These steps will ask you to try and resolve issues with the other party using Dispute Resolution, if it is safe to do so.