Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court

This report shares findings from a United States qualitative empirical research study that explored the issue of self-representation from the perspective of self-represented litigants. The study, conducted in four American jurisdictions, was modeled on similar work conducted in three Canadian provinces by the National Self-Represented Litigants' Network.

Researchers interviewed 128 self-represented litigants in total - half were applications, and half respondents. They also interviewed judges and court staff.

The report concluded that cost is a major factor in people's decisions about whether to represent themselves - over 90 percent of the litigants they spoke with identified financial issues as influential. Approximately 50 percent had had the help of a lawyer at some stage of the legal process. Many litigants reported difficulties with navigating the system by themselves and filling in and filing court documents. The emotional nature of family law cases also complicated the situation for many of the litigants.

The researchers offer recommendations based on speaking to litigants in a companion report.