In Colorado, as in many states, the judicial branch provides self-help forms for the court process. These forms are created to afford greater access to justice to people who cannot afford - or think they cannot afford - the services of an attorney. The forms are developed with the guidance of lawyers and meant to be one-size-fits-all.
The reality is that every case and every family is different. The one-size-fits-all approach can land some people in trouble when they don't get appropriate legal advice about their individual circumstances. However, using self-help forms in family law may be appropriate in some cases. Here are some benefits and risks to using the state's self-help forms.
- Self-help forms can be a great guide for working with an attorney by helping you understand what information your attorney will need to know and the issues that will need resolution.
- Self-help forms can allow individuals with very limited financial resources the ability to proceed with a family law case.
- Using a self-help form and hiring an attorney on a limited scope or "unbundled" basis may be the perfect fit for your case by allowing you to do some of the work, but getting legal advice and guidance from a family law expert to protect yourself.
- Self-help forms are not a substitute for legal advice. How you fill in the forms can have a serious impact on your case.
- While limited scope representation is better than no legal advice at all, it comes with a caveat. An attorney's advice changes and evolves as the case progresses. By limited the scope, you may miss out on valuable information.
- You may set yourself up for problems in the future. Your forms may work for now, but fail to anticipate issues that may arise. An attorney can advise you on these potential pitfalls.
Access to justice is an important part of the judicial system's mission. A large number of people represent themselves in family court. The self-help forms can be a necessary tool to provide this access. However, to the extent you are able to afford an attorney - even for just an hour - you will be better off getting some expert legal counsel.